through the ALN Mentorship Network.

A large part of why I was able to accomplish so much during my summer internship with Stawi Foods in Nairobi, Kenya was due to the support I received through the ALN Mentorship Network. Check out this 2 minute video where I describe my use of the ALN network, and what I was able to achieve with the help of:

I’m excited to see them again and meet more ALN mentors at this November’s annual ALN gathering in Marrakech, Morocco!

IMG_8473**Originally posted on the African Leadership Network blog and the Wharton Social Impact Initiative blog.

While some people are nervous about doing business in “frontier” markets, I’ve always loved working in challenging environments that require original, entrepreneurial solutions. That’s how I wound up working with East African startups for three years prior to Wharton, and again for my 2015 summer internship. I am passionate about supporting entrepreneurship in these markets to create social impact, so what better way to do that than by diving straight in and directly mentoring these aspiring entrepreneurs?

This past summer I interned with African Leadership Network Ventures (ALNV), a pan-African startup accelerator, to once again immerse myself in the world of African entrepreneurship. When ALNV assigned me to mentor one of their portfolio companies based in Kenya, I jumped at the chance to return to the forefront of the action. Given my own entrepreneurial endeavors in the health and wellness industry, I looked forward to my assignment with Stawi Foods & Fruits, an award-winning food processing company eager to develop their nutritional breakfast foods business. Over the course of ten weeks, I moved quickly to analyze and execute priority decisions to improve sales for this fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company.

A real-life company in Kenya is a long way from Huntsman Hall, but it was remarkable how many classroom teachings I was able to apply to this company. These are the top five lessons I experienced while preparing an East African FMCG company for their next round of investor financing:

  1. Initial Analysis: It doesn’t matter how much you sell to retailers – what matters is how much your retailers sell to the end consumer. Data is key.

Stawi CEO Eric MuthomiWharton MBA’s are trained to live and die by quantitative-driven decision-making. But what happens when there are no numbers to drive a decision? African companies often struggle to aggregate, track and analyze the data required to construct beautiful Excel models. Stawi was grappling with this challenge like all its peers, but was fully aware that it needed to “up” its data game. So I met with each of the retailers who sell Stawi’s porridges – including independent grocers and Kenya’s largest supermarket chain – to put in place an enhanced sales analysis system. The findings were very important: what Stawi had assumed were its best outlets had not been moving as much product as believed; we thought we were selling to one demographic, but the numbers pointed to another; we believed we were hitting both rural and urban customers, but discovered that most of our end-user sales were in cities. Gathering these numbers was a big challenge for me but without understanding the true landscape of our sales and how much of our product was sitting in retailers’ inventory, my strategy for the remainder of the summer would have been very misguided. Do your research and dive into the numbers before embarking on a new strategic direction.

  1. Product-Market Fit: Be able to meticulously describe your ideal customer.

The answer to the question “Who buys your product?” should never be “Everybody!”. With my newly-collected data in hand, we were able to refine our vision of to whom Stawi could and should sell. Read More


Version 2**Originally posted on The Wharton Journal.

School goes by in a flash, so classmate Jenna Gebel and I created the LeadUp to allow 1Y MBAs to reflect and reconnect. Now we’re offering this three-day retreat again, October 8-11, for all Penn graduate students.

The first year of business school flies by in a flurry of emotions—it’s altogether exhilarating, stressful, social, lonely, stimulating, and exhausting. You undergo a landslide of personal development during those ten months. And then, in the blink of an eye, you’re done with finals and moving on to summer internships.

The lessons we learn both in the classroom and about ourselves are arguably the greatest value of the MBA experience, but they aren’t effective if we don’t take the time to process and internalize them. Yet, when can you consciously reflect upon, process, and reshape your goals during business school? How can you make sure the lessons you learned throughout the year aren’t shuffled aside in the hurry to move on to the next step?

11312790_10101071316859235_6885798534058626106_oThese are the questions Jenna Gebel (WG’16) and I asked ourselves at the beginning of second semester. We had met during Pre-Term and bonded over our mutual love for teaching yoga. Months later, we discussed how much (or maybe just how little) had changed for us since August—whether our goals had shifted, what disappointments we had encountered, what personal discoveries we had made along the way. We felt it was important to set aside time at the end of the year to actively contemplate these things, and we wanted to share this experience with others. And thus the idea for the LeadUp, formerly known as the Wharton Wrap-Up, was born.

10438319_10103670817359438_8972392747626860890_nWe did what all Wharton students do in this phase: shamelessly leverage every resource the university has to offer. We spoke to the Leadership office, Mindfulness Club, P3 organizers, Adam Grant, Yoga Club, Richard Shell, the Positive Psychology department, and relevant alumni. We arranged speakers and activities, and worked tirelessly to compile programming and assignments that would be thought-provoking and insightful. Once finals ended, we set off for rural New Jersey with 14 amazing individuals who were brave enough to embark on the first ever LeadUp. Read More

I hate to admit it, but Americans have a pretty bad reputation of being overweight and lazy. In 2014 over 27% of us classified as obese, and it doesn’t show any signs of improvement. But despite (or maybe as a reaction against) this national ailment, a strong slice of us are becoming more health-conscious than ever before. The American fitness industry is worth $24 billion yet traditional gym memberships are declining as we find alternative ways to stay active, healthy, and motivated. In many ways our newfound obsession can even be classified as “extreme“. So who are the companies at the forefront of this burgeoning industry trend?

unnamedI recently traveled to San Francisco with three other Wharton students to meet with companies who are revolutionizing the way Americans become fitter and healthier. Our deep dive into the fitness technology (“fit-tech”) industry shed light on our revived obsession with health, fitness, and nutrition, and offered a variety of ways that we can lead a healthy lifestyle outside of the gym. Whether software, hardware, or services, these companies are stretching the fitness industry in a variety of ways. Chances are you’ve used one of them and if you haven’t, you probably will soon.


Strava_thumbThe top social network app for dedicated cyclists and runners, Strava came from humble beginnings. Its founders wanted to allow cyclists to compare ride times, and that’s exactly what Strava version 1.0 was: a website where cyclists would enter in data manually from their GPS devices. As President & Co-Founder Michael Horvath told us: start small, nail one industry, and expand from there.

Read More

2ab3e0fa90068f48f201158dfdeded48ddWe’ve all had to persuade someone to do something. Most of the time we press actions on people and expect them to cooperate without doing any of the negotiation prep work. In a recent leadership workshop, Wharton brought in an FBI hostage negotiator to teach the best skills and steps to influence behavioral change. Although we may not negotiate international kidnappings anytime soon, these techniques actually come in handy on a day-to-day basis: moderating conflict amongst friends, handling a disgruntled employee, charming a customer service rep to give you that discount. So how do we most effectively negotiate and exert influence to get what we want?

ari-goldI wish I’d known these skills to better handle an incident with a client when I was running the advertising agency in Rwanda. Our client, one of Rwanda’s largest mobile service providers, was hosting the board of their Stockholm-based holding company and wanted the editable files for an ad we’d previously created to display during their presentation. When one of my account managers incorrectly told them we couldn’t release the unedited version, the CEO got involved and called me. Under serious time pressure (and being Latin American), he was so furious and worked up that I could hardly understand him, let alone grasp what was going on. Once I calmed him down and reassured him that we could release the files under certain stipulations, he became more reasonable, but it wasn’t easy. In the end I also managed to procure a fee for editing the files in-house for their presentation – but it could have been much easier and less stressful if I’d known what the FBI does about hostage negotiation!

For my MBA peers in particular, these skills are very applicable as we prepare for careers in the corporate world. Dealing with unruly clients (as I did), asking for a raise, and resolving disagreements in the workplace are all scenarios in which we’ll need to act as effective negotiators and leaders. As you read through these, ask yourself how they can help you to become a better manager, a superior team player, or even just a more supportive friend.

The 8 Active Listening Skills

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 11.52.22 PMAccording to the FBI, the most important part of the negotiation process is constant application of Active Listening Skills. ALS help you gather info throughout the conversation, and can calm down highly emotional people so you can reason with them. Here are the eight ALS you need to know:

1. Use minimal encouragers – Brief responses like “Really, Yeah, Uh huh, Ok” indicate you’re present and listening. Use these when the person is talking through an extended thought.

hostage22. Ask open-ended questions – Ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer to gather more info. This conveys a sincere interest in gaining understanding and doesn’t make the conversation feel like an interrogation: “What happened today? How would you like this to work out?”

3. Reflect/mirror – By repeating the last few words, this helps the person to continue; you don’t want to stop their thought process. A voice inflection at the end (up or down) can be used to either demonstrate understanding or encourage them to go on (try it – it works!): “She doesn’t pay attention to what I say to her and it makes me angry!” -> “It makes you angry”. Read More

My team: the Hack-e-Sacks!

This past weekend several of Wharton’s tech/design/entrepreneurship clubs organized a day-long design thinking workshop and competitive hackathon, the very first Wharton ProductHack. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a hackathon is not a coordinated group effort to break into banks and foreign government systems – it’s an event where software programmers, product managers, and interface designers collaborate intensively on software products. The first “Hackathon” took place in 1999 when developers were challenged to write new software for the Palm phone (remember those?) in the Java coding language. Hackathons have produced some pretty cool products: the group messaging platform GroupMe was born at the TechCrunch Disrupt 2010 Hackathon, and within one year was purchased by Skype for $85 million.

A dangerous game of Ninja to get us moving

The categories for our ProductHack were revealed two days before, and came with several prompts to get us thinking about how to address pressing needs in these areas:

  • Fintech (Financial Technology) & Payments: How can we help people save more? How can we help companies monetize social media? How can we make wireless payments more accessible?
  • Retail IT & Customer Analytics: Have we peaked at the point of sale? How can we help companies get to know their customers? How do you track and quantify word of mouth marketing?
  • Healthcare IT & Connected Health: How will we manage an aging population? How can we deliver better healthcare at home? How can we better monitor our health?

Screen Shot 2014-11-17 at 7.43.29 PMBefore we hit the ground running, we spent the morning discussing the design thinking process. I personally found this extremely helpful, as many people tend to jump to the “ideate” phase, coming up with solutions for problems that may not exist. Sometimes we focus too much on what WE would like as a product or app or business, rather than thinking about whether it solves a demonstrated need with a specific target market. Design thinking, on the other hand, is “a mindset” that Read More

Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 3.22.06 AMAt 1.2 million square feet, the Amazon Fulfillment Center (FC) in Middletown, Delaware is the size of 21 football fields and employs roughly 2,500 full-time employees, swelling to almost 7,000 employees for the holiday season. Codified as PHL-7, it’s one of 75 Amazon shipping complexes spread across the US, but the only one in the northeast open to the public. Last Friday the Tech Club at Wharton arranged a tour of the Delaware FC to walk us through a product’s lifecycle in the center from when it arrives from a vendor to when it leaves for customer delivery.

Inside An Distribution Center On Cyber MondayPHL-7 is specifically for “small products”, while other centers focus on groceries (Amazon Fresh), products from Zappos (acquired by Amazon for $894.6 million in 2009), returned items, or large products like TVs and fridges. The building is divided into areas for “inbound” and “outbound”: the inbound shift begins at 7:00am with deliveries from vendors, while the outbound shift begins at 7:30am with customers’ orders. The average item in PHL-7 has a turnover of two days, but of course this depends on the customer demand for that product. A bottle of shampoo may be ordered within one hour of arriving at the FC, but some items stay much longer: a gigantic stuffed teddy bear has been sitting in PHL-7 for over six years!

photo 3(3) 2Screen Shot 2014-10-26 at 3.23.56 AMWalking across the facility to begin the tour, the emphasis on procedure and transparency is striking. Whiteboards announce developments like “Recently filled 12k orders in one hour” and “New 3-step ladders placed in stow area”. Vending machines stocked with orange vests, yellow wrenches, and gray packing gloves don’t accept money but tell workers to “scan your badge” to get an item. We passed through endless corridors of tall cardboard boxes stuffed with toy dolls, silverware, and plastic painting trays and ducked under networks of whizzing conveyors belts before arriving in the “Receive” area, where our journey through an Amazon item’s lifecycle began. Read More

Last week’s exams marked the end of our first quarter at Wharton, a month and a half that flew by in a flurry of classes, extracurriculars, and social events. With so many exciting options, it was tempting to attend every industry info session, join every club, and meet every one of our 859 first-year classmates, all while grinding through the quantitive-heavy core classes. But inevitably our Type A personalities prevailed, and most of us reverted to our perfectionist undergraduate behaviors of studying constantly and stressing over grades despite Wharton’s grade non-disclosure policy. Throughout the quarter we found ourselves wondering, how will I have time for career recruiting with this courseload? Speaking of recruiting, what do I want to do with my life? Now that I’m so stressed about planning out my entire life, how can I study??

This rite of passage for all MBA first-years was perfectly captured by Stanford MBA student Shirzad Bozorgchami’s letter that has become a traditional gift from second-years to first-years just before midterm exams. Bozorgchami urges MBA’s to resist the impulse to achieve top grades in every course, to not judge themselves so harshly (we’ve been aggregated into an impossibly competitive crowd, after all), and to keep their original goals in perspective. Oftentimes, we’re so focused on the tiny minutia of academia, others’ opinions, and day-to-day tasks, we lose sight of our reasons for being here in the first place. In doing so we put ourselves through “unnecessary pain and hardship” – an affliction definitely not limited to the world of MBA’s.

With Q1 exams behind us, recruiting (primarily for consulting and investment banking) has kicked into full gear. The hallways are already full of Read More