H@H: Ep 21 – Justin Jeffers, EWMBA ’21, joins us on this episode to share his journey to Haas and how he’s been making the most of his Haas experience. He shares with us some of his blunders and the value of going beyond yourself and your comfort zone to connect with all MBAs on campus regardless of program, year, or cohort.
His advice on going into the program at Haas – A) Plan – because I didn’t plan very well. B) Build a very stable foundation.
On rushing through the MBA program – Have more direction, have more planning, and really take control of your academic journey. You’ve done the work to get into such a great program. Don’t lose out on the value just by trying to rush through.I would push all of us to go Beyond Ourselves. Don't be afraid to meet people. Try to build relationships outside of the classroom. Even if we stay virtual, find ways to meet people from your class and meet people from other programs. Click To Tweet
[00:00:03] Sean: Welcome to here@haas, the podcast connecting the students across all MBA programs and the faculty that change our lives. I’m your host, Sean Li, and today I’m joined by Justin Jeffers of the MBA class of 2021. Welcome to the podcast.
[00:00:18] Justin: Thanks, Sean. Great to be here.
[00:00:21] Sean: So, you know, Justin, I know a little bit about you, about your entrepreneurial endeavors prior to Haas and some of your work here at Haas. Can you share with us your background? I really like to hear where you’re from, where you grew up, and what you did before Haas.
[00:00:37] Justin: Sure. I grew up outside of Philadelphia in a town called Brinmar; spent most of my life there. I went to Boston University for a year and a half and then transferred to Villanova University. Graduated from there with a major in accounting.
[00:00:52] Moved up to New York, worked at one of the big four accounting firms for a couple of years as an auditor, which was sometimes interesting. It wasn’t exactly fulfilling. And realized that wasn’t really what I wanted to do with my life and growing up, you know, I had always wanted to build stuff, being architect, be an engineer, design stuff.
[00:01:10] I really found that to be interesting and exciting and engaging. And accounting wasn’t necessarily that, but I recognize it to be a really good starting point for a career and a really good kind of foundation. And if you could work at one of the Big Fours, it’s a great name to have on your resume.
[00:01:27] They treat their people well, there’s okay, you know, let’s do this whole thing, but it just wasn’t for me. So, while I was at Deloitte, I had started writing about men’s clothing and men’s style. And the website was called The Fine Young Gentleman and the goal of the site was to help guys dress better.
[00:01:44] At the time, there just didn’t seem to be any resources catering towards guys like me who were in their young twenties. We needed to dress well for work so like the business casual type of stuff, and we couldn’t afford, you know, your $5,000 Savile row suits. There were all these companies popping up like direct consumer brands, like Bonobos and stuff like that.
[00:02:02] But no one was really writing about them, you know. GQ and Esquire, they weren’t covering these brands. And I was like, you know, why not? And there was a lot of hype around streetwear culture and sneakers, like Hypebeast and stuff like that. And this is back when the main Numerica movement was big.
[00:02:18] And I was like, why don’t I just write about this boring, like tailor clothing stuff? And so I did, and that was kind of The Fine Young Gentleman, which is still kind of going. And then through my interest in that, I ended up starting Jay Butler, which is a men’s loafer and leather goods company. And that’s a direct consumer brand launched in about five and a half years ago.
[00:02:34] It’s still going. I’ve continued it while I’ve been in school. But it, as you know, being an entrepreneur yourself, having a vision for a brand and a product or a service and bringing that to market and creating an entity around that is really exciting and fulfilling. Also, as you may know, as being an entrepreneur, it doesn’t always go quite as well as you hope it would go. And so, Jay Butler, although it was doing okay, it wasn’t quite doing well enough. And so, I had asked myself, okay, well, you know, what I’m doing now isn’t working. I’m trying to make some changes. It’s just not panning out.
[00:03:08] So what’s next? Do I want to go get a job in corporate America and if so, what am I going to do? Would I be a good candidate for an MBA? And obviously I decided on that and applied to a number of schools and found my way to Haas and to the Bay area. So, moved out here in July of 2018 to start the program and have been at it ever since. And then also for a year, I worked at walmart.com as a category manager, which was a great experience as well.
[00:03:36] Sean: So over the years when I do these interviews, I find two camps of students. One camp was coming in knowing exactly what they wanted to get out of the MBA, right? They wanted to go into consulting. They wanted to go into banking. And then there’s another camp, which is the camp that I’m in, which is I just wanted to come in to explore and effectively take a sabbatical, educational sabbatical, right? Which camp are you in? Because you know, you had your corporate experience, you had your entrepreneur experience. I was just curious about where your mindset was and coming in to share with our listeners.
[00:04:12] Justin: Good question not to like try and have my cake and eat it too, but I was kind of in between the two camps. And I say that because, you know, I had a feeling like I kind of wanted to stay in e-commerce and stay within men’s wear and the direct consumer space, which is what got me interested in applying and then to work at Walmart.
[00:04:30] But then I also was really curious to explore because, you know, I knew that maybe there were other sides of e-commerce. There were other sides of brand building that I just hadn’t learned about or that I could learn about in a more experimental setting in the classroom versus, you know, a real-life setting with my own business or someone else’s business. And also leaving myself open to the possibilities of doing something else. So, for instance, this summer, I’m going to be interning at one of the strategy consulting firms, but when I went into school, I was anti-consulting. I was like, no, I know a bunch of guys who did this. Like I’m not selling out.
[00:05:01] I’m not going to go back and work for the man like that. Even though I guess you could argue Walmart is like the biggest man in the room. It gives us like the base coming to the world. But I was like, I’m not going to sell out and do that corporate thing again. Well, you know, here I am, but I am quite excited for it.
[00:05:14] So, I was a little bit in both camps because I had a general idea of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. But I wasn’t like I’m going just to go into banking or I’m going to school just to get into consulting. That wasn’t the thing. I was like, okay, let’s do e-commerce, retail, stuff like that and, you know, consulting is a little different than I initially planned but related because you can specialize in eCommerce and in retail within it.
[00:05:38] Sean: You’ve been here for two years now. What would you say have been the most memorable moments in terms of a class or just some activity you’ve experienced through the school?
[00:05:52] Justin: So, great question. In terms of memorable experiences, I think there are two buckets. There’s the more kind of social extracurricular and then there’s the academic. I’ll start with the academic and then go into the social. So academic, there are some classes, every school has them. I’ll call them the institutions within the institution.
[00:06:09] The professors who have either been there forever or their classes, just like a must-take. So, the classroom right now, Holly Schroth negotiation class, like, that to me is a must-take. It can be applied to so many different levels of an organization, so many different intellectual and personal and academic interests and professional interests. So, like, to me, that’s a great learning experience. It’s very experiential. There’s a lot of takeaways from that class. Another great class., it’s a ton of work; it should be like a four-credit class. And it’s really any of his classes but Peter Goodson, his M&A class, which I took in the spring and I’m taking his turnarounds class this summer, it is grueling, it’s intense, but the value that you can get from it is tremendous. It’s one of those classes we were like, thank God it’s done but I feel like I fully got my time and my money’s worth out of that class which is really important and it’s fun while you’re doing it.
[00:07:02] So those are two great experiences. I was fortunate as an Evening & Weekend student to take a full-time class Power and Politics with Professor Cameron Anderson last fall. That was a great class as well. I would say he’s kind of an institution within the institution. Very well-liked, the class is always full and like negotiations, it’s almost complimentary to the class actually. You can use the knowledge and the concepts across many, many, many different aspects of life in many different types of work that you do. So those are probably three of the top academic experiences that I’ve had. On the social side, when I was working full-time doing the evening weekend program and then running my own business as well, I didn’t really have a social life to be totally honest. There was just not much time left. But since I stopped working full time, it’s been really nice because I’ve gotten to know some more of our evening weekend classmates more and also got to know a lot of the full-time students, which has been really nice.
[00:07:58] And, if anything, more curious about us than we are about them. And so, I’ve spent a lot of time in particular with the golf club and the soccer club. I think sports are a great way to meet people. It’s a fun way to bond. It’s a fun activity. And then UCLA hosts tournament, every fall was down there. There were like 10 schools there. And then McCombs hosted a tournament in Austin at UT. And that was in February. And that was a ton of fun. So those were probably the two of the most memorable social experiences.
[00:08:47] And so then it was just getting on the email list, starting to meet the people, building the relationships, and just having a good time.
[00:08:53] Sean: Have you been taking a lot of entrepreneurship classes here at Haas?
[00:08:56] Justin: No, I haven’t actually and I was actually gonna ask you if you’d taken Kurt Bayer’s entrepreneurship class. And I, you know, I, truth be told I did really want to and it just didn’t work out with my academic planning and I can talk about some of the mistakes that I’ve made in terms of my academic planning or lack thereof in the early part of my MBA.
[00:09:16] But I kind of tried to right that ship, you know, in the back half. They’re allowing us now to start requesting the audio recordings of some of the classes. And that’s a class that I will a hundred percent request the audio recording of because I do want to hear what he has to say.
[00:09:31] I’m sure there’s still a lot of lessons I can learn from that class. And I may actually reach out to him as well, just say, Hey, like if you’re looking for, you know, students who are entrepreneurs who’ve made a lot of mistakes, like more than willing to come in and you know, share about all my mess-ups along the way.
[00:09:48] Sean: So, I mean, I do have to ask, since you brought it up, what are some mistakes that you’ve made at Haas that you would have done differently?
[00:09:58] Justin: Yeah. So, and you know, for anybody listening, even if you’re a current student but especially for potentially prospective students, there were a couple of mistakes that I made. One is my decision to go to Haas was made pretty last minute. I applied to Haas like the fourth round or something like that, which was like an April deadline.
[00:10:17] And, you know, I did the interview and, you know, they accepted me. I think I found out like mid-May or something like that. And there was an admitted student thing, like the beginning of June.
[00:10:29] And I came out. I was like, kind of on the fence between here and a couple of other schools on the West coast, interestingly enough.
[00:10:35] And I came out and went to San Francisco, went over to Berkeley, like visit everything and waited a couple of weeks to make my decision. Made my decision at like the end of June that I was going to move out to San Francisco and the way that I did it was pretty rushed. And I got out here like July 24th and our like orientation weekend started July 27th.
[00:10:56] And it was just a mess. Like I got out here, I was splitting time and squatting at my sisters’ houses, you know, different parts of the Bay area. And I didn’t have a place to live. I didn’t have a job. Like I came out to do the school thing, I was trying to find a job, like trying to find an apartment.
[00:11:10] It was a mess. And so I did not have a stable foundation with which to start the program on. And as part of that, I wasn’t doing the pre-work for the course. I wasn’t spending the time because I was so concerned about finding an apartment and finding a job that wasn’t really getting to know my classmates in the beginning.
[00:11:25] And I was falling behind in the work and it just like, it sucked because I wasn’t able to add the value to the classes into my workgroups that I would have liked to or that I could have. And I wasn’t able to get the value out of the first semester in particular of courses. And then, you know, once I started working, you know, I was just totally underwater trying to learn a new job and moving into my apartment at the same time.
[00:11:47] This was like September so a month and a half after the program started. So, long story short is go into the program and A) Plan, because I didn’t plan very well. B) Build a very stable foundation. If you have to move here, don’t move here, look for a job, look for an apartment all at the same time.
[00:12:05] Like there’s only so many things you can do at once. And know kind of your bandwidth. So that the biggest thing for me. Come in and have an idea and a direction with where you want to go. And that plays into the academic planning side of things. I came in and, you know, I was like, you know what, I’m in this MBA. It’d be great. And I know there’s a core curriculum the first like a year and a half. So, like, I don’t have to make any decisions. Well, you kind of do, because you have to plan ahead for the stuff and you have to do this whole bidding process. And, I was so far behind with that stuff and just didn’t put the deliberate intention behind many of my actions the first year and a half, which is really unfortunate because I lost out on a lot of the value of the program and probably took a couple of courses that had I been really focused and really taking control of my academic journey. They weren’t really bad classes, just, they weren’t a fit for what I was trying to get out of the program.
[00:13:00] And if you think about the finances of it, you know, a credit is $3,500 bucks, so you take two-credit courses that are, you know, they’re good courses, but not the best fit for you, like, okay, did you just spend $14K on courses that you could have gotten more value out of or that are a better fit for you?
[00:13:19] So, have more direction, have more planning, and really take control of your academic journey. And don’t be afraid to, you know, Hey, if you don’t get into the class this semester, like try for next year or try for next semester, try for in the summer. Don’t feel like you need to rush through finishing and you and I were talking about this earlier, like, don’t feel like you need to rush through finishing just to finish. Like, make sure you’re here. You’ve done the work to get into such a great program. Don’t lose out on the value just by trying to rush through.
[00:13:51] Sean: That’s a really good point. I think if it makes you feel any better, at the end of the day, I think, yeah, we’re learning a lot from these classes, but who are you meeting in the class, right? Who are you connecting with? Who are you networking with and building new relationships with that? You know, these are only the starting points. And so, if there’s a silver lining, it’s that you just don’t know what the relationships that you’ve established so far can blossom into. And I’m saying that as a graduate now.
[00:14:24] Justin: Yeah. I think there’s total validity to that statement.
[00:14:27] Sean: It’s a complete shocker how this last semester everything’s started coming together in terms of just my classmates. Classmates are directors of this, heads of that. And they work at this startup with VC funding or that startup with VC funding and they know this VC or that VC.
[00:14:47] And now they’re like, Hey, do you want me to connect you with them? They’re just like, wow. Would not have expected that the first year, but by the third year, it’s just so amazing how quickly people advance in their careers just from the MBA. And this is only the starting point, right. Five years from now it’ll be even more amazing. So, it’s pretty cool.
[00:15:09] Justin: Yeah. What will you say? Just made me think of I’m a big fan of blues music and John Mayer is a great guitar player and not always given credit for his blues music cause he’s mostly known for his playing with the grateful dead and his solo stuff. But his blues trio, they had a live concert back in LA.
[00:15:26] This is a number of years ago and kind of gets up there and he was talking about, he’s like, you know what, in my twenties, like I made a lot of stuff happen for myself. And like, that’s great, but like, there’s more to it, but you know, what you’re saying is like, you made lots of happen for yourself, but you’re also helping and your classmates are helping you make stuff happen for other people. And that’s a lot of what this MBA stuff is all about. It’s like, yeah, stuff happen for yourself, but also for other people. And I think Haas does a really good job of trying to ingrain that in its kind of culture which is nice.
[00:15:55] Sean: Yeah. Student Always, Beyond Yourself.
[00:15:56] Justin: Yep.
[00:15:58] Sean: What are your plans moving forward?
[00:16:02] Justin: Yeah, they’ll see.
[00:16:04] Sean: You know, midway through your journey now, what have you discovered or uncovered for yourself if anything yet and maybe you haven’t.
[00:16:12] Justin: Yeah. So, to directly answer, like, what is my plan now? You know, I think a few minutes ago I had mentioned that I’m going to be interning at one of the strategy consulting firms this summer. So, you know, has happened with many people, what was a 10-week internship and in person has been switched to virtual and has been shortened, which most companies are doing that.
[00:16:32] So, I’ll be doing the consulting thing this summer and, you know, if I like it and it’s a good fit, then, you know, I may do that after I graduate. And if I don’t like it or it’s not a good fit, then it’s okay. What’s next? Do I want to go back into eCommerce and retail, you know, go back to a Walmart or try to work at an Amazon?
[00:16:49] Do e-commerce at like Facebook or Google or right now my shoe company Jay Butler is bootstrapped. Like we don’t have VC funding, we don’t have angel funding. Would an option be to raise external funds? So, you know, I’m not concerned about a lack of options. It’s just, you know, what’s going to be the most logical clearest exciting path.
[00:17:10] So I think right now the plan is to, you know, evaluate the consulting opportunity as much as possible to see if that’s something that I really like. I think conceptually I like it. In practice, we’ll see if it’s something that I really enjoy and yeah. With Jay Butler, the plan is, you know, to keep it going in one way, shape or form.
[00:17:25] If obviously I’m working in consulting, there’s not going to be much time for it. But if you know, in other jobs there may be more time to focus on it. So, we’ll see. I’m spending a lot of time now kind of building up flows and building up a team so that I can remove myself from that equation as much as possible so that it can maintain profitability, accelerate the growth significantly.
[00:17:47] Sean: We will have to share the link to Jay Butler. And I don’t know if you’re still running. Are you still running the blog?
[00:17:54] Justin: Yeah, kind of. I haven’t put a post out in, yeah, I haven’t been posted on in a few weeks, but it’s kind of a pet project. It’s a labor of love, certainly, as I think for you, this podcast started out as such, and then you realized you really enjoy the podcasting world. So, the Fine Young Gentleman is still going, but you know, it’s changing.
[00:18:10] I want to rebrand it. I want to kind of, it needs a new voice. The voice that it had for many years was frankly terrible. So, it needs to become a little more mature, a little more sophisticated, a little less of a character and more of an authentic, genuine voice. It’s a story for another time though.
[00:18:28] Sean: I’ll definitely share all these links to our listeners because as Haasies, we always want to support other Haasies.
[00:18:35] Justin: Yeah. Yeah. Very true.
[00:18:37] Sean: Alrighty, any other pieces of parting wisdom before we wrap up?
[00:18:41] Justin: We kind of touched on it, you know, you were touching on the networking side of it, which I think is very important. And one unique aspect of the Haas program is we have three different programs. We have the evening weekend program, which you and I were both part of. We have the executive program and then there’s the full-time program.
[00:18:58] And there’s a lot that we as students and the school can do to integrate those programs and to really build on the value of having these different groups of people in different stages of their life, in different stages of their career. And don’t be afraid, you know, for students who are incoming students who are currently in any of the three programs, don’t be afraid to just meet people from the other programs. Just walk up to someone who you’re like, you know what, I know they’re an MBA student. I know they’re not even a weekend MBA student, I think they’re an Executive Student, like, just walk up to those people. Or if you’re a full-time student, like come up to me, it’s like, everyone’s friendly.
[00:19:35] We should all be friends. And there is no animosity, but it’s just like, Whoa, there’s like this kind of like awkward moments. I’m going to be like, I know that’s an MBA student, but like, it’s not like in my program. And so, I think we, as students, I would push all of us to go Beyond Ourselves. And to really, as students, work to further integrate the program socially because I think there’s a lot of value that we could all get out of doing so.
[00:20:00] And even within, you know, the evening weekend program, I would encourage my fellow students. You know some are much better at this than I had been, especially in the first year, but now I’m better at it. Get to know your students, not just, you know, the normal kind of routine of going to class and going out for a drink afterward, but like try and go to the social events, try to build relationships outside of the classroom.
[00:20:20] Because we were saying is there’s a lot of value, that there’s a network there. And a lot of people are doing really interesting stuff. You’ll get these ideas. You’ll find people to hire or be hired by. So that’s a big part of this whole experience for us and don’t undersell it. Even if we stay virtual, like find ways to meet people from your class and meet people from other programs.
[00:20:42] So that, that was probably the last bit of parting wisdom. And, have fun with the whole thing too.
[00:20:49] Sean: Thanks for sharing that. Thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
[00:20:52] Justin: Well, thank you for having me. Sean, it’s great to be here. Great to catch up with you again, and I hope to see you soon. Congratulations on graduating as well.