H@H: Ep 41 – Dawa Ardiles joins host Ray Guan on this week’s episode of Here@Haas. Currently the head of marketing for Brightflow AI, and serving as President of the Haas FinTech Club, Dawa hails from Argentina and is passionate about the intersection of finance and technology. Dawa talks to us about the exciting opportunities that FinTech holds for Latin America, especially in its ability to give people access to financial instruments many Americans take for granted.
On industries within FinTech – “…we have many industries within the FinTech industry. So you have payments, you have Venmo, PayPal. You’ll have digital loans. There’s a really cool one in Latin America called Nubank [that’s] entirely digital. Then you have blockchain. [There] are so many different industries within FinTech and that’s I think what makes it very, very interesting.“
Democratization of finance – “FinTech gives people [in countries like Argentina] access to saving money, to investing their money, and to… being able to have a credit card or a debit card. [It gives] people access to something that we usually take for granted.”
Advice for international prospective students – “We come from diverse backgrounds, from many different countries, but I think that there’s some underlying similarities within all of that. Make sure you like the school’s culture and then figure out what your goals are.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Ray: Hey listeners, before we start, we just wanted to thank you guys for your continual support in what was an interesting year, to say the least. We know that people have been through a lot physically, emotionally, financially. So, thanks for continuing to listen and for continuing to support the Haas community. Now, onto today’s episode.
[00:00:24] Welcome to here@haas, a student-run podcast, bringing you stories of current faculty and students from all the different MBA programs. Today we’re joined by Dawa Ardilles, a full-time MBA student of the class of 2021 and co-president of the FinTech club. Welcome to the podcast, Dawa.
[00:00:46] Dawa: Hey, Ray, thank you so much for having me. So very excited to be here.
[00:00:49] Ray: Yeah, of course. Why don’t you just tell us about your journey to Haas?
[00:00:54] Dawa: Well, I’m from Argentina. I grew up in Buenos Aires and I started industrial engineering because I really like to know how things work and how things are made. And I thought that was the perfect warrior for me. But when I ended college, I didn’t know what to do. I realized I liked everything. So, I couldn’t decide. So, I went to consulting to understand multiple industries and worked in different companies to know what I liked. I joined process consulting. I went to different industries. I even went to manufacturing. When I was actually in the factory, I was doing production planning.
[00:01:30] And after a couple of years, I realized that I didn’t like to be in just one part of the process. I like to see the impact of my work, living with the results, and actually being accountable for those. So, that’s where I moved to Mercado Libre, which is the biggest tech company in Argentina. I absolutely loved working there.
[00:01:52] I was specifically in the FinTech business unit. It was very small, almost like a startup within a company. And I really enjoy the fast pace of working there. The culture of the company, I felt like I was working there with friends and that’s what I love the most because things just flowed very nicely.
[00:02:11] We were able to work so well together. I really loved it. But after a couple of years in there, I realized that I wanted to take my career to the next level. I wanted to have an experience of personal growth and I thought that getting an MBA would get me exactly that. Living in another country for two years, getting to know people from all over the world, being in a safe space where I could practice interpersonal skills and make all the mistakes I wanted because I was getting feedback from professors, from fellow classmates. And that’s why I decided to come here to Haas.
[00:02:45] Ray: I have a question about Mercado Libre. Now you mentioned that it was kind of a startup environment at the time you worked there. But today, it’s often compared to as a kind of like the Amazon of Latin America. How did Mercado Libre go from like a startup environment to Amazon?
[00:03:02] Dawa: Marco Liberty was founded 20 years ago. The founder is a Stanford graduate, started the idea at Stanford, and then went to concern some start building this platform.
[00:03:14] Their e-commerce business unit is actually huge. You can argue that it’s more bureaucratic than other business units. I was in the FinTech one. And I felt like the culture was entirely different. From the moment I joined, I saw many other business units being warned in the company. And I saw that every single business unit had its own culture and was more startup-y.
[00:03:38] Ray: Okay. That makes sense. So, fast forward, you mentioned wanting to come to the US and to come to Haas to do the two-year MBA program. Did you also look at other schools and was there a special kind of quality that attracted you to Haas?
[00:03:55] Dawa: Yeah. I looked at many schools. I actually even looked in Europe because I feel like in Argentina or at least in Buenos Aires, we have a similar culture to Europe rather than the US.
[00:04:07] And that’s why I wanted to go there so I could feel more at home. And then I said, Hey, Dawa, well, why are you doing the MBA? Didn’t you want to grow? And didn’t you want to be in a different culture? So, it’s like, yes, I have to go to Europe. So, then I narrowed it down. Okay, I’m going to leave for the US. I think that being surrounded by tech companies was a big plus for me.
[00:04:32] I wanted to stay in this industry, preferably in FinTech, and that’s why Berkeley was in my top priorities. If I want to go to school, I would have the same access that I have here.
[00:04:49] Ray: I think Berkeley’s proximity to Silicone Valley allows you to meet in person, you know, back in the pre-COVID days with coffee or, you know, sometimes quick lunches.
[00:05:00] And also you get to see a lot of guest speakers that are graduates. And let’s say alumni from Haas or from other schools that come to Haas and you can attend those kinds of lunch and learns other workshops as well. So, you mentioned tech being a big attraction for you for Haas. And I noticed that you were also the co-president of the FinTech club.
[00:05:26] Tell us about how you got interested in FinTech and tell us also about how you’ve maintained your interest and perhaps even enhanced that through your experience at Haas?
[00:05:39] Dawa: I think my way into the FinTech industry was very random. I saw the opportunity of Markel Libre. They were really liked. I went to interviews.
[00:05:49] I liked the people there and like the culture. So, I just got the job there that I really liked. But when I was working there, I realized I really liked the vision and the purpose of the company that it was democratizing finance in Latin America. So, I had an idea that after Haas, I wanted to stay in that industry that I really liked and I also had the experience.
[00:06:08] In my years at Haas, well, the three semesters, I wanted to have a leadership role because that was part of why I came here. I wanted to grow on some aspects of myself, I wanted to work in leadership skills and personal skills, and having a leadership position in a club or an MBA, I think would help me with that. And that’s why I decided to join the FinTech club or run for the venture club.
[00:06:39] Ray: Tell us about the FinTech club, maybe what its purpose is, what its goals are.
[00:06:46] Dawa: Yeah. The main goal of the FinTech club is to connect students during the MBA with the FinTech industry. So, people who have no idea what FinTech is and want to get into the industry, can speak to alumni, go to conferences, have even case competitions.
[00:07:07] We didn’t do one this year because of COVID and then organization was overwhelming I guess, with everything going on, but we already have an express sense for the next year and they want to do a case competition. One thing that we did this year, that I’m very, very proud of is that, to give you a context of FinTech club has only been running for five years.
[00:07:28] And it didn’t start as a standalone club. It started under the finance club. We realized that the finance club was very focused on investment banking and some people didn’t want to join the finance club because they didn’t see themselves as that. So, we had trouble getting people into the FinTech club.
[00:07:47] And now what we did is moved the FinTech club to the tech umbrella. It’s just a different product. And that’s what we thought that it will be a lot better to be under the tech umbrella instead of finance. And actually, now we have a lot more members than in previous years. So, I think it opened it up to a lot more people, you know.
[00:08:05] Ray: FinTech is definitely a growing industry. I think I first heard of it maybe two or three years ago. I was working at that time with InsureTech company. So, it’s in a similar space. But I guess for our listeners who are maybe not aware of kind of this recent trend, can you just kind of explain maybe what FinTech is?
[00:08:28] Dawa: As we all know, banks can be very slow to adapt to new trends or new things that are going into a market. For instance, making a transaction. I can’t believe when I came here, I couldn’t believe that I had to pay like $25 to make a transaction. And you can use Venmo, and now you can make transactions for free. So, these slowness to respond to trends in the industry have made banks very vulnerable to companies that want to be in this space.
[00:09:04] So we have many industries within the FinTech industry. So, you have payments there. You have BMO, PayPal, you have digital lines. There’s a really cool one in Latin America called Nubank, it’s from Brazil, it’s huge and it’s entirely digital at any branch at all. Then you have Blockchain. It started out at Bitcoin, but now there are a lot of digital currencies and there are a lot of banks that are enabling the transaction with Blockchain or with digital coins. PayPal just announced that they’re allowing intersections with digital currencies. So, there’s so many different industries within FinTech and that side thing. It makes it very, very interesting. I want to give you an example, like in Argentina, for instance, there’s a lot of informal jobs.
[00:10:02] So people, for instance, I got a bank account when I started my first job. They needed to deposit in my salary. So, I opened a bank account. But if you’re not in a formal job, then all you get is cash. And then you cannot open a bank account and deposit all your money there because the government is going to come and say, Hey, where are you taking your money from?
[00:10:26] Wait, do you have a job and you’re not paying taxes? So then, people have all this cash that they’re gaining from the informal market. And there’s high inflation in Argentina. It’s 40 to 50% annual. They have either spend it or keep the pesos lose value. This, I think FinTech is giving these people access to saving money, to invest their money, and not lose value to being able to have a credit card or a debit card that they’re not used to.
[00:11:03] Instead of having all that money in their wallet, they can have a debit card and that’s it. So, I think it’s what I was talking about demographic racing, finance, that’s what I’m talking about. Like giving these people access to something that we usually take for granted. I turned 18. I had my credit card. I had an extension from my mom’s and I never questioned. I was like, Oh, I can’t believe this is so good. I just had it. So, I really liked that purpose of FinTech.
[00:11:32] Ray: I really appreciate the explanation because I feel like FinTech is one of these buzzwords where you hear a lot, but, you know, for someone like me, I actually didn’t know that. The way you explained it is so clear that yes, there are different divisions, right, within FinTech. There’s like payments, there’s blockchain, you know, there’s banks. Right? All of these are, you know, all of these companies in these separate divisions kind of work on their own product and they have potentially a different focus or a different customer focus. And so, it’s really good to hear you kind of explain and elaborate on that.
[00:12:07] So, I want to pivot next to your time at Haas. And I want to ask you about some of the favorite classes that you’ve taken, whether they’re core classes or elective.
[00:12:20] Dawa: My favorite from the core were both micro and macroeconomics. Microeconomics because I had Tadelis and I think, like the most amazing professor in the world.
Ray: Why is that?
[00:12:33] He’s the first person I have asked that is not afraid to tell you things how they are. I’m very direct. And I like to hear how it is. And I learned a lot from him. I really, really liked it. And then micro, eh, it was just so fun. Every time she said something. Like she was explaining a concept.
[00:12:55] And after every class, we’re in the middle of every class, she was, well, this is how Argentina did it. This is not how you should do it. And every single class she uses Argentina as an example of what not to do when you’re running an economy.
[00:13:11] Ray: What were your thoughts? Did you agree? Did you disagree?
Dawa: Yeah, I agree.
Ray: Going back though, to what you were saying about being direct. It’s funny. I feel like your microeconomics teacher is not representative of most people that you’ll meet in the US. I have found, in talking to some other folks, you know, we’ve had some other international folks from Russia, from Latin America, from Eastern Europe, where they’ve commented on, you know, the US. People here are not really direct, you know, they won’t tell you exactly how they see it. They’ll kind of go around the subject. Did you have a similar experience?
[00:13:54] Dawa: Yeah, definitely. Yes. I don’t know how to say it. Like I don’t get offended if someone tells me something about myself, either good or bad, sometimes I feel I’m just going to say it, sometimes I feel people are fake.
[00:14:10] But maybe they’re not fake. It’s just how they learned to behave or answer people. I think that we have very different cultures. We give constant feedback with my friends. Like if something doesn’t look good from one of my friends at home, I’m gonna tell her because she’s going to appreciate it. Going out with a hideous blouse, for instance.
[00:14:35] Ray: Love that. Yeah.
[00:14:38] Dawa: And here, I think that you could never tell that to someone. And if I did say, Hey, I don’t like your blouse. I don’t think you should go out with that. I think people are going to take it the wrong way. I think it’s a cultural difference. We used to do many things.
[00:14:53] Ray: Yeah. You will never get asked your opinion on people’s blouses. Again, if you say that, it’s funny because that’s, you know, very true with the Chinese culture, the Asian culture I grew up into. Right. You go back home after a few years, you gained some weight. People will tell you straight up. They’re like, okay, like, within the first minute, you’ll get a comment on your weight.
[00:15:15] You know if it changed since the last time they saw you. So, that’s hilarious. And I’m kind of glad that you brought that up because never have I heard someone, you know, who hasn’t seen, like if I have one of my American friends when they see me, you know, even if I did gain or lose a lot of weight, that wouldn’t definitely be the first thing they say, they will probably never even mention it in the entire night.
[00:15:41] Dawa: But when you hear from me, Hey, I love your shirt. You’re going to know it’s true.
[00:15:45] Ray: I know. That’s going to be the compliment I’m going to go for provided, you know, we meet in person before the year ends. I’ll save my best shirts for you. All right. Well, I guess you’re now almost finishing up this third semester, so you’ve got one more left before graduating. Have you figured out what you want to do?
[00:16:04] Dawa: No, no idea. Because I want it to take negotiations, environment politics. And I did that this semester. So, now I don’t think I have like classes I really, really want to take. Those are already gone. I’m taking now this semester Portuguese and I’m going to do it next semester.
[00:16:24] I’m very happy about that. Um, in Argentina, I worked with a lot of Brazilian people. They only knew Spanish perfectly. I only said like nobody got out and that’s it. Yeah. So that was one of my goals of learning.
[00:16:43] Ray: Yeah. I think you had mentioned that there are a lot of business, a lot more business opportunities in Brazil than other countries in South America, but then in terms of your career, Dawa, it sounds like you are pretty focused on the FinTech space, but have you figured out where that’s going to lead you, you know, here in the US you know, back in South America, when you graduate next May, is there anything that you’re leaning towards?
[00:17:12] Dawa: Yeah, definitely. I want to stay in the FinTech industry. Don’t know which roles here. I like to do everything like everything is interesting to me. And in terms of location, I would really like to go back to Argentina. I know it’s doing very bad now, but in Latin America, I think the culture is very different. And if we’re being honest, once the MBA’s sober, everyone is going through their own houses or their own cities. Everyone is going to disperse. So, I feel like I have to start all over again in a country that’s not mine, in the language that I know how to think, but it’s not mine. So, I think that I want to go back. Yeah, definitely looking for opportunities in Latin America.
[00:18:03] Ray: And I think that might be the best location to, obviously, if you’re going to democratize finance in Latin America, it probably makes more sense to do it in Latin America.
Dawa: Yeah, exactly.
Ray: All right. Well next, we just have some lightning round questions, and look, you’ve been honest with us the whole time, so just feel free to do that here. These are going to be quick Q and A’s. The first question I have for you is what is a podcast or book recommendation that you’re currently listening to or reading?
[00:18:37] Dawa: Sapiens. I’m not currently reading it, but it’s one that I really, really liked.
[00:18:43] Ray: Okay. Nice. Next question. When it’s safe to travel again, where would be your first vacation destination?
[00:18:51] Dawa: I think Ibiza, Croatia, something like that, really big. Like a big graduation trip.
[00:18:57] Ray: Like Ibiza is known for their legendary parties, uh, from what I’ve heard. So, before we wrap up Dawa, what advice did you have for prospective students that are listening and maybe thinking about doing an MBA, especially those from other countries.
[00:19:15] Dawa: Everyone told me this and I wasn’t sure what they meant, but every school has its own culture. And they’re really recruited in terms of certain characteristics they look at people. So, make sure you talk to a lot of people and understand their underlying similarities between those people and make sure you will be comfortable spending two years with them.
[00:19:39] I think that is certainly true for the culture of Haas. I know that of course, we come from diverse backgrounds from many different countries, but I think that there are some underlying similarities within all of that, that I really, really like. And I really enjoy it. So, make sure you like the culture and then figuring out what your goals are. What do you want to get out of this experience and do everything in your power to get those learning opportunities that will take you closer to reaching that goal?
[00:20:10] Ray: Well said. Well, thanks so much for coming on the podcast today, Dawa.
[00:20:15] Dawa: Of course. Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed this.
[00:20:18] Ray: Thanks for tuning into another episode of the here@haas podcast.
[00:20:22] If you enjoyed what you heard, please leave us a rating and review on the Apple podcast. For show notes, transcripts, and links to show references, check out our website at haaspodcasts.org. That’s haaspodcasts, plural.org. This episode was edited by Adam Ward and produced by new Murphy. I’m Ray Guan, happy holidays.
[00:20:45] And we’ll see you in 2021 here at Haas.