Here@Haas Ep #1: In this first episode of Here@Haas and last episode of the OneHaas current student podcast, we’re joined by our Here@Haas host Paulina Lee interviewing OneHaas host, Sean Li. This episode will mark the transition of the OneHaas podcast into the Alumni Podcast. Here@Haas will continue on as the on-campus podcast covering current students, faculty, and everyone else on campus. So please subscribe and be on the lookout for future Berkeley Haas Alumni Podcast programming!
- Why Sean launched the OneHaas Podcast
- How he built multiple businesses as a serial entrepreneur from an e-commerce company to a coworking space in Downtown Los Angeles
- His proudest moments being an entrepreneur
- Sean’s multiple pivots during his time at Haas, from investment banking, to venture capital, back to entrepreneurship
3 Key Takeaways:
- The more you put into your Haas experience, the more you get out of it
- There’s an entrepreneur in every one of us, you just have to be patient and forgiving with yourself
- Take the MBA as the time to fully explore your interests and develop new passions
[00:00:00] Sean: This will be the last interview for the OneHaas current student podcast. From here on, we’ll continue the OneHaas podcast as the alumni podcast and the OneHaas current student podcast will continue on as here@haas under the host, Paulina, Ray, and Aravind.
[00:00:21] Paulina: I’m Paulina Lee and this week on here@haas, we are joined by a very special guest, founder, and host of the OneHaas podcast, Sean Li. Welcome, Sean. Happy Monday.
[00:00:34] Sean: Thank you.
[00:00:36] Paulina: Well, how does it feel to be on the other side of the virtual interview table?
[00:00:42] Sean: I will say that I have not been looking forward to this interview because I think part of me feels like if I do this interview, it will effectively end my tenure with the podcast. But with you guys coming on, helping out and taking the baton, I do feel like this podcast will continue and that this will not be the last episode.
[00:01:07] Paulina: Yeah, it’s great because you kind of get the best of both worlds, right? We are going to continue on with here@haas, and then you will continue hosting the one Haas alumni podcast and continuing to share and seek out those super interesting stories and journeys of our graduated Haasies.
[00:01:28] So I think that’s great.
[00:01:30] Sean: Yeah. Can’t wait.
[00:01:32] Paulina: You and I were chatting the other day and we bonded because you grew up in Rochester Hills, Michigan. I grew up in Rochester, New York. You went to undergrad at Michigan State. I went to undergrad at Central Michigan. So would love for you to tell us a little bit more about your journey from Michigan to LA to now.
[00:01:52] Sean: I was born in China. Moved to the US most seven with my parents, very fortunate. They moved to an area, Rochester Hills, Southeast Michigan. That is a very amazing upper-middle-income neighborhood. And it took me a while, I think at least a decade until I moved out of Michigan, for me to realize just how lucky and privileged I was to have grown up where I grew up. But I think that plays a huge factor in who I’ve become along the way. Went to Michigan State, like you said, studied finance and accounting.
[00:02:35] I just always had the itch to be an entrepreneur, to start a business of some sort. I think it might have been influenced by some early books that were introduced to me such as, “Think and Grow Rich”, Napoleon Hill’s famous book. You have your “Rich dad, Poor Dad” Robert Kiyosaki, and just a score of other books influenced by my parents and colleagues.
[00:03:05] Once I came out of college in those seven with a finance degree, that was like the worst time to have a finance degree because everything was falling apart in the world. The last time around…
[00:03:24] Paulina: coming full circle now.
[00:03:25] Sean: …coming full circle. My wife jokes and my friends that graduated the same time as me last time around.
[00:03:31] They’re all joking that you know, we heard just the Harbingers of doom. Every time we graduate from somewhere, just the economy falls apart. But yeah, I came out and realize there was nothing going on in Michigan with a finance degree. I just had to get out.
[00:03:48] And what better place than to move to Los Angeles. It was literally one of those things. I just thought I want to pick a place where I don’t know anyone, where I would be forced to build a new network and really put myself in an uncomfortable situation.
[00:04:06] That’s partially why I chose to come up to Haas, even though I live in LA and I commute. It was because I didn’t know anyone in the Bay area. And so yeah, that was what ultimately brought me from Michigan to LA, in pursuit of a finance job.
[00:04:22] Paulina: And you drove out? Just in a car with no actual job offer in hand.
[00:04:27] Sean: Yeah. I mean, I had a couple of interviews in play. I wasn’t that crazy. But I figured it’s going to be impossible to find a job in LA. It was 3000 miles away if I’m not in the city. So, I grabbed a buddy, I offered up to pay for his flight back, a one-way ticket. We drove across the country for about five days.
[00:04:53] It could have taken three, but we decided to stay in Vegas for two days, and that’s what extended the trip.
[00:05:01] But yeah, moved out here and ended up getting a job in Sherman Oaks doing invest relations, which is finance related. Later on, getting involved with a startup biotech company in Microfluidics, and that really reignited the bug to start a business.
[00:05:18] You know, this was in 09’, the economy was still recovering. It was still prime time for launching startups and businesses. I mean, on that same time, you had your Twitter, Airbnb, Instagram, all these billion-dollar companies now pop up around that time, which, you know, as unfortunate as the current economic environment is global, I think the silver lining that we’ll see in six months to a year’s time is that it’s also a great time for new opportunities for the next billion-dollar ideas and businesses.
[00:05:54] Paulina: No, I think that’s great. And you’ve founded and owned a lot of companies over the past few years. What companies are you most proud of, and which one did you learn the most from?
[00:06:05] Sean: That’s a great question. I would say the business I was most proud of was my coworking space. So back in 2011, I was introduced to a coworking space in Evanston, Illinois of all places where Northwestern is because I was working on an app project with a buddy of mine.
[00:06:26] I flew out there and he was like, let’s go to the coworking space to hack up these ideas and you know, write on the walls and really hash things out. And I was like, yeah, sure, whatever. I checked it out and I’m like, wow, this is actually a great idea. It’s a great way to bring the community of entrepreneurs together.
[00:06:41] And by entrepreneurs, I mean developers, designers, you know, the entire ecosystem, also advisors and investors. I came back to LA and looked around, googled around, and realized there are only two or three coworking spaces. They were predominantly on the Westside in what we call Silicon Beach, Santa Monica, Venice of LA.
[00:07:05] There was one other big one off of Wilshire and there was nothing in the rest of LA, which is downtown East LA or Northeast LA, Pasadena.
[00:07:18] Paulina: I’m assuming the geographic, for people to understand who aren’t as familiar with LA, how long does it take to get from like West LA to East LA driving?
[00:07:28] Sean: In a pandemic? Maybe 20 minutes.
[00:07:31] Paulina: Okay, so that means in regular days, that’s what? Two hours?
[00:07:33] Sean: On a regular day, yeah, that’s 2 hrs. I came back and I was living in downtown LA. The eCommerce business I had co-founded with a couple of high school buddies of mine was based out of LA at that time, downtown LA. It just so happened next to our office, there was another like 3000 sqft of just vacant office space. That’s been there for 10 years, and I just inquired how much would cost to lease a space. Then it was like a buck 50 triple net, which was crazy, and included water electricity, and I was able to negotiate it down to like a $1/sqft.
[00:08:14] It was pretty nuts how cheap it was for a downtown LA spot.
[00:08:21] Paulina: What’s the typical market rate? Is it like four or five bucks a square foot?
[00:08:24] Sean: Yeah. You could barely get a warehouse for a buck 50. So yeah, it was like the best opportunity to just give it a shot. I had no experience in real estate at all.
[00:08:38] I have no idea of how to run or build or launch a coworking space. I just hacked my way through it like I do with everything else in life. I got the space torn apart with my employees for my eCommerce business at the time. And my buddy, we literally just like tore everything apart.
[00:08:58] The carpeting, ripped everything out. In hindsight, probably wasn’t like the smartest or safest thing to do because who knows if there was asbestos or anything out there. It’s really an old building. But we did it and we were able to do all the renovations for under $50K, which is something that I budgeted for and was really surprised that we were able to accomplish.
[00:09:24] And part of that was we did such crazy things like a lot of the ceiling tiles, those foam tiles that people have on office spaces? We try to solve it as many as we could, even though they were all old and yellow looking. What we did was I asked my designer to create a template, a stencil.
[00:09:42] And we took down all 800 tiles and I went to Home Depot, bought like a spray painter that you can use for your house. And we basically just stenciled every single tile and repurposed it. And that saved a couple of thousand dollars, I would say.
[00:10:02] And the renovation, it was just crazy how creative we got with the limited amount of funding because everything was self-funded. But that was probably my best experience. Literally physically building something from scratch and then having to figure out contracting, getting around sublease laws, and rules in our contract.
[00:10:25] Because if you sublease a space or an apartment, you have to share in the profit with your landlord. That’s like the majority of contracts. And I was just like, how did gyms get around it? Right? Jim’s, that’ll sublease to me. And I realize the loopholes, a membership model. If you have a membership model, then it’s circumvents subleasing.
[00:10:48] And so, learning how to draft up contracts for that, and then just building a community one step at a time. But luckily at that time, Meetup had just started to blow up, and it was fairly easy to build a community using Meetup. At the time I ran and owned the downtown LA startup Meetup group, and we had some six, seven hundred members on there. It’s like the largest Meetup downtown.
[00:11:15] Paulina: I love it. What would you say, from your coworking space, do you miss working there or working with that community or are you still involved?
[00:11:25] Sean: So, I’ve actually met a lot of the people I know now in LA I know because of the coworking space, which in hindsight was an amazing idea. Some of the people that have reached back out to me to explore different business opportunities or even inventions that they’ve come up with. When I think back, I was like, I know these people because of the coworking space.
[00:11:51] Paulina: Yeah. I feel like you as a person, as I’ve gotten to know you, and as I continued to learn more about your story, you just are such a learner.
[00:12:00] Whether it’s podcasting, whether it’s interior design, just the variety of different categories that you just throw yourself at full-heartedly. What do you think has inspired that insatiable want to learn?
[00:12:17] Sean: Both my parents are professors. They teach teachers how to teach their teacher’s teachers. Specifically, they teach teachers how to teach English, which when I tell this to people it always sounds so ironic. It’s like these Chinese immigrants are here to teach teachers that I teach English. But that’s what my dad got his Ph.D. in reading language arts.
[00:12:42] I think ever since I was little, I was always surrounded by books. I was surrounded by people who read themselves and encouraged me to read. I think that had a huge influence on my insatiable thirst for knowledge and in learning new things.
[00:13:03] And I think part of it also has to do with the fact that I moved to the US when I was seven, right around the age when kids are super curious. I was uprooted from this super homogenous Chinese city to a super homogenous American town. I think that now when I think about it, it is actually a really interesting question.
[00:13:25] If I had moved to LA or ESAT or somewhere there’s a large Asian community. I think I would have, and I see this with a lot of my immigrant friends who come here, is that they had the support network of other Asian people around, or there’s like plenty of Asian restaurants.
[00:13:44] There’s like Asian groceries all over Michigan nowadays. And back then there weren’t. There weren’t that many Chinese restaurants and there weren’t that many Chinese or Asian people where I grew up. I think that forced me to really just assimilate. And that act of assimilation forced me to be curious about my new environment versus having some kind of fallback.
[00:14:09] Entering the community where I can just go and just hang out with my people and not really be forced to assimilate and be curious about other people. I think that has a huge part to do with my curiosity and just my desire to learn.
[00:14:23] Paulina: No. I think that makes a lot of sense.
[00:14:26] I mean, you were forced at such an impressionable age to essentially, to your point, assimilate. As kids, all we want to do is be accepted and fit in and find out who we are, especially at that age. So yeah, I love that. I think that makes a lot of sense. I know you talked about your parents as being big influences on your life, and as I think about myself and my own journey and think about your journey, I always love this concept that parents and mentors are constantly nudging us for these small moments, questions, pieces of advice that provide direction in our lives. And then I also think about, sometimes we have defining moments, whether it’s moments of elation or despair that really define the path we take in life. As you think back upon your journey to this point, do you have any one or two defining moments that you would identify has shaped who you are today?
[00:15:32] Sean: I would definitely say what I just mentioned.
[00:15:35] But I think other defining moments in my life that I can think about has to do with nurture. There was this one point in high school, the day that I fell in love with the piano. And to give you some context, I’m sure it’s a little stereotypical. Chinese kid play piano since I was five years old. My parents bought a piano before I was even born.
[00:15:58] I was destined to play but I hated it like every other kid. Who doesn’t hate practicing an instrument for an hour a day, every single day, 350 days out of the year? I hated it for like the first 10 years until I was 15, 16. I remember very distinctly. And I just did it begrudgingly because tiger mom said you had to do it.
[00:16:24] But I remember the turning point and I’m sharing this because this set a precedent. I think for a lot of things that I do in life it has a lot to do with this idea that passion comes before skill. You know when people say like you should follow your passions or do what you love.
[00:16:39] There’s a whole book on this actually Cal Newport’s book and a bunch of other books that talk about this. This passion myth, as we call it, is that skill comes first. Passion never comes first. Passion comes after you get really good at something. You get validation from other people and yourself that you know you are skilled at this and you’re just…
[00:17:00] Man, I really enjoy this because I’m good at it. And that was a turning point for me for piano. I think when I was 16 I finally felt like I’m really good at this. And I was winning awards. And people were like, “Hey, you’re really good at this”. And at the time, people just attributed to like you’re just a piano prodigy.
[00:17:22] And I was like, yeah, I’m a piano prodigy. And it wasn’t until a couple of years later, I was like, no. I don’t believe in prodigies. There’s no such thing as a prodigy. What that turning point taught me was that if you are to follow your passion or find something that you love doing, you had to start identifying what you’re good at or what you could be good at and putting the time and putting the practice, and then you’ll turn 11. That’s the recurring story of my life.
[00:17:56] It’s just to put your head down, focus on one thing, get good at it, and then find out that you love it. And that’s the story of this podcast. I had no intention of continuing this podcast. It was just a side project. And then two years later, after doing some 60 or so interviews, now I realize that I really enjoy doing this. I could see myself doing this for a career if I had to. Actually, not if I had to, if I could because it has to make financial sense.
[00:18:32] Paulina: Let’s talk a little bit more about OneHaas. How did it originate? How did you get started? What is the story of one Haas from start to now?
[00:18:42]Sean: One Haas started in early February of 2018. I was about the same time as you, six, seven months into school and just exploring everything that Haas had to offer.
[00:18:57] I remember very distinctly that when I was applying to Haas, I was looking for a podcast to listen to, to hear what Haas was like. And the only thing I could find was some digital media recordings from 2012 and mind you, this was me applying in 2017.
[00:19:16] I was a little shocked that there were no podcasts because when I was looking at other schools, they had podcasts for their students. Once I started school I was just like, why don’t I start a podcast? How hard could it be? Let me take a step back and give you some more context.
[00:19:38] So it’s not like I don’t have any media entertainment experience. I’ve been doing media all my life. I’ve always been fascinated with shooting videos, making music, composing, DJing, flying drones. I have a lot of hobbies that are centered around media creation, just like you, Paulina, that’s another thing we had in common. So, it was a combination of just me having these prior skillsets, and just the opportunity at the time.
[00:20:09] Paulina: I think that makes a lot of sense. That was something that we bonded over the other day. Just the variety of hobbies and kind of, you pick up these little interests along the way and then finding this moment where they call the ne all in one and you can connect different passion points together.
[00:20:26] Which I think to your point is why the podcast was such a great idea and something you were so passionate about. And one reason I joined the team as well. So, what have you learned over your course of two years over interviewing 60+ students?
[00:20:40] Sean: I know a couple of things I learned were that for one, everyone has an amazing story and if the story doesn’t come out, it’s not because you didn’t have a good story; it’s because I, as the interviewer, failed to get that story out of you. I think that’s the first thing I’ve learned.
[00:21:04] And so over the years I’ve been working very intently on improving my interviewing skills and emulating the greats. You know, Terry Gross’s of the world, and also just becoming a better listener. The podcasting experience, the interviewing experience really forced me to become a better listener because that’s the only way you’re going to be able to pick up on the little hints and the little tones and catch when someone is really passionate or when someone really cares about something. And that’s what you want to pull out and extract in an interview; you really want to hear what this person just cares about. I think that’s what people want to hear in stories.
[00:21:51] What makes this person tick? What drives them? Versus I would have a job. I do this and I do that. There’s something that makes everybody tick. And just like with what I shared earlier with my history, there are forces and there are influences that make us who we are. How can we really hear about that?
[00:22:13] That’s what’s inspiring in my opinion. So yeah, those are some of the things I learned.
[00:22:19] Paulina: And they’re great life skills to have. In general, those are the skills that we need to have as leaders in the community, as leaders in business, in order to truly be able to listen, whether it’s to employees, whether it’s to the shopper, whether it’s to partners in business, to understand to your point, what are they passionate about. What makes them tick, what motivates them, what inspires them. Because you can’t have a successful business if you’re not listening in both directions.
[00:22:47] Sean: Absolutely.
[00:22:49] Paulina: I did want to take a step back and talk to you about how you ended up at Haas. We haven’t really touched on that part yet. You went from Michigan to LA and you had a couple of different businesses that you started down there. You also worked for a few other companies down there. At what point did you step back and say, now is the time to go to business school?
[00:23:14] Sean: I had a feeling when I was reaching this glass ceiling for my businesses where I felt like no matter how many more books I read and how many more people in LA that I met and networked with, I didn’t feel like I was growing. It was a very painful time for me, especially as a lifelong learner, as a Student Always ambassador.
[00:23:40] That was around 2016 about seven or eight into the businesses that we had started. Part of it was driven by my really close friend and business partner who is an Anderson grad. I had to give him credit too, for the podcasting, because he actually helped Anderson launch their podcast because he was doing the editing for them.
[00:24:07] I think that was also in the back of my head. I was like, I should launch a podcast too when I get to school. His name is Phillip Chang; he’s my best friend. He definitely gets a shout out there as well. But he also was a huge influence on me going to school because when we graduated college together, we went to Michigan State together, went to high school together.
[00:24:26] When we graduated, we were like, we’re never going back to school. We had launched our business. We were successful. We were like making money and having a great time in LA of all places to be successful.
[00:24:42] But he had decided to go back to school because he recognized earlier than I did that we needed to expand beyond our existing network. That’s number one and two, because we’re such scrappy entrepreneurs and we lacked formal mentors of any sort, businesses, or business owners that were much more successful than we were that he needed to grow and learn somewhere else.
[00:25:09] Our differences that he’s not like a big book nerd like I am. And so, I was still a little self-righteous and overconfident in my state where I was like, I read a lot of books and I think there’s still so much I can teach myself. And then like I said, once I hit that year six, year seven, I was like really reaching my limit and I’m just banging my head against this wall and I don’t feel like I’m growing.
[00:25:34] At the time, you know, we had built a million-dollar business. I was like, how do I build a $100 million business? That’s when I hunker down to the G mat, apply to schools, and I’ve gone to Anderson, which was the natural choice being in LA. It’s like in our backyard, but he said, don’t go to Anderson, I’m already tapped into this network. Go somewhere else where we can build a new network of people and reach more people as business people. That was a huge factor in deciding to commute to Berkeley. The original plan was always to move up to the Bay area after about six to eight months.
[00:26:14] But after doing it for like six to eight months of flying every weekend, I was like, this is easy. I love the Bay area. I love the people. I love the culture, but I just love the weather down in SoCal more because I came from Michigan.
[00:26:30] Paulina: Like I already did my time, the snow, and I want to go to the beach and actually go in the water.
[00:26:38] Sean: Yup, that’s right. So yeah, that’s what brought me to Haas.
[00:26:42] It was this realization that I needed to learn from peers that are much smarter and much more experienced in their respective industries, and also learn from the professors.
[00:26:54 ] Paulina: Your first year in, what do you think surprised you most about Haas? Did it meet those expectations?
[00:27:04] Sean: Oh boy. I mean, let me take another step back here.
[00:27:07] So one of my biggest reasons, and I mentioned this earlier with when I was chatting about my buddy, was that our focus on the MBA was for networking. As entrepreneurs, we’re not intending to come in for career switching or career advancement because we work for ourselves. It was kind of like, what’s the purpose?
[00:27:27] What are we doing here? And many times, like other entrepreneurs, would be like, go take that $100K $120K $150K, whatever it is, and go invest in another business. Why would you go throw it at a school? And how I ended up rationalizing that was that I’m paying all this money effectively as a lifetime membership into a country club or a yacht club.
[00:27:53] And I liken that because that’s really what the environment and the alumni base and its value is for one of these top 10-15 business schools. You’re getting top tier education and your network is amazing in school, but you’re also getting connected to the alumni base. And that’s a huge value.
[00:28:15] And that’s something that you, if you can leverage, frankly, the network and the people that you meet, I believe that’s going to give you the highest ROI than any job advancement or anything like that. And so that’s what I came to school and I was not surprised about. What I was surprised about, going back to your question, was how much I learned from the classes. I thought I read everything on strategy marketing and management and all these things and people skills because having been running our own businesses, we had to wear many hats. Just like the lecture alone added so much more value to me because it’s that saying that you don’t know what you don’t know right now. I really didn’t know what I didn’t know. The school was a rude awakening for that. But even more so, and I think this is something very unique to the evening weekend program is just the wealth of experience that your classmates bring because they’ve all been working in their respective industries for 8 to 10 years. It’s the knowledge that they impart in the classroom, their perspective on strategy or operations where leading people, or whatever it is, it’s their perspectives. I think that surprised me even more so than I could have ever expected.
[00:29:39] Paulina: I totally agree. I feel like even just being one and a half-semester in the community that we have within the part-time program has just so impressed me because we do a really great job of filling out a very diverse set across all the cohorts. And so, to your point, there are so many different perspectives, so many different types of business leaders, educators, those in the medical profession that just add two, three, four different layers into the discussion at any given point. That really enhances the overall learning aspect. And then the great thing for a lot of us, because we are working part-time, is that we can just turn around and apply it real-time, those skills and learnings that we’re getting from the classroom.
[00:30:32] Sean: Yeah.
[00:30:33] Paulina: And so, you’ve also done through one Haas, a lot of community building. I’m just curious, do you know what drives that? I mean, you talk about your close relationships that you have from home; you talk about building the community down in LA, and I feel like you’ve done a really great job at building a community here at Haas.
[00:30:53] Sean: That’s a great question. I think what drives it is tied to my desire to learn. Whenever I learn, I want to share what I’ve learned. I came to school to network and I was just meeting such amazing people at Haas.
[00:31:08] And hearing such amazing stories, naturally I’m just like, “Hey, you should connect with this person” or “I just met this person as a very similar background or interests as you have”. You met them and people are like, no. And it just made me realize there’s this huge inefficiency in networking in this MBA setting and mind you, we were one of the smaller MBA schools.
[00:31:29] I can’t imagine what it’s like in other places. The podcast was also a way to solve for this efficiency problem where I thought, you know, let me just get your story on-air and have more people listen to it at once. And if they have similar interests, they can just reach out to you. Going back to your question, everything stems from this idea of learning stuff from people, from my guests right on the podcast and sharing that knowledge with people in some way, shape, or form.
[00:32:01] Paulina: As you think back about all the different stories you’ve collected over the last two years; do you have a one Haas episode that’s your favorite?
[00:32:09] Sean: That’s a terrible question.
[00:32:13] Paulina: Just because I’m making you choose.
[00:32:15] Sean: Yes. Because you’re making me choose. I can’t choose and not because I don’t want to choose, but because I stand true to what I say about how everyone has a unique story. How about this? I will say that there are some interviews that were very difficult for me, that really stood out and they were my interviews with Bree Jenkins and Evan Wright. It touches upon the issue of race and underrepresented minorities, URMs. And you know, I have this off the cuff interview style where I don’t like to do much research on the person I’m interviewing. They just get referred in, then I just sit down and look at their LinkedIn briefly, and I just start asking them questions and then go from there.
[00:33:12] But these were two times where I was really just underprepared to be very honest and at times, like I didn’t know how to ask questions regarding race, regarding diversity issues that we have at Haas. These were very difficult interviews, not because the guests were difficult, but because the topic feels so sensitive to broach. They are also the most important topics and the most important conversations that we need to be having, not just here at Haas, but across the world.
[00:33:53] I just remember when I was editing those episodes that I sound like an idiot. And I had the liberty to cut it out, to chop it out. But I can’t rob our listeners of this awkwardness of my ineptness, because it’s very important to me and I think that it’s very important to Hass and this podcast to retain its authenticity. I think those interviews just made me realize how much more I need to learn to be a better interviewer, and why this project and what we’re doing is so important.
[00:34:43] Paulina: Totally agree. I think we both have a passion for being a Student Always, and I think instances and moments like that really humble you. You come into a lot of these interviews in a lot of situations with a certain level of confidence that you can navigate it easily and talk your way around. But there are just some topics, some stories that our places really is just to sit back and learn and, and that’s why we’re here.
[00:35:18]Sean: It’s important to check how fortunate we are and how we should be leveraging that to help other people.
[00:35:28] Paulina: It’s very prevalent in the current environment. It’s such a wide spectrum and kind of all people affected, but some more than others, and it’s really showing the different breaks in the system that we have.
[00:35:42] Sean: Yeah. Some a lot more than others.
[00:35:45] Paulina: Exactly. As we think about the next upcoming months and hopefully we’ll be in a better spot today as a society and economy as we are right now, but you technically graduate next month in May, which is wild. So, what’s next?
[00:36:04] Sean: What’s next? That’s a great question. I mean, it’s been a roller coaster ride here at Haas.
[00:36:09] I came in as an entrepreneur to network and then I realized that there’s so much I don’t know. What are some ways that can help me get to know what I need to know? If that path is a job in consulting or product management or banking, then I should take it to really expose myself and gain the skills to become a better business person in the future, a better entrepreneur. When I started the podcast, I happened to have interviewed two people that shaped the next year and a half of my Haas time. And those two people were David Zhao and Vlad Rozhkovskiy. They were my second interview; I didn’t know them at all, a year or so above me. At the time when I started the podcast, I was really desperate.
[00:37:02] I was like, “Please, somebody talk to me. I’ll interview anybody.” Sometimes when I approach people, I was like, “Hey, I launched those podcasts and they were like, “Oh, where is it? Can I hear it?”. I’m like, “I’m launching it right now. Do you want to be on it?”
[00:37:19] Paulina: Yeah.
[00:37:20] Sean: And people were like, “I’m not ready yet. I don’t feel prepared.” I’m just like, “I’m not prepared, but I’m doing it anyway.” But anyway, these two guys agreed I had to give Steve Lee some credit too because he was my first guest and he’s only my first guest because he was the first one to agree. He was an Oskie with me.
[00:37:44] He was brave, but he’s very much confidence without attitude. He sat it off. We still joke about that first episode. With David and Vlad, I had no idea what I was going to talk to them about. They ended up sharing with me their journey through investment banking of how coming to school, going to investment, banking prep.
[00:38:04] At that time, this was February when we’re recording, they had just landed their investment banking internships, summer internships. I studied finance and I never really got to practice it outside of the two years of investor relations. I am kind of interested in this. I’ve also never raised money for my startups.
[00:38:24] We bootstrapped everything. I really want to learn how to be more confident and have more credibility if I were to go in front of investors and ask for money someday. Literally, for the next 18 months, I went down this investment banking track and I thought I’d come on and do investment banking for a couple of years.
[00:38:46] Did it, and I realized, part of it I think has to do with my age and my experience working. Running businesses and working 16-hour days was nothing new for me. When you start your own business, you’re working 16-hour days. Right now, I’m working 16-hour days, and I think having that mindset going into this internship.
[00:39:12] I prepared a lot beforehand. Before the internship, too. I spent months doing modeling practice and talking to managing directors and learning modeling from them. I want to accelerate my learning there. And I think once I got there, I realized that I extracted what I wanted out of this experience and so that really screwed up my plans because I’d planned to go into investment banking for at least two years and now this is like, what am I going to do? I just gave up this super high paying career to not knowing what I’m going to do next.
[00:39:53] I’m sharing this story to kind of walk you through where I might go next. I was like, let me explore venture capital. That’s usually the route that bankers go into. They go into banking, which is the sell side of finance. They move over to the buy-side, which is a private equity, venture capital. Explored that took P class, private equity, leveraged buyout with Peter Goodson.
[00:40:18] I took the venture capital and private equity class with Terry and Sean again, one of my favorite classes at Haas. I think everyone should take it. Only offered in the fall. These are like industry-seasoned, venture capitalists come in to teach at Haas once a year. It’s a really great privilege. I realized this is a little too early in my career to go sit and be an advisor investor.
[00:40:45] I realized after taking the class for a semester, I still wanted to build things. My heart and soul were still set on just building products and services from scratch. And so, what I did, we’re talking now in April, classes concluded last semester in December. From December to February, it was this discovery process. A lot of meditation, a lot of solitude, and trying to figure it out what is it that I want to do next? And then come February, everything started coming together. And at that time, I still thought this whole podcasting was still just a hobby. And I was trying to meet more and more people like you guys, like Ray Paulina, lie Aravind, people that want to help out with the podcast.
[00:41:35] And coincidentally, at the same time, the alumni office reached out to me asking about the interest in launching an alumni podcast. And then some business buddies, business owners reached out to me asking if I do a business podcast, help them produce it. And then really forced me to systemize the podcasting process and take it more seriously, which is around the same time I realized I really enjoy doing this. Why can’t I do this as a business? Why am I head did I see only finance or consulting or product management careers as legitimate careers? Why is podcasting or building a media business, not a legitimate career?
[00:42:18] I had that revelation. So, now what I’m focusing on is building a podcast business. In many ways, a one-way podcasting as a service where we provide everything from pre-production and post-production services. If you’re a company or a school or any organization or even an individual, if you want to launch a podcast, we can help you do that from consulting you how to start to helping you just build it.
[00:42:50] If you have the money to pay us, we’ll do everything for you. Short of you doing the interview yourself, we’ll even coach you on interviewing. Another piece of the business that I’m looking to build is the content business. It’s building out a library of content, which will include alumni content and other forms of educational content through a podcasting format, audio-first format.
[00:43:19] There’s more to it, but that’s kind of the gist of where I’m headed.
[00:43:23] Paulina: That’s so exciting. I feel like it fits very well into your overall story and your journey, just combining the different passion points you’ve had, even just around the community, around media, what you’ve learned at Haas over the last couple of years.
[00:43:38] So I know I’m personally very excited to see where it goes and I’m sure it will be very successful.
[00:43:47] Sean: Yeah. That’s what my wife hopes as well.
[00:43:53] I feel very fortunate that I was able to sell the businesses before I decided to go into investment banking. That was kind of the decision point where I thought I had to part with my previous engagement so I can move forward with something new. And now that I’m coming back on entrepreneurship, the serial entrepreneur for over 10 years, and there’s still a lot of apprehension. There’s still a lot of what the hell am I doing?
[00:44:26] You know, the exploration I should say, but at the same time, it just feels right. It feels like this is something that I enjoy doing and this is something that is providing value, and that’s really my litmus test for what I decide to work on or do with my time. I mean, granted, if this doesn’t work out, which there’s always that chance because of the economy or whatever, what I’ll do next is just find a career or job in a similar industry and build the business on the side. If there’s something that I want to leave this interview with for people listening, it’s that I’m a huge proponent of working and hustling on the side. So that’s what I would do if this thing doesn’t take off as quickly as I would like it to. If I can’t find a path to monetization as quickly as I foresee, then I’ll definitely do as a side hustle. The point is, you’re not getting rid of me.
[00:45:32] Paulina: Darn it. No, I think that’s great. The other day when we were chatting, I wrote down a quote that you said, which is success means putting in the overtime. That really speaks to kind of your whole career and all the companies you’ve built, and even having the podcast on the side the last two years as being a student while running these businesses and everything. It’s been very impressive. I have one last question and then we’re going to go into some rapid-fire Q and A. But as you reflect upon graduating in about a month here, what would be your number one take away from B school? Your advice for incoming students or selfishly for students like myself that are just one year in.
[00:46:19] Sean: I think it’s the same message that many students have given on this podcast, which is, be involved.
[00:46:25] It’s exhausting. I know you guys are working full-time jobs or if you’re a full-timer, just wrapped up in meeting people and school events. Everybody’s busy, but this is just a short-term thing. You’re only in school for two years as a full time or three years as EW.
[00:46:43] Unless you get a Ph.D., this is your last chance to be in school and so make the most of it. It’s something I’ve always shared and realized myself; it’s so easy after eight hours of class to say I just want to go home, but I promise if you stay out that one extra hour, you’re going to catch that second wind and you’ll never regret it.
[00:47:06] So just really, whenever you feel like you just want to take a break, don’t.
[00:47:16] Just tough it out. Just see it as a pandemic. You’ve got to tough it out. It’s only going to be for a short time. If you can tough it out, I think the ROI is going to pay in dividends.
[00:47:31] Paulina: Because three years goes by so much quicker than I think you think it does.
[00:47:36] Sean: I was relishing in how much time I had in school and now it’s over.
[00:47:42] Paulina: We’re kicking you out. All right. Let’s do some rapid-fire Q&A. So just kind of short one-sentence to wrap it up. Because we’re on a podcast, because you are getting into podcasting, top three podcasts for you.
[00:47:57] Sean: The top three shows are definitely Fresh Air, Radiolab, and This American Life.
[00:48:07]Paulina: Big NPR supporter.
[00:48:09] Sean: Big NPR supporter plus CC in Southern California,
[00:48:15]Paulina: Top three songs or artists on your Spotify.
[00:48:18] Sean: Wow. That’s going to be very obscure. Well, there’s one that everybody knows. I just recently discovered Charlie Puth’s album from 2018 or 2017, Voicenotes. I listened to that album for two months straight. I just love his voice. I think he’s such a good artist.
[00:48:40] Such a good vocalist. So that’s one. Just as whole entire Voicenotes album.
[00:48:48] Paulina: I have never heard of him, so I’ll have to look him up.
[00:48:51] Sean: You don’t have to try. You don’t listen to Charlie Puth? Well, maybe you don’t listen to pop music. Sorry, I just didn’t realize. I shouldn’t assume everybody listens to pop music.
[00:49:00] Alright, so Charlie Puth. Who else is on my list right now? I have a lot of really weird songs. There’s favorite song, a remake of Creep by R3hab.
[00:49:14] Paulina: That’s a good one. I’ve been listening to that one a lot.
[00:49:15] Sean: So good. Last but not least, Masego. I love Masego. Masego made this amazing YouTube video that everybody should watch with FKJ French Kiwi Juice called Tadow, T.A. D. O. W. It’s an 8 or 12-minute video where they make a song from scratch and it’s nonstop. They’re just layering on tracks upon tracks without pausing, without missing a beat in, like A-bar segments. It’s just the most amazing thing just to see these really talented people build something from scratch nonstop.
[00:49:55] It just blew my mind. But Masego has a new song called King’s Rant that I just love. It’s on repeat.
[00:50:04] Paulina: All right. So, you’re a dad, a husband, a student, a podcast host, working 16-hour days. What’s your number one productivity hack to get you through the day?
[00:50:14] Sean: Coffee. Straight caffeine. Not just coffee, but cold brew.
[00:50:20] Paulina: Okay.
[00:50:23] Sean: The biggest productivity hack is keeping a positive attitude.
[00:50:29] Paulina: All right, and last one, after you graduate, what are you going to miss most about Haas?
[00:50:35] Sean: See my friends, see my classmates. They’re all going to be up in the Bay, but we take plenty of ski trips a year, so I don’t think about it. I’m just going to be very intentional about connecting with people, staying in touch as we are doing now and not take the relationships that I’ve built for granted.
[00:50:55] Paulina: I love that. Well, thank you, Sean. It’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you today, and we’re hoping we can continue on your legacy with here at Haas, so thank you so much.
[00:51:08] Sean: Thanks, Paulina.
[00:51:10] Paulina: Thanks for tuning into here@haas. Know a Haasie that has a story to tell? Nominate them on our website, onehaas.org. If you enjoyed this week’s episode, please subscribe and leave us a rating and review. And don’t forget to share out this podcast with your favorite bears.