Admitted To Harvard, Wharton & Stanford, This Entrepreneur Made A Surprising Choice

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Poets&Quants: Where are you now? 

Anchor Ebanks: Lima, Peru. It’s nice. It’s a beautiful city. It’s like perfectly situated along the coast. Since I’ve been here, I’ve been working a lot. I recently took on a role as a product manager at Google and my role has been expanding a bit. So it’s just been non-stop work since I’ve gotten here, but I have gotten to explore a little bit.

I’ll be here until August 6th. Then going back to Texas for a bit, where I’m from, where I grew up. And then beyond that I’ll move back to the Bay Area for a little bit, just to meet my team, and then probably going to L.A.

Raj Chimni of Admissions Gateway, who you worked with during the application process, says some really interesting things about you. He says, “He has a normal profile — consulting, technology — until you hear his life story.” So I’m going to ask you to tell me your life story, or whatever parts of it you want to tell me, and then take us right up to deciding to get an MBA.

If you just kind of rewind to my childhood, I grew up, honestly, in poverty, more or less — on food stamps. And then to add to that, my parents got a divorce when I was, I think, in second grade. Eight or something like that. And what happened was, basically my father moved back to his homeland, which is the Cayman Islands. My mom was left to take care of me and my three siblings. She was a working mother of four. And again, we were not super well-off, in any way, shape, or form. She was a nurse, so she was working hundred-plus-hour weeks just to make ends meet. So kudos to her. She’s a bad-ass. Her name is Yvette Lugiere.

As a result of her working all the time, my brothers and sisters and I were granted a lot of freedom. She’s gone, she’s literally working all day, every day. We had to kind of figure everything out. Go to school, take care of your homework, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But what happened to my siblings is, I think the divorce itself affected them a little bit different than it affected me. My oldest sibling — and I’m fast-forwarding through a lot of details here — but my oldest sibling, she ended up pregnant at the age of 16 and then dropped out of school as a result of that. And then my next-oldest sister, she ended up in a drug rehab addicted to painkillers and muscle relaxers and a variety of other drugs. And then my brother, he was also addicted to drugs, he ended up going to prison at a relatively young age — I think like 16, 17, 18, something like that.

I think it was important for me because what it did for me is help me to realize, “Oh, I really want to empower myself to be the best version of myself” — fueling my learning from their situation to make sure that I don’t make the same mistakes. And then I think over time as I thought about it more and more, that passion for empowerment of achieving one’s best self, that extended way beyond just me. I love it. That’s where my real passion lies in life, in making people achieve their fullest potential. It became more and more evident to me when I started to have nieces and nephews — and more and more evident when I started to go to college and maybe achieve a little bit of success, have a little bit of credence, have little bit of means of mentorship, etc., and I really leaned in to this whole idea of empowering others.

And then as I’m thinking about the next step in my career, and that’s how I want to position myself — to be in a position where it is more or less my job to empower others to be the best version of themselves. That’s an important theme. I’m switching gears a little bit and talking about some of the professional events that led me to today.

When I was in college, I founded a nonprofit (Consult Your Community) that basically paired university students with local small businesses who needed professional consulting services. And the angle that I took was, there are a lot of under-represented folks that really need this kind of help, particularly women and Black and Latinx, etc. So that was the idea: Let me pair students with these small businesses that are owned by women or Black, Latinx folks and help them — help both sides, right? Help the kids get the experience and exposure that they want, but also really drive impact on these businesses. I started that, loved it. It was literally my favorite activity throughout all of college. Continued to be a part of that organization in some capacity, and today we’ve provided more than 15,000 volunteer hours to small businesses. Really just an amazing opportunity to drive some impact. The reason I say that is because it was the beginning of me realizing that empowerment — taking a specific lens and empowering those that are generally under-represented or generally need a little bit more help — that was the first venue in which I was able to validate that. And so it was like, “Oh wow. I really, really enjoy this!”

Basically that was a key element for me. And then professionally, I did consulting for a couple of years. It was fine. It was just a normal consulting experience, whatever. And then I did consumer tech and I now work at YouTube and Google. Did that for a while. I had some pretty cool experiences there. But throughout it, and in particular as I moved from consulting to Google, what I realized is that basically my time in consulting was that I was typically the only non-white male in the room. And that was pretty normal. At the time I was still living in Texas. I more or less just chalked it up to like, “Oh, this is just a Deloitte thing,” which is the consulting firm that I worked at.

And then I made the switch to Google and it didn’t really change, quite honestly. Maybe there was a few more like South Asian and East Asian people in those rooms. But there definitely wasn’t Black people and there definitely wasn’t Latinx people. There were a series of specific events that happened that really highlighted this. Suffice it to say, my takeaway from my time at Google is, in order for companies to actually be diverse and remain diverse over time, they need to have founders that are diverse and they need to prioritize diversity. That was the big takeaway that I had from my professional thing.

Now, bringing it back to this idea of empowerment. Empowerment and the diversity angle, I thought the best venue for me moving forward for the remainder of my career is to create a venture capital firm that specifically focuses on under-represented minorities and women, and help empower them to create the next generation of companies. To help them establish diversity, equity and inclusion as a core tenet and principle of those companies moving forward.

So that’s how I think about it. That’s the driving north star — to really drive as much impact on other people as I possibly can. And I thought that one vehicle to do so would be venture capitals in the long-term.

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You were accepted to not just Harvard and Stanford, but also Wharton?

Yeah. Wharton with like a full-tuition fellowship. Those are the only three schools I applied to.

Everything you’ve described, it just seems like Stanford would be the logical choice for what you want to do. So why not Stanford? Why Harvard?

That’s the interesting thing. And actually, if I share even more details with you, you’ll be like, “Why the fuck didn’t you choose Stanford?” I believe the short-term path to enable me to achieve success on that long-term vision that I described is for me to move into entrepreneurship specifically in consumer tech. Basically the way that I view it is that I want to get some operating experience, potentially build a business. Whatever happens, happens, like address some impact, and then, ultimately, move into the investing side of things.

I actually decided on Stanford. But I flip-flopped. Basically I decided on it and then it started in. And then I moved back to Texas and then a few months go by and I started to imagine my life at Stanford. I think an important detail is that I really had an amazing life when I was in the Bay Area. I enjoyed my time there. I had a great set of friends. It was really awesome, but there are certain things about the city that I just don’t really like. It’s not necessarily my cup of tea, and I don’t see myself being there over the long-term.

As I began to think more and more about my life at Stanford, it would obviously be two years in the Bay Area, which is fine. I could do that. I could definitely do that. I liked Palo Alto better than I like say San Francisco city. But a couple of things, as I mentioned that post-business school, I’m going to move into entrepreneurship. I really want to just like buckle down and build something for five to seven years.

And I also know myself and what I would do post-graduation is choose the option that optimizes for my professional well-being. And there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind, the best place to be as a Stanford grad is in the Bay Area. I knew that I would make that choice, but then I started to imagine it. So it’s two years for business school and then another seven years post-business school. That’s a decade of me being in the Bay Area.

And when I started to imagine that, especially in the context of moving back to Texas and really saying, “Oh, I love Texas,” I was like, “I don’t think I can do it.” Instead, I will go to Harvard. It’s obviously not as strong in entrepreneurship. There are a higher number of people, alumni, in venture capital, but that’s just by virtue of them being a larger alumni base. What Harvard does is, it enables me a ton of flexibility post-business school on where I can go. I could go to New York. I could even go back to the West Coast. I could go back to the Bay Area — but at least I won’t be a victim to my own way of making decisions. This will enable a broader set of options. And I can really make the best decision for me at that point.

That’s a lot of self-awareness that you’re describing. 

I would say the absolute best part about applying to business school is that deep level of reflection that one has to go through to actually be able to write something that you believe in and something that is true. Getting into Harvard, Stanford, whatever, that was just like an output. But the absolute biggest thing for me is that whole level of reflection. I’ve actually built it into my daily and quarterly practice. I spend time on reflection. I specifically cut out time to do so that I can anchor a little bit better and like make the right decisions for me.

What’s interesting about that is you go through the application process, like you said, you do all that inward looking and you accept it. And then all of a sudden everything’s on hold because of Covid. So you’ve been practicing that introspection all along. You’re going to start business school, having done a great deal, more of it than maybe some of your colleagues, right?

Totally. That’s kind of been a somewhat blessing in disguise, because I had more time to reflect and I’ve also changed functions since I applied to business school. I moved from the strategy side of things to product management. And that’s honestly by virtue of all the reflection that I’ve done. And now I’m doing that and I’m having more and more reflection, right? And all of this is going to be in my toolbox as I’m going back to business school.

One of the things Raj mentioned that I want to bring up, he phrased it this way: that when he thinks about you, the first thing that comes to mind is your passion for helping others achieve their dreams. You mentioned this and your path towards diversity and inclusion. You’re helping minority entrepreneurs, building a positive environment for LGBTQ colleagues hiring in tech. Making it more inclusive, hiring in tech. These are all things that are going to be hallmarks of your enterprise. How is Harvard going to help you achieve those things?

I think the way that I’m thinking about my time in business school, in general, is it’s really relatively tactically, honestly. I want to use Harvard as a platform for me to ultimately launch the next step of my career. And as you mentioned, all of those things are very important to me. Diversity and inclusion, helping others, et cetera, et cetera. When I’m thinking about my time at Harvard and how it’s going to help me. I think it’s exposure to other folks interested in entrepreneurship, potentially my co-founding team. Right? That’s probably first and foremost, but then also Harvard is a world-class institution, not only from a business perspective, but also they have a world-class medical school. And my interest as it relates to entrepreneurship really sits at the intersection of consumer tech and health and wellness.

A good example that people tend to understand would be like something like calmer headspace, right? This is consumer tech application scaled, sitting at the intersection of health and wellness. You can imagine that’s where I want to position myself moving forward. And there’s a ton of great research ongoing at Harvard in the health and wellness space. I can make relationships in that space with a broad set of faculty that they have available there. I think that would be really, really awesome. In general, I think co-founding team, really dipping into the resources available at a world-class institution like Harvard, and then ultimately also using the entrepreneurial resources that they have available, whether it’s the Rock Center or the innovation lab, et cetera, et cetera. Being able to use those as launching pads to ultimately build that company that you just described that has those principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion — and also really is able to drive a positive impact on people and on the world more broadly.

Do you worry about it being too long before you start, fall 2022? You’ve got a whole year. What are you going to do for the next year?

It’s one of the bigger challenges that I’m facing right now. I actually go to Harvard in the fall of 2022. With all this reflection, I have a very clear vision and path on where I want to go, you know. I’m ready. I’m antsy, quite frankly! I’m ready to go.

And I did take on a new role, right? Switching functions from strategy to product management, but even still, it’s not in the health and wellness space like I would like it to be. It’s not like an early-stage company where I could potentially learn more, et cetera. It’s at Google, you know? And I’m leading YouTube Sports’ efforts and I’m helping launch a new subscription product. Don’t get me wrong, I’m learning a ton. And the way that I’m getting through all of this, what I know I’m doing right now is putting a bunch of tools in my toolbox that ultimately help me achieve my longer-term goal of helping other folks.

It is tough. It is tough quite honestly. On the day-to-day, I want to just quit today and go start my own company or quit and just go do some deep research and thinking on the health and wellness space or whatever it is. It’s something that I do have to manage day-to-day.

The harder you work the faster, the time goes, right?

That’s right. And that is right. It’s flying by. I will tell you that much.