H@H: Ep 3 – Host Ray Guan talks with Maggie on her journey to Haas and involvement in entrepreneurship. Maggie shares with us her experience in the StEP program, her participation in startup & VC competitions, and why economics and accounting have been (surprisingly) so much fun.
[00:00:00] Ray Guan: Welcome to here at Haas, a student-run podcast of the Berkeley-Haas community. My name is Ray Guan, and today we’re joined by Maggie Lau, an evening-weekend student of the class of 2022. Welcome, Maggie.
[00:00:20] Hi, Ray!
[00:00:22] Let’s start with your journey to Haas. Tell us about your background and how you got here.
[00:00:28] Maggie Lau: Sure. I was born and raised in Hong Kong and I moved to California – San Jose, California – when I was 11, and I pretty much grew up in California. Before Haas, I went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I studied biochemistry, but after graduation I decided not to do anything with that major.
[00:00:52] While at Cal Poly – I co-founded a student organization called Chinese Cultural Club and I realized that I love working with people and interacting with others and working on projects. So, I wanted to get into business or business operations. And a few years after I graduated from Cal Poly, I decided to pursue my MBA and I actually applied to Haas, but I didn’t get in then. So that was my first attempt and the feedback that I got was that, “Hey, Maggie, you’re still too green and why don’t you get a couple more years of work experience and try again?” And so last year or two years ago, when I had a conversation with a close friend, she encouraged me to – that it was time to reapply and to go after my dream. And so, I did last year and fortunately I’m here.
[00:01:54] Ray Guan: Has there been anything that’s changed when you first applied versus now? I know it’s been a few years, so have your goals changed from then until now, and if so, what additional questions are you asking yourself?
[00:02:11] Maggie Lau: I think my goals are more refined than the first time I applied. I always knew that I wanted to run a company to be an entrepreneur. And after a couple of years of working, I knew that this is really what I want to do. And this time around, I am more focused on pursuing this path of entrepreneurship and also exploring opportunities within this space, which area to focus on. And this is what I’m doing now. And I know that Haas is still my top one dream school. Before this application or the acceptance, I attended the diversity symposium. I went to the woman’s event and I know that this is the school I want to attend with such diverse student body and amazing faculty and network to grow my career.
[00:03:10] Ray Guan: Very nice. Well, Congrats. You got in and I think myself and a lot of others are very happy that you’ve done so. I think this is a good time to transition into what you’ve been doing at Haas. Now you mentioned a bunch of things, including entrepreneurship, diversity. Tell us about your experience so far here at Haas and what extracurricular activities you’ve been involved in.
[00:03:39] Maggie Lau: Yeah, excited to talk about that. So, I’ve been involved with a program called StEP since the first semester I’m a Haas. It’s a student run program, that’s affiliated with the brick fee entrepreneurship association. So, StEP is an eight-week experiential program that connects UC Berkeley engineering, computer science, business design, and other students on campus to help found their startup and to find their co-founders and team members. And throughout this program, not only do we help students match and find their founding team, but we also help them on building their MVP, developing their go-to market strategy, and to pitch to investors. So, the first semester I applied to this program StEP. I applied to be part of a founding team. After talking to the co-founding members of StEP, I also got myself involved in the leadership team, coordinating the program. And I love this program. It’s a great way to really get into the entrepreneurship environment at UC Berkeley; to get myself introduced into the startup ecosystem that I’m not familiar with and to connect with other students with entrepreneurial spirits and students from outside of my EWMBA program. I now have connection with students outside of Haas who are doing their postdoc, who are undergraduate students, but very passionate and already know that they want to build something to contribute to the society. So, it’s been an amazing journey so far.
[00:05:32] Ray Guan: Yeah. I like to actually ask you about that. So, I was involved in StEP as well, and I’m just very curious about how this concept came together and how has your experience been in networking with folks from different departments? You mentioned undergraduates here. I think there are people from the school of engineering, from the school of computer science, and so we really take a lot of Haas students that participate and connect them with those in other schools as well.
[00:06:10] Maggie Lau: Yeah. The concept of StEP came together. It was actually founded by a couple of Haas MBA students. I wasn’t part of that founding team, but the concept of StEP is we have many different programs at UC Berkeley. We have Launch, we have Cal Hacks, which is not too business oriented, but more technology oriented, engineering oriented. So, the concept of StEP is how to blend everybody together. For students who are from business school, students who are from engineering school, how to bring them together to really develop a product and to build their business case. And although we have many different programs at UC Berkeley, we see a need for a program like StEP to help students who don’t know where to start. StEP is also a first step for a lot of students like myself into the startup ecosystem. So, it’s super valuable because every week during the eight weeks program. We are bringing in industry experts; we’re bringing in faculty. Last week we brought in professor Abby Scheck from our Innovation Department to talk about go to market strategy. And he gave us real life examples of how it has worked or did not work for companies.
[00:07:39] Ray Guan: I think that is so amazing that you’re utilizing a lot of these resources that you can tap on for us students. You mentioned faculty. There are also some alumni. One question I have is, what do folks typically do after StEP. Do they go found their own companies? Do they go do other entrepreneurship programs on campus?
[00:08:05] Maggie Lau: I think it’s a combination of everything that you just mentioned. We have teams that continue on with their startup idea and grow it into something bigger and really took it to the next step and go into competitions and go into Skydeck or go into Launch to continue to test your MVP, developed it into a real product that they can sell tech to the market and get funding. We also have teams that go back to their original plan and maybe they re-apply to StEP to grow their original idea or modify their idea into something that is a better market fit. I’ve seen both, but we also have start-ups that are applying to Y Combinator and are quite successful. There is one that was featured in Wall Street journal last semester. And it’s one of the success stories from StEP that we’re really proud of. And it’s not just the teams, but I’m really happy to see start-up team members who were involved in StEP last semester or last year who continue on with StEP as a leadership team member to continue to grow StEP. So, StEP itself is almost like a startup.
[00:09:27] Ray Guan: So right now, I believe this is only the third iteration of StEP, so it’s actually really enjoyable just from a personal standpoint, seeing people develop and grow and then in turn, contributing towards StEP to help future generations and future iterations of the program just grow and inspire others. And so, in that sense, it’s kind of helping itself, which is really nice.
[00:09:53] Maggie Lau: Yeah. That’s an inspiration for myself as well.
[00:09:57] Ray Guan: Okay. Let’s focus on Maggie Lau then; let’s focus on you, because I think you had mentioned that earlier in this conversation that you wanted to start your own company. What kind of company would you like to start and how do you want to be involved in entrepreneurship?
[00:10:14] Maggie Lau: That’s a great question. I’m still exploring, and still brainstorming ideas of that one product or service that I want to put in the market. But this start-up will be a mission driven start-up or company. And I want to leverage my hardware tech background and knowledge to contribute to the society. So, one area that I want to explore and perhaps focus more on is education technology. So, through StEP and through the connections that I’ve made so far Haas, I’ve found a start-up called Turing Chain. Turing Chain is named after Alan Turing, the mathematician. I’m working with a research scholar and UC Berkeley blockchain lab. His name is Jeff __. So, Jeff and his co-founders have a really grand vision to digitize the world as smart cities by leveraging blockchain technology. And they’re using this technology and applying it in the education room right now. My role right now is to help one of their products called Turing Certs. Turing Certs is a blockchain based certification system for universities. And, I’m taking what I learned from StEP and the go to market strategy and customer discovery to reach out to different partners, institutions to get them to use Turing Cert so that we can test our idea and to pilot this product. And currently we are partnered with 25 institutions, and we have over 3,500 issuances across five different cities. So, this product is currently used in London, Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta, and San Francisco. We’re continuing to grow this product and service, and I’m really excited because this is my first real step into blockchain, and it’s a crossover between blockchain and education.
[00:12:27] Ray Guan: Yeah, it sounds very fascinating.
[00:12:30] Maggie Lau: One thing that I forgot to mention earlier, I participated in a competition a couple months ago with UC Berkeley. It’s called VCIC Venture Capital International Competition. It’s where I was a part of a team of six with an observer on the team. And we listened to start a founder’s pitches and then we had to decide and evaluate whether or not we want to fund this company. And we had to give a reason why. Onto competition day, we had the venture capitalists who were there to judged us on the questions that we asked the startup founders and how we evaluated the company during the due diligence process and our rationale on our investment decision. It was a great experience.
[00:13:30] Ray Guan: Was this an extracurricular activity? Was it sponsored by a group or by an association?
[00:13:37] Maggie Lau: It’s an extra-curricular activity, and I don’t know who the sponsor is of this program, but it’s a student run program. It was organized by a bunch of students.
[00:13:49] I’m also involved with a student organization called Net Impact. So Net Impact is focused on social impact projects and opportunities for students who are interested in that space. This is also where I find out about projects and tracks and job opportunities and social events or volunteering events that are out there that I could participate in and encourage other students to participate in.
[00:14:22] Ray Guan: Right. And I think that ties in directly with your goal of founding or being a part of a mission driven company.
[00:14:30] Maggie Lau: Exactly.
[00:14:31] Ray Guan: Okay. You’ve only been here one year, we’re in the same class. Tell us about some of your favorite academic classes so far.
[00:14:41] Maggie Lau: My favorite academic classes. I like all of them so far, but my favorite one must be macro-econ with professor Ross Levin. The second favorite is accounting with Professor Xiao-Jun.
[00:15:00] Ray Guan: Oh, wow. You’ve really enjoyed this semester so far.
[00:15:04] Maggie Lau: I really enjoy spring so far. And one reason I really like macro and really enjoy professor Ross’s class is because he takes the concepts to a different level. He tells us about how the current event. You know, Covid 19, how it is impacting the global economy. And we’re taking what we learn in class about the short term and the long-term supply and demand into the real-life example. And he actually gave us an extra session after we finished the term to talk about the current events and impacts. I really appreciate that. And for accounting, it was really fun. I was not expecting it to be fun. I always expected accounting to be boring and a lot of numbers, but professor Jun really made it interesting and applicable to real life business examples. I really enjoy both of the classes.
[00:16:14] Ray Guan: Yeah, I think they are both examples of folks who go beyond, which is defining leadership principles. And for those of our listeners who don’t know, we are currently recording this during the SIP, the shelter in place restrictions that have been placed on us as well as many other cities and countries around the world. Lastly, we have some lightning round questions.
[00:16:42] Maggie Lau: Okay.
[00:16:42] Ray Guan: What is your favorite activity while sheltering in place?
[00:16:49] Maggie Lau: Workout at home. I do a 15 to 20-minute session working out, following Youtube videos.
[00:16:56] Ray Guan: Second question. One of your favorite podcasts, one or a few. Other than this one, of course.
[00:17:05] Maggie Lau: There’s one that I listened to called The Pitch
[00:17:11] Ray Guan: What’s The Pitch about?
[00:17:12] Maggie Lau: The Pitch is a podcast where a start-up founder is invited to the show to pitch the startup idea in front of a panel of four or five judges, and they’re real venture capitalists or angel investors. It’s a real pitch that they make. And then at the end of the pitch, there’s a Q and A session, and then the judges will decide whether or not they want to fund this company and why. And then the host of this podcast follows up with the startup a couple months later to see what actually happened. It’s interesting.
[00:17:54] Ray Guan: That sounds fascinating. Okay, so last question, but definitely not least. What is your favorite defining leadership principle?
[00:18:03] Maggie Lau: Student Always.
[00:18:05] Ray Guan: And why is that?
[00:18:05] Maggie Lau: I love learning new things and that has been a constant in my life. I have worn many different hats, even at work. I started my career in manufacturing at an aerospace manufacturing company in material planning. And then I was put on two different teams to implement ERP system and then in developing a cost accounting team. And then now I’m at a global electronics manufacturing company. I am being rotated in different projects and departments. And it’s been an amazing experience to learn different aspects of running a business and just want to continue to grow. So, Student Always, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m at Hass. Because there’s always a lot more to learn.
[00:19:04] I think that’s a perfect way to wrap. Well, this has been great. Maggie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
[00:19:11] Thank you, Ray. Thank you for having me.