OneHaas Undergrad Series Episode #1: Today, we’re joined by Camilo Ossa, from the undergraduate class of 2017. He shares with us his journey to social impact consulting, and subsequently to social entrepreneurship. He also discusses how the community at Haas has motivated him to strive for excellence.
On his Haas journey – “The fact that you were just kind of surrounded by this amazing group of people was a consistent source of motivation and inspiration.”"I personally want to leave the world and people who I touch better. That has been kind of a key part of what I wanted to do with my business major." Click To Tweet
Ellen: Welcome to the OneHaas Podcast – Undergraduate Series. I’m your host Ellen. And today we’re joined by our co-host Sean and our guest Camilo who is a business operations associate at Bungalow. He has a pretty unique path to the start-up world, but I’ll let him elaborate in a little bit. How’s everyone doing today?
[00:00:29] Sean: Doing good.
[00:00:30] Camilo: I’m doing great.
[00:00:31] Ellen: Awesome.
[00:00:32] Sean: So, Camilo, why don’t you start us off on where you’re from and how did you get to Haas?
[00:00:38] Camilo: Totally. So, I was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. Colombia is a beautiful, unique country in that people there are super family-oriented. It’s a lot of fun. But it’s also a country stricken by violence and a lot of poverty. So, I grew up in a little bit of that context, like a very privileged, beautiful family environment and just like physically beautiful country as well but having exposure to like bombs and communist guerillas.
[00:01:11] And, I was very lucky that I was in a big metropolis, the Capitol, but I don’t know if you all know this Columbia has the longest civil conflict in the Western hemisphere. And people just don’t know about that. They know about it being the biggest exporter of cocaine and maybe coffee.
[00:01:30] But it’s an amazing country. All our people are really awesome. And, I’m really, really proud of being Columbian. How I got to Haas is kind of a funny story. So, I had a really good friend in high school. She came to Berkeley engineering on a summer school and then once she got back, she said, Oh, you should apply to Berkeley. I had a friend at the time that was studying at UCSB. And I remember thinking like, Oh, how cool would it be to go to Santa Barbara? Like that would be the dream school, just being at the beach. And I applied to UCSB almost out of like a let’s live the Zoey 101 life.
[00:02:12] And then, also applied to Berkeley. So, you know, the stars align. I was very lucky and got into Berkeley. And then my first day of international orientation, everyone was like, what’s your major? And I said, Oh, it’s econ because I wanted to study econ. And everyone said, you know, you can just say you’re pre-Haas and I swear I didn’t even know what Haas was. I had to go back and Google, like, what is Haas? What is Berkeley Haas, what are people talking about? So, all kinds of like sweet coincidences of life. Yeah, I then ultimately applied, got in, and you know, really, really loved the experience, which I’m sure we’ll get to talk a little bit more about.
[00:02:55] Ellen: So, deciding to go to Haas obviously was the beginning of your journey. After graduating from Haas, you went to Bridgespan which is a social impact consulting firm. Was there something that helped you get there? Or what was your thought process like?
[00:03:12] Camilo: So, the biggest reason why I ended up choosing Haas over econ or some other combination was because I started my college education thinking that I was going to be an impact investor. That, you know, impact investing was the panacea, like, the dream come true job.
[00:03:33] You could help the world do positive things for the world, tangible, like environmental or health investments while also having a profitable business that then feeds back into that investment.
[00:03:48] Camilo: So when I was applying to colleges, one of my interviewer for UPenn was a guy. His name is Alejandro who started the first impact investing bank in Colombia. And they basically bought and sold debt for certain enterprises in agriculture, health, low-income housing, And, I was shocked that that was an industry.
[00:04:10] He told me about SoCap, the social capital markets conference which I ended up volunteering at years later and that’s what drew me to impact investing and then impact investing ultimately drew me to Haas. I’ve always really, really deeply believed that I personally want to like leave the world and people who I touch better and that has been kind of a key part of what I wanted to do with my business major and just my education, my career broadly. So, to Ellen’s point about how I got to Bridgespan, I got lucky. And Bridgespan is an amazing company.
[00:04:43] One of I think a few companies that really allows people to start out their careers in the social sector. And for me, I think that was the biggest turning point between choosing Bridgespan over other for-profit consulting firms. And that was because I really wanted to test whether I could have a career in the social sector.
[00:05:05] What I found was the most amazing group of colleagues and people who wanted to push everyone to be better and to do better, especially for people experiencing poverty or, you know, just situations that are unfavorable, both in the States and across the world. I also did realize that working with nonprofits and philanthropy is very much something I could exclusively pursue in the US. Either that or some form of global aid work, which I’m not as interested in. And that realization came just, it was tough for me to deal with that knowing that I do eventually want to go back to Colombia and help my country, whether that is by starting businesses that employ people or provide goods and services to those who need them. The goal of going back home or serving my country in a way that I thought was like meaningful.
[00:06:09] Sean: What were some resources at Haas that helped you along this journey?
[00:06:13] Camilo: I mean I think by far my friends were the biggest influence and that’s something I was thinking about. Like Haas is a really competitive place and at the same time, others really push you in a way that I think is amazing. So, like not settling for X or Y sharing opportunities, having a little bit of that pressure, like, Oh, wow, Ellen is so accomplished. She’s doing all these awesome things. The fact that you were just kind of surrounded by this amazing group of people was a consistent source of motivation and inspiration.
[00:06:49] There were many times where I literally had jaw-dropping moments from like lecture or I remember his name is Steve or Steven Chu gave a lecture at one of the Dean’s lectures at Haas.
[00:07:02] And I remember walking away from that just thinking like, wow, I am so, so fortunate to be here in these rooms with these people. And I just need to make the best out of it. Like it’s a full send or no, send it all situation. And, uh, that’s what I, what I tried to do with my whole Berkeley experience.
[00:07:21] And I’m really grateful. It was, you know, like a lot of hard work, like it’s for everyone, but making it meaningful is something I will always be very grateful for.
[00:07:31] Ellen: Yeah, it’s definitely what you make of it, the Haas experience. And from there, from Bridgespan, you went into the startup world. What was the thought process behind that? And, obviously a really big change. I know you’re still relatively new to the startup world but it would be good to hear from that perspective.
[00:07:51] Camilo: So, I think that the biggest thread in my education was like social entrepreneurship. During my sophomore year, me and a really close friend who is now my current roommate started like a nonprofit called Seeded Capital. We ended up fundraising and won a grant from the big ideas competition at Berkeley through the Blum Center.
[00:08:13] I love the Blum center. It’s an amazing resource for students going into social innovation, social enterprise, and impact investing. So, while business and investing and some of the more traditional subjects like finance were a big part of my education too. I think entrepreneurship was as well.
[00:08:31] More recently I’ve operated under the assumption that I don’t necessarily want to be an impact investor but more so a social entrepreneur. And as a result of that, and also based on the experience I had at Bridgespan working in advising these… like Bridgespan works with a lot of ultra-high net worth individuals some of which have built their own foundations but the wealth for those foundations have come from building these amazing companies, companies that are run smoothly that are publicly traded. I really saw myself needing to build judgment.
[00:09:08] So, like enterprise-level decision making. What does it mean to weigh choices and priorities and resources when you have to execute on those? Right. It’s very different to do that from an advising perspective than from you having to choose that strategy and then execute on it. So, I ended up going to Hive.
[00:09:30] Hive is basically a startup that does data labeling in custom machine learning models for enterprise. The reason for going to Hive was really the opportunity to get exposure to the CEO and his decision making. What does it look like to run a technology company?
[00:09:48] Camilo: And then eventually realized that my role was a function of Hive’s kind of growth trajectory and journey that needed to be more sales-oriented. And, while sales, I actually think it is a skill that is highly underrated especially in an environment like Haas and people who only choose to go into like banking consulting or tech. It’s not something that I deeply want to pursue.
[00:10:15] And that was another big reason for why then I moved to Bungalow. To be completely frank the biggest reason I also moved to Bungalow is my senior year at Haas, I interned for Bungalow and Atomic venture capital. Atomic is the incubating venture fund. Andrew Collins, who’s the CEO of Bungalow, was an EIR about two and a half years ago.
[00:10:41] And a lot of the work I did with Atomic was directly with Andrew. So, I had a personal relationship with him. He’s built an amazing team. It’s incredibly energizing. And, it’s really incredible to see the culture he’s built, the product he’s built, how he thinks about managing a company, and his leadership.
[00:11:02] So, it’s really been a privilege to be back, I guess, at Bungalow. And I just started. But how a lot of big projects things to be working on that I’m really excited about.
[00:11:12] Sean: On social entrepreneurship you had mentioned that you had made this shift from impact investing to social entrepreneurship in your head. Can you explain to our listeners what social entrepreneurship is and what it means to you?
[00:11:29] Camilo: I think being entrepreneur on its own is incredibly hard. And building a business, building a company, whether it’s a small business or really large business everything that you need to think about and do, you kind of had like the odds stacked against you.
[00:11:45] I think being a social entrepreneur is choosing to have maybe even more variables to have to think through. So, if you’re an entrepreneur and you’re optimizing for profit in a social entrepreneurship context, you would also have to be thinking about other outcomes that you’re working towards.
[00:12:04] So if it’s, you know, solar city, you need to be thinking about the emissions that you’re going to reduce as a product of having more solar panels in homes or things along those lines. While working on Bridgeband, I was fortunate to work with some of the most incredible social entrepreneurs.
[00:12:25] Being a social entrepreneur is really, really, really tough because you have to think about enterprise-level decision making, you have to prioritize for both the financial sustainability of the business and its growth from a unit economics financial perspective and the outcomes you’re trying to affect whether that’s education, health, the environment.
[00:12:52] I know a lot of these outcomes are very undefined, blurry, like how do you measure whether your education program is having an impact or not, whether your ed-tech product is really improving people’s ability to have a more successful career or whether your FinTech product really is providing more accessibility versus giving people a bank account that they might not use.
[00:13:19] So things like that I think are the nuances of social entrepreneurship. There’s a lot of human-centered design involved. I find that to be really, really interesting, and also incredibly complex. Weirdly enough, social entrepreneurship is huge in Columbia and a lot of other sorts of emerging economies.
[00:13:39] And that’s because there is no social sector. There are no philanthropy and nonprofits foundations. So, the institutional capital impact investors are actually supporting businesses that can fill some of that gap, providing services while being profitable.
[00:13:57] That’s why I personally still feel very energized about being a social entrepreneur one day. If that can happen back home, that would be a dream come true.
[00:14:12] Sean: Great! Can you share a little bit about Bungalow and what it is?
[00:14:15] Camilo: Totally. So, Bungalow is a co-living marketplace. The company’s mission really is to provide accessible, affordable, really high-quality homes to people primarily in urban areas across the United States. So the company has properties and manages properties across 12 markets in the US and we basically provide a lot of people access to rooms, great roommates, and then facilitate the move in and move out process. You could think of it as something like an Airbnb for new grads or people moving from city to city. I think the company right now is thinking a lot about the difference between providing housing versus a home.
[00:15:02] It’s really tough to get at those things. Just like what beyond the basic hierarchy of needs of housing. Can you provide for residents and users to have a truly delightful experience? To be honest, it’s hard. There’s a lot of complexity and nuance to how people live and if they don’t know each other, so many things can be amazing or not so amazing about your living situation. And I think the company, while we definitely have product-market fit and have grown incredibly, we’re still thinking about what it looks like to really, give people homes and make it a delightful experience.
[00:15:44] Ellen: You are a business operations associate. So, what does that really mean for a startup like Bungalow? I know growing very quickly, probably making some pretty important strategic decisions as well. Are you part of that or are you more running the operations? What does that really look like?
[00:16:02] Camilo: So, I think BizOps changes a lot by the company that you’re working at. At Bungalow I think it’s a combination of two things. So, the first is actually standing up new units of the business. And as an example, the business operations team of Bungalow in the past six months has stood up what is now a whole unit called property operations. And before, we were using outsourced maintenance coordinators for just anything that needed to be maintained in a home. In the past six months, the biz ops team set up a whole unit that now lets us internally manage 80% of all maintenance requests.
[00:16:43] Things like that is a lot of what the biz ops team does. So primarily focused on what resources do we need to allocate or better design to improve our contribution margin and free cash flow at the market and company level. And then the second piece is really like you were saying, I’ll run around kind of the strategy of the business. So, serving a little bit of the typical internal consultant role that some of these ops teams play, but really, really grounded in tying financial metrics and operational metrics to that strategy. I am super impressed with Bungalow’s data systems and data collection.
[00:17:25] I think we really have a powerful like an ability to test and measure those tests, which I think can be really tough. And of course, there’s a lot of work we still need to do there. But it’s really awesome to be able to, say, Hey, why don’t we go and look into ways to optimize our utilities and then actually have the data to look at the impact of those tests.
[00:17:50] Sean: Do you guys have a process on how you, especially in BizOps, how you prioritize what initiatives to work on next?
[00:17:59] Camilo: Yeah. So, I don’t know if you’ve heard the term OKR. John Doerr wrote a book about it. Andy Grove basically coined the concept and its objectives and key results. You have an objective and then you track your results against those. The company has four to six OKRs every quarter and everything that anyone at the company is doing has to tie to one of those six OKRs. So, with the given, you know, health crisis and recessionary cycle that we might be going into, Bungalow actually revisited its OKRs recently and we prioritize resource allocation within our team and across the company against those OKRs.
[00:18:41] So, the ones that I’m primarily working on are our OKRs against our contribution margin, our free cash flow, and resident renewals primarily. There’s a few others but those are the ones that I’m primarily focused on. And we use those as guiding principles. I found them to be really helpful, actually read the book that John wrote.
[00:19:03] It’s a cool, powerful concept they’ve implemented well. I think it does have to carry throughout the organization.
[00:19:17] Ellen: You know, obviously this podcast is made for past current and future Haas students. So, I guess looking back, was there something that you would’ve done differently or any advice for the undergrad students at Haas?
[00:19:35] Camilo: I am a very practical person and I think Haas nudges you to be even more practical, just like the concept of the Pareto principle, 80 20, like what is the 20% of the work or the output that will get me 80% of where I need to be or 80% of the answer, has been true, I think, since I started at Haas and definitely throughout my career as well.
[00:20:00] And I think sometimes it’s really powerful to be impractical like make decisions that are tougher and that, you know, required just like a lot of discipline and things that you’re going to ask yourself and people will ask yourself, like, why am I doing this? So, like Ellen doubling with stats, I think is amazing.
[00:20:23] And I’m sure you asked yourself so many times, like, why am I doing this again? and I think just having that knowledge is so, so powerful. So, something I wish I would have done a little bit more of is really pushing myself beyond what I knew was like enough and that’s not just for classes or a given assignment but for instance, now I think I would have loved like double majoring in biology. I really love science and plants and I wish it would have been something I had made the time for. I think I never did because it was impractical. But I think people who really go out of their way to do those things and really take advantage of the experiences that they can have access to, get the most out of Haas.
[00:21:16] Ellen: Awesome.
[00:21:20] Sean: So, to wrap up, Ellen created this fun round of quick questions that we fire off at the end. You want to start us off Ellen?
[00:21:31] Ellen: Yeah. So, the first one is a seasonal question. What are you doing to keep yourself sane during this quarantine?
[00:21:39] Camilo: I practice gratitude or like pray in every meal. I’m not very religious but I started doing that. We have friends over that have basically started sheltered in place with us. And, it’s really awesome to be thankful for all the things that we do have right now.
[00:21:57] Ellen: Cool. And what content are you consuming right now? It could be a book, show, movies.
[00:22:05] Camilo: Not too much content, weirdly enough. I started reading Love in the Time of Cholera before coronavirus started. And I’m about to finish it, but it’s just kind of ironic. But that’s the book that I’m reading.
[00:22:17] Ellen: Cool.
[00:22:19] Sean: That’s funny because, it’s, I think a lot of these stories too are very pertinent and help us stay sane in the sense that you are reminded that this is not the first time that, you know, humanity has had a pandemic and this won’t be the last. I think sometimes people feel distress because they feel like the situation’s so unique to their own life when you broaden that, it’s happened to not just other people around the world but throughout history. So, that’s pretty funny. So, next question is, what is your best productivity hack?
[00:23:01] Camilo: I love Pomodoro. 25 minutes. It’s incredible what you can do in 25 minutes if you’re using them right. And then, you know, the five minutes for random things or break. Yeah, I work really well when using that technique.
[00:23:15] Sean: Awesome. And, what was your favorite thing about Haas or Berkeley? Could be anything.
[00:23:23] Camilo: That’s tough. I remember the buttermilk chicken sandwich at FIFO which was amazing. But I think by far I am really thankful for my lectures with professor Frank Schultz and with professor Rob Chandra, who unfortunately passed last year. Like his class and getting to know him as an educator, a Berkeley supporter, a human being was really trajectory changing for me and by far the best educational experience that Berkeley gave me. So, that was my favorite thing about Haas for sure.
[00:24:01] Sean: Rob Chandra’s touched a lot of people’s lives. This is definitely can say at least like the fourth or fifth time his name’s been brought up on the podcast.
[00:24:11] Ellen: Well, cool. I think that wraps up our show today. Thank you again, Camilo. And thank you, Sean, for joining us.
[00:24:17] Sean: Thanks, guys.
[00:24:19] Ellen: Thank you for listening to this episode of the one Haas podcast, the undergrad series. If you’d like our content, please like, and subscribe to our channel and give us a review, you can also check out more episodes and hear from past and current Haas students on Spotify, Apple podcasts, and on onehaas.org until next time and go bears.