H@H: Ep 58 – Manny Smith chats with host, Paulina Lee to share his journey from the US Air Force Academy to being called to be an entrepreneur at Haas, now as the CEO & Co-founder at EdVisorly Education.
On becoming an entrepreneur:
“There’s a quote by Steve jobs, he said ‘as with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.’ My heart was calling me to do something a little bit different, not necessarily better, but different in the world….The truth of the matter is I believe that entrepreneurship has to be a sense of destiny. Where you can’t not. And when I say that, a lot of people say, I don’t have an idea and I have a lot of ideas, but which one’s the right one, the right idea is the one you can’t not do.”
On the entrepreneurial mindset:
I think as an entrepreneur, we have to really have this sense of awareness and mindfulness as to what we are and who we are; and our perspective, because that keeps us true to our journey.”
On transitioning from the military to civilian life:
“My first year was a little bit challenging. I found that I had to essentially reset my perspective, be very patient with myself and be mindful of maybe my sentiment toward things. But the military gave me tremendous perspective and capacity to be able to do what I’m doing now.”
Manny’s 30-sec Pitch on “Why Haas?”
“Haas is a place where dreams come true. I truly believe that by leaning on the Berkeley network and exercising the resources that are here, any student who has a dream can bring that dream to fruition using a step-by-step process. Between being one of the best research universities in the world and having a tremendous amount of savvy successful and proven battle-tested business people around you.
If you have something you want to do, Berkeley is the place to come. And I truly believe that our ecosystem is not just helpful, but we push each other to be a little bit better. And finally, the core defining values of our school, I think create an energy and an ethos that’s unmatched at business schools anywhere in the world.”
(Transcripts may contain a few typographical errors due to audio quality during the podcast recording.)
Paulina Lee: I’m Paulina Lee. And this is here@haas, a student-run podcast connecting you to all Haasies and the faculty that changed our lives. This week on here@haas, we are joined by Manny Smith from the full-time class of 2021. He’s a veteran from the air force and a CEO and co-founder of EdVisorly.
[00:00:20] Welcome to the show, Manny.
[00:00:21] Manny Smith: Thank you, Paulina. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:23] Paulina Lee: How’s your week going so far?
[00:00:25] Manny Smith: It’s going really well. You probably know the start-up life, you’re always putting out fire here and there, but the team is awesome. So, I really lean on the strength of our team.
[00:00:35] Paulina Lee: For sure. Well, first off wanted to say thank you for your service. I’ve had the opportunity to interview a few of our Haas veterans, and I always love hearing about why and how they got to where they are. So, I’d love for you to share why the air force and how did you end up at Haas.
[00:00:51] Manny Smith: Yeah, thank you for your support. So, the air force, why the air force? Well, when I was very young, I was always fascinated with aviation, and the opportunity to join the military was always present at every high school. You have your recruiters, and you go to the pull-up bar, and you crank up the pull-ups, and you get the free t-shirt.
[00:01:10] But it wasn’t until I was offered an opportunity to play football at the air force Academy. Did actually start to consider the military might be an option that I should take more seriously. So, I was blessed and fortunate enough to Be offered the opportunity to play football at air force Academy.
[00:01:25] And that’s what got me into the air force. And that combined with watching top gun too many times was probably, the propaganda, which dragged me in. And I have a lot of family members that served in the military and both my mom and dad’s side. And my father is a vet grandfather. Great-grandfather dating back a couple of hundred years. So it was, it was the opportunity also to become the first military officer in my family. Why Haas? I felt the sense of community here more than anywhere else.
[00:01:55] And I remember after getting accepted to Haas, the welcome that I got from the staff was just exceptional and unmatched. And I really knew after hearing Morgan Bernstein say at days at Haas, Berkeley is where dreams come true. I can attest to that being an absolute fact.
[00:02:15] Paulina Lee: That’s a great story. I’d love to talk a little bit about your time right after you graduated from the air force Academy. What type of work were you doing?
[00:02:25] Manny Smith: My first job in the air force was based system operations. Put very simply, we did operations for things that are in space and doing surveillance, and learning about space systems. After that, I, I had a seven-month deployment, and then I came back to Los Angeles, and I did procurement for satellite systems as well as enterprise software for the air force.
[00:02:48] Paulina Lee: What do you think out of your roles that you’ve had in the air force did you learn the most from?
[00:02:54] Manny Smith: That’s a trick question. So, if you go objectives, you would say, okay, software, product management. But if you think about it from a holistic perspective, whereas a human we’re always learning, I would say that sports and the air force Academy taught me the most. The air force Academy was a bit of a culture shock extreme imposter syndrome, a very hard institution, and layering sports on top of the academics there really exposes your character. And one of the things I liked about the air force Academy is that upon graduation, one of the things I never questioned was the character of my classmates.
[00:03:31] Paulina Lee: And what do you think you learned most about yourself then during that time? Either in the Academy or afterward in the air force?
[00:03:38] Manny Smith: Well, the first thing I learned is that humans can operate on very little sleep. The second thing I learned is that is really just a lot more about my own character and what I’m capable of attaining. So, one thing that I heard is that I heard this from alumni when I was at the Academy. They would say everything you do for the rest of your life is going to be way easier than this. And it’s true. The Academy, it’s a great thing. It’sSa, great place to be from, but it can be a very challenging place to actually be. So, while I did experience a lot of challenges in the military and in personal life, I think that it creates a great training environment to really expose what we’re capable of and to learn to persevere in spite of. That’s probably the biggest lesson that I learned by going to the air force Academy.
[00:04:25] Paulina Lee: Yeah. And then, when you were in the air force, how did you know what the right time was to leave and to pursue your MBA?
[00:04:34] Manny Smith: Now there’s a quote by Steve Jobs. I don’t want to get it wrong, but I’m going to try it. And I was like, let’s look, speech. He said, as with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. My heart was calling me to do something a little bit different, not necessarily better, but different in the world.
[00:04:53] And I knew that I wanted to have an impact that had more of a social impact at home. While national security is always important and critical for our country. I had competed the hardest I could in the military, and I wanted to take the next step, and I was ready to embrace more of a dynamic challenge.
[00:05:09] Paulina Lee: That’s a great quote too. I don’t think I’ve heard that one before, and what other schools did you look at? So, you obviously chose Haas, but did you look at.
[00:05:18] Manny Smith: No, I only looked at Berkeley.
[00:05:20] Paulina Lee: Bold move. I like it.
[00:05:23] Manny Smith: There were other schools. I feel like that’s kind of a trick question, you’re on a date, and your date is asking about your exes, and you’re like.
[00:05:31] Paulina Lee: Yeah. Okay. Fair. Fair.
[00:05:34] Manny Smith: I’ll give one school a little bit of love. I think that it’s an amazing school and amazing institution. And I think that Chicago is a good school, and it was, it was a challenging decision. I love the staff there. They were really great. And I had a lot of friends from the air force Academy who also went there, who supported me on that journey, but ultimately, I wanted to do entrepreneurship, and I knew that Berkeley has unmatched entrepreneurial resources, and to date, I regret nothing in that choice.
[00:06:04] Paulina Lee: When we talk about entrepreneurship, I come from a family that is a big corporate family. So, my sister works at J and J. I currently work at Proctor and gamble. My dad worked at Kodak, and my mom worked at Xerox. So, we are like the corporate family of America. So, I’m always so curious as to why people get drawn into entrepreneurship and what really fuels that fire. What is that for you?
[00:06:30] Manny Smith: So, I think entrepreneurship instead of I just want to say that I think it’s not a glamorous thing. So many, many will hear the word entrepreneurship, and they dream of this lifestyle where they’re on a beach doing work on their computer for 30 minutes, and then they close the laptop, and then they just stay on vacation or that you can make your own hours.
[00:06:50] The truth of the matter is I believe that entrepreneurship has to be a sense of destiny. Where you can’t not. And when I say that, a lot of people say, I don’t, I have an idea, but I don’t, I don’t know. And I have a lot of ideas, but which one’s the right one, the right idea is the one you can’t not do.
[00:07:09] And. I think, unfortunately, many people either don’t have the capacity or resources or acumen to pursue that thing that they can’t not do. For me, why advisory is so important is because I hope that we help students get access to education. And I hope from there, many of those students trust themselves to be able to pursue entrepreneurship at some point in their lives.
[00:07:35] Paulina Lee: Well, that’s a great segue. So, our paths cross cause we’re both in UC launch, which is an early-stage start-up accelerator across the total UC system. You’re co-founder CEO of EdVisorly. What’s the origin story. And what does advisory hope to do?
[00:07:50] Manny Smith: All right, here we go. Shout out to Alison Isaacs. So, the origin of the story or when I left the air force, I was actually, technically, I was still active duty when I came to Haas. I had met my co-founder Alison Isaacs the very first week. And she informed me that Berkeley Haas undergrad has a 5% acceptance rate from transfer students.
[00:08:09] So I asked myself, why is it two or three times harder as an undergrad transfer student from community college to get into the undergraduate school of business than an MBA in the full-time program. It didn’t seem right. And so further investigation, customer discovery revealed that there were challenges in the transfer process that were systemic, and those challenges don’t necessarily live at the Berkeley level or at the community college level.
[00:08:40] They just exist. So, what we try and what we’re aiming to do is to solve and ease the transfer process for community college students into four-year universities. But beyond that, to create opportunities for those transfer students to actually get looks at potential employers too. So, we’re really trying to think of this as an end-to-end journey where we help community college students not just get into universities but thrive when they get to universities.
[00:09:09] Paulina Lee: What has been the most surprising thing that you’ve learned in starting this business?
[00:09:15] Manny Smith: That’s a good question. The most surprising thing I’ve learned is how dynamic business is. Yes. The most important things to remember is there are many ways to get to an outcome or destination. There are many challenges that will arise, and success will find those who are committed to the journey.
[00:09:41] Paulina Lee: So true. On that line, we’ve both been in launch. I know for my team; it’s been a great way to hold us accountable and to continue to push us forward at a speed that we weren’t moving at before. So, I’m curious to understand how launch has been for you and your team.
[00:10:00] Manny Smith: Launch has been phenomenal for us. I think it creates the perfect amount of external pressure and accountability for us to be able to continue moving forward.
[00:10:09] We’re fortunate enough to have a great mentor. Dr. Steven Horowitz, who was also our mentor who helped us successfully navigate the big ideas competition. And he’s also been mentoring us through on and off through the last, pretty much year and a half of development and growth from advisory.
[00:10:27] So, between Dr. Horowitz are Andre, Rhonda, and the other folks, launch has just been great for us too, and even the folks who are actually in launch pushing us to continue to think outside the box, but to ask the right questions.
[00:10:43] Paulina Lee: It’s been amazing to one, just also see everyone else’s journeys. I think the new things that we’re learning each week, but a hundred percent agree as we think about the fact that we are coming up one year from the pandemic shutting down campus. How has COVID impacted you as a company?
[00:11:01] Manny Smith: many companies have struggled because of COVID, and I don’t want to say that we’ve thrived because of COVID, but we are one of the few companies that become more viable with the timing consideration. COVID 19 put all the students online. And so, with every student online, it made it easier to plan.
[00:11:19] Help them plan academic journeys from community college to universities. It also increases student engagement on electronic media, which is exactly what we would need for advisor lead to be successful. Unfortunately, it’s created a lot of strain on counselors. So, advisor really, again, becomes a more viable solution with online learning.
[00:11:41] So, hopefully, we do come out of the pandemic and, it’s negatively impacted many students. I trust that with or without the pandemic, we can be very successful, and we’re at that point now where the pandemic is slowing down, the vaccines are being distributed. So regardless of there being a pandemic, we’re going to be here when students are doing in-person learning,
[00:12:03] Paulina Lee: For sure. And I think what’s been interesting if we think about education and the pandemic is that it really has shown the systematic errors and issues within our education system. So, I think I love the vision and mission that EdVisorly has and the work that you guys are doing to help fix the system as much as you can.
[00:12:23] Manny Smith: Yeah, thank you. Thank you, unfortunately, too. You probably know this already, but the pandemic hurt more students from a lower socioeconomic income household. So, I think it becomes critically important to focus on empowering human capital in those who are in community college, saving them time and providing them resources, and innovating to create these opportunities.
[00:12:47] Paulina Lee: Yes, totally agree. Last summer, I also saw that you’ve received a summer fellowship with Blackstone launchpad, which is powered by Techstars. Tell me a little bit more about that.
[00:12:58] Manny Smith: So, that was a great opportunity to connect with the Blackstone launchpad Techstars community and learn about the value of an accelerator as well as the fellowship associated with that experience. We got to listen to some of the most successful CEOs that have gone through Techstars and some that haven’t gone through Techstars, but they came to speak with us.
[00:13:21] And so it was a great opportunity to just really gain more perspective as a founder. In addition, they provided some great resources for mentorship, as well as like accountability and thinking about funding sources. So, I definitely recommend it to anyone who has the opportunity. And I just also want to say I was fortunate enough to win the Hansoo Lee Fellowship. Hansoo Lee was an MBA who founded Magoosh with a couple of other classmates, Pejman and Bhavin. And that’s been a phenomenal experience having met the folks that support that fellowship, Wendy Lim, and some of the other people who’ve been instrumental in providing mentorship through my time as an MBA.
[00:14:01] Paulina Lee: I think what’s great is that your journey at Haas has really encapsulated kind of everything that the program offers for entrepreneurship. So, as you think about the total ecosystem, you obviously came to Haas because you had a desire to be an entrepreneur, and you had a desire to solve problems and give back. What do you think has been the most influential on your journey as an entrepreneur?
[00:14:23] Manny Smith: I want to go back to before hos I think as an entrepreneur, we have to really have this sense of awareness and mindfulness as to what, what we are and who we are and our perspective, because that keeps us true to our journey. But I’m a first-generation college student. And so. My mom, she never went to college.
[00:14:44] My dad never went to college. But my mom is extremely intelligent. My father was extremely intelligent. And I look at this as a unique opportunity for me to change the narrative for many other people. And so why not me, right? So, that’s actually probably the most Impactful thing. But beyond that, the Berkeley network really gets behind the concept of letting you grow in the direction that you need to. And so, I’m super fortunate to have this network behind me that supports more than just the bottom line, more than just the fiduciary responsibility to your investors, more than just building a hockey stick growth model for your business, and one of our core defining principles at Berkeley truly supports is challenging the status quo. And I think that EdVisorly and our team, Alison, and everyone who’s, who we’re working with is committed to doing that.
[00:15:40] Paulina Lee: What do you think surprised you most about Haas?
[00:15:44] Manny Smith: What surprised me most was how applicable the classes are. If you actually practice them. So, experiential learning is pretty much how most humans learn like a baby gets up and they fall down, they get up and they fall down, and they watch other people. And one of the best and most important things I found to be in business school was or found for myself.
[00:16:07] One of the most important things was. To actually have a start-up as you’re going through these classes. So, you can implement the learning or actually be close to the founding team of a start-up. So, if you’re paying attention in your classes or if you’re really engaged, the classes are amazing. The teachers are amazing and faculty, and they’ll give you a lot of time because people are truly experts at what they do.
[00:16:31] So I found that to be really fascinating and, in the military, it’s, it’s no different. However, I feel like, in the military, things are. More traditionally, more narrowly defined in terms of competencies.
[00:16:44] Paulina Lee: I guess, along that same line, how was it transitioning from the air force to being in school and to being at Haas?
[00:16:51] Manny Smith: This was one of the best transitions I could have asked for. I have a classmate. His name’s Jeff Easterling. He was the MBA president. And he told me, Hey, Manny, you’re going to need like a year, two years to reacclimate. When I was first transitioning out, and I didn’t quite believe him or understand what he was talking about now that I’m three years out, I entirely understand.
[00:17:08] And Jeff was right. My first year was a little bit challenging. I found that. I had to reset, essentially reset my perspective, be very patient with myself and be mindful of maybe my sentiment toward things. But the military gave me tremendous perspective and capacity to be able to do what I’m doing now.
[00:17:30] So, I’m grateful for that experience that I’m grateful to be able to take this to Berkeley and hopefully add a significant amount of value to our class, to our school, and to our communities.
[00:17:42] Paulina Lee: As you think about your journey, you’ll be graduating this spring and just a few months here. Where in yourself have you seen the most growth?
[00:17:51] Manny Smith: I’ve seen the most growth in agency. I had a friend who did alike seven-day cleanse, he didn’t eat food for seven days a bit much for me, but you wrote something after, and it said it’s important to focus on being, instead of doing for me, it’s been kind of this doing, doing, doing, when you get to the air force Academy, when you’re, going through sports, it’s always the next championship.
[00:18:17] It’s the next competition. It’s something else in the military, same thing, next assignment. And so, when you separate from this structured environment, you have to start to play on your own journey, and that exercising agency is critically important. I was never in a rush to find an organization, to attach myself to, to get that rigid structure again. And I’ve really learned a lot about making decisions, being able to say yes and no at the right times.
[00:18:45] Paulina Lee: I love that. And this is your last semester. So how is it going? I know we’re still remote, but how’s your last semester been?
[00:18:53] Manny Smith: It’s been great. Just running the business and going to school is tough. I have amazing classes. I’m still learning a lot, but I’m very much engaged with the start-up. Right now, we’re in this phase where we’re ready for funding. So, we’re, we’re raising a pre-seed round. But I’m being very careful about that concept. Since for me, it’s most important that everyone who’s in our ecosystem supports the vision that we’re trying to create, and that’s equitable access to education.
[00:19:22] Paulina Lee: And I think I know the answer to this question, but what are you hoping to do after graduation?
[00:19:27] Manny Smith: Oh, full-time on the study. Yeah. Fully committed.
[00:19:33] Paulina Lee: And do you think you’ll remain in the Bay area, remain in Berkeley or San Francisco?
[00:19:37] Manny Smith: I think so. Yeah, definitely.
[00:19:40] Paulina Lee: What draws you to stay here?
[00:19:41] Manny Smith: It’s a special place because Berkeley and the ecosystem is so supportive of EdVisorly, and one of the things that I want to be able to do is I want to also be able to add value and give back to our network.
[00:19:54] So I think by being in Berkeley, being able to take meetings in Berkeley, or at least in San Francisco in the Bay area initially I think that I can add a lot of value, not just to EdVisorly, but to other start-ups, help coach some of the new students and maybe even some of my classmates and help where I can within the entrepreneurship community. We rely on and, as you know, this Paulina, we rely on the strength of our network as entrepreneurs to be successful.
[00:20:20] Paulina Lee: I think that’s great that you want to stay, not only just for yourself but also for giving back to the community. I think that’s a great reason. And a lot of people, as you think about priorities, often kind of tunnel vision on what’s next, what’s next versus like what’s around us and who our tribe and our communities are.
[00:20:40] And it’s so important. So, I love to hear that. A lot of new admits have recently found out, or we’ll be finding out shortly if they got into Haas this March, this April. So what is the 62nd pitch as why Haas from Manny Smith?
[00:20:59] Manny Smith: Haas is a place where dreams come true. I truly believe that by leaning on the Berkeley network and exercising the resources that are here, any student who has a dream can bring that dream to fruition using a step-by-step process between being one of the best research universities in the world and having a tremendous amount of savvy successful and proven battle-tested business people around you.
[00:21:30] If you have something you want to do, Berkeley is the place to come. And I truly believe that our ecosystem is not just helpful, but we push each other to be a little bit better. And finally, the core defining values of our school, I think, create an energy and an ethos that’s unmatched at business schools anywhere in the world.
[00:21:56] Paulina Lee: That’s great. I love it. Well wanted to transition and learn more about who Manny is outside of Haas. So, been one year since we’ve been in the pandemic. Did you pick up any new hobbies over the last year?
[00:22:08] Manny Smith: So, I bought a gym, a home gym, and I’ve just been lifting in the gym pretty much as I can. With the start-ups, sometimes it’s so busy, but that’s not a new hobby for me. I’ve always been big into training and fitness, but I’ve never done it from home. So, I bought a heavy bag, and it’s been doing a lot of boxing and jump rope and some different cross-training.
[00:22:29] So it’s been nice. One of the other things I picked up was hiking. I was never really into hiking. And since the pandemic hit, it’s definitely forced me to think a little bit more outside the box with outdoor activity. So, I’ve been hiking some beautiful places like Mount Tam and obviously the fire trails since they’re so close, but yeah, just hiking trails all over the Bay area, exploring how beautiful is places.
[00:22:53] Paulina Lee: That’s great. What have you been bingeing lately?
[00:22:56] Manny Smith: Yeah. I’ve been bingeing on my start-up.
[00:23:00] Paulina Lee: That’s true. Cause you’re like, I don’t have any free time. I literally work out, sleep, eat, maybe.
[00:23:06] Manny Smith: Yep. Aqui Kindle class. I don’t have TV. I don’t have cable. I’ve never actually funny. I’ve never actually use Netflix.
[00:23:15] Paulina Lee: That’s impressive, but I feel you. I have two TVs, and I had a friend over the other day, and they were like, I don’t think we’ve ever seen you use your TVs. And I was like, yeah, I don’t really have time to sit and watch TV. And positive news, we seem to be on track with vaccination. I think a lot of people are, hoping to travel soon.
[00:23:40] What is the first thing that you want to do once you’re vaccinated or a place that you want to go to?
[00:23:45] Manny Smith: I travel. so. In 2015, I returned from one of my deployments, and I went to Thailand. Since then, I’ve been trying to get to Vietnam, and that’s somewhere that I’d love to go if travel begins 2021 or 2022. But one of the other things I want to do this year is I want to go to Japan during the Olympics.
[00:24:07] So that’s going to be in the July, August timeframe, and I’m still keeping my watch out for any tickets or if there are travel restrictions to Japan during that time.
[00:24:17] Paulina Lee: I love that Japan was on my list for 2020, and obviously didn’t happen. But I mainly wanted to go and snowboard and surf. But yes, having the Olympics there, I’ve been toying with like, well, I could just do two trips, one for the Olympics and then go back in winter. So, you’ll have to let me know if you ended up going. That’d be great.
[00:24:36] Manny Smith: Let’s do it.
[00:24:37] Paulina Lee: I love it. Any last words before we wrap for today?
[00:24:41] Manny Smith: Thank you so much for the opportunity and anyone interested in learning more about entrepreneurship. Reach out to me. If I can be helpful. I love the community. I love entrepreneurship, and I’ll support where I can.
[00:24:52] Paulina Lee: Well, thanks so much for coming on the show. Manny.
[00:24:55] Manny Smith: Thank you.
[00:24:56] Paulina Lee: And thanks for tuning in to here@haas. Know a Haasie that has a story to tell? Nominate them on our website, Haaspodcasts.org. And if you enjoyed this week’s episode, please subscribe and leave us a rating and review. And don’t forget to share this podcast out with your favorite bears until next time. I’m Paulina Lee, and this is here@haas.