The Berkeley MBA Experience

After two years of business school, I remain Australian.  This means I recognise both good and bad.

The good:

  • People – I am grateful for the fellow human intelligence that will form my closest network many years into the future.  It’s the closest I’ll have to corporate unconditional love and support in a professional setting.  My peers allowed me to experiment, grow and supported every move.  It’s a tight knit family I suspect no other top tier school can closely replicate.

  • Platform – Berkeley has given me an incredible platform to launch my new self.  I’ve found a founding team, learnt from incredible professors and been able to access things my previous self couldn’t.  The name “Berkeley” carries amazing weight in this country and beyond.

  • Fun – The last two years have been amazingly fun.  I’ve explored, experimented and learnt an amazing amount in a safe playground.   I’ve been to the best party of my life in Vegas.  I’ve experimented with negotiation tactics and put them into practice in the real world.  I’ve decided that the world is my oyster and I can do nearly anything.


The bad:

  • I’m now in some box.  Good or bad, I will be judged for the letters “MBA” and the institution they are awarded from.  That’s the American way.

  • Value/Cost equation – it’s surprisingly expensive.  I think if I was born American and had studied here undergrad the MBA equation would be hard to justify given the cost.

  • Politics – Berkeley is Berkeley.  We are extremely tolerant of everything except those who disagree with the left.  There’s an amazing expectation of self-censorship lest you be labelled a bigot or your name whispered in hushed tones in the corridor.  I didn’t appreciate the double standard.

  • Public school – Berkeley is a public school.  This means bureaucracy.  It means friction.  It means we have the most student led initiatives (because we don’t have enough staff to lead them).  It means awards and scholarships aren’t based on merit, they need to be spread out amongst the crop.  It means what is rewarded/praised is the loudest and most politically correct, not the most successful.



Berkeley was the right next step.  I chose Berkeley over my other choices for its location, and its technology/startup lean.  I came into school with specific goals and achieved them. With what I know now I would have chosen the same path.  As I move forward on the uncertain path, I look back and reminisce on the best two years of my life to date.


So you want to be a Management Consultant

You’ve decided to become a management consultant. You’re about to graduate and are ready to take on the world. But where do you start?

I’m hoping the following can give you a jump start into your new full time job – getting into one of the world’s most reputable management consulting firms. This guide will be applicable to anyone who’s thinking about transitioning into the management consulting industry.

Understand what we do

The term “management consulting” is often misunderstood and misused. Make sure you learn what it actually means:

  • What do we do?
  • What do the firms look for?
  • What’s your relevant superpower that will have you stand out?


Management consulting resumes are very different from the norm. From what I’ve observed people often don’t know how to write one even after being told. As someone who’s been through hundreds of resumes you in all likelihood have less than 30 seconds to impress the person you’re dealing with. So make sure what you want to highlight pops from the page. Here are some high level tips for Australians. I know the US has slightly different rules…

General tips:

  • Keep it to 2 pages (even the most accomplished people I know can do this)
  • Always use the STAR approach
  • Format to your strengths
  • Know and advertise your superpower
  • Get someone in the industry to tear it apart

A quick note on the STAR approach
Always use the STAR approach (there are alternative yet similar structures): Situation, Task, Action, Result. Then always lead with a quantifiable result. Compare the two below:

President of FMAA society 2011-2012
Led student society on campus focused on the finance industry. In my time I saw membership double and the worked with my team to increase participation. I also oversaw the addition of three new sponsors

President of FMAA society 2011-2012
– 200% increase in membership through targeting advertising at 1st year students
– Managed $50,000 budget that saw greatest active participation to date
– Signed on 3 new sponsors worth $7,000 each per year, doubling our sponsored funds

I hope you can see that the content is basically the same though the impact for the reader drastically different. The second clearly highlights the quantifiable results first then speaks to how this person accomplished the result. Note the dot point format which doesn’t waste space and clearly says what needs to be said without all the filler words (I’ve hardly written full sentences in my time in management consulting).

Cover Letter

As always, it’s another important opportunity for you to stand out. Make sure you’re not just blabbering because you want to fill a page but put some insightful language around why you’re the best and why you’ll fit into the firms like a hand in glove.

General tips:

  • Keep it to one page
  • Explain your superpower in the context of what’s important for this job
  • No FAFF, just succinct successes explained
  • Find some truly genuine words about why you want join the industry and a firm
  • No spelling mistakes

After a whole day of looking at cover letter two things stand out: structure and originality. Some cover letters just are a brain dump and don’t appear well thought out. Each paragraph should have a different purpose and execute that with precision. The other big boo boo is when a cover letter sounds the same as the hundred before. Everyone ‘loves’ a firm for its reputation and people. Now go a step further and prove you actually know something about the firm.

Case interviews

Management consulting is famous for its case interviews. For those of you brand new to the idea, instead of only asking you behaviourial questions, e.g. “Tell me about a time when…”, your interviewer will ask provide you some brief information about a company and then ask you something like “What should our client do?” It is then up to the interviewee to set up a structure/framework for asking the right set of questions that will get them to the best answer for the client.

The interview is specifically testing skills that consultants use all the time:

  • Developing a structure/framework that guides the answer
  • Quick and accurate math skills
  • Business acumen and common sense
  • Competence under stress and ability to think on your feet

They are not testing for:

  • The ‘right’ answer
  • Knowledge of specific business topics
  • Knowledge of prices, exact figures or facts

Hopefully that helps.  Feel free to ask me something below.

Sam Altman visits UC Berkeley

Sam Altman visited UC Berkeley and took questions from the audience.  Here’s a quick summary of what I found interesting.

What industries are excitable?

  • Software startups still have a long way to go
  • Energy
  • Biotech (cycle times have come down)
  • YC funds the best startups it can find – even if its the same market it’s backed before
  • You should be skeptical if heaps of people are doing what you’re doing
  • Most successful companies have been the first to their markets, e.g. Facebook was the first college social network (when everyone said you can’t make money of poor college students); Google was the only search engine to launch that year
  • The best way to get traction is build something people want and will tell their friends about
  • Focus on the product at the beginning –> growth hacking comes later
  • Charge early customers so they give honest feedback
Other random tips
  • You should only ever go to 1 incubator/accelerator (if you’re not accelerated then there’s something wrong)
  • Companies that raise $30m early fail more often than those who raise $300k.  The sense of frugality and resourcefulness early on is super important and set the culture for the company which is really hard to change
  • Founding team should be able to carry the company a long way.  Avoid hiring people for as long as possible
  • YC funds the best founders who have a passion around an idea we like

Hooking up Technical and Business

I was recently asked by a business mind to write a post reflecting on how I found my technical co-founders.  It’s a question I’ve been asked a few times now so I figured I’d do my best to answer based on discussions across both the business and technical fronts.  I’m hoping my thoughts help both business and technical find each other just a little easier.

How did you meet your co-founders?

My particular story is probably not applicable to most.  It relies on a whole bunch of serendipity and blind luck.  I so happen to be the co-chair of LAUNCH – UC Berkeley’s Startup Competition.   It has been traditionally organised solely by MBAs though this made no sense to me.  As part of that role we wanted to include more engineers and undergraduates to the fold.  My other co-chair found a friend through her connections and so I was introduced to a young gentleman who had won awards for his academic efforts.  One day he approached me to discuss some ideas and we set up the time to brainstorm.  We hit it off and now are working several ideas together.  He has since introduced me to a couple of his mates and so the network builds.

Another founder I met through a chase.  I had heard stories about a guy who had won a hackathon, was a great bloke and interested in bitcoin.  I hunted a little until a mutual MBA friend introduced us and we set up a meeting.  Turns out my first co-founder had actually traveled with him and the organizer of that trip was another mutual friend.  We through around a couple of ideas and started working together.

The rest is history.


General principles

“Chance favors the prepared” Louis Pasteur – inventor of pasteurization

I suspect most people’s stories on finding co-founders relies on chance or some serendipity.  In my efforts to cultivate such fortune I did several things which I can recommend to others.  Below is a consolidated list based on my experiences and discussions with both sides of the table.

  • Go to events that interests engineers.  Events held at the business school probably aren’t attracting engineers in droves.  General entrepreneurship events, pitch nights or topic specific events e.g. bitcoin probably will.  
  • Be an extrovert – sounds dumb but I go to events and see all the business kids talking to each other, and all the engineering kids hanging together.  Now in this case the engineers are the hot girls at the party, so the business kids need to go over and start the conversation
  • Be  friendly – my mum always said “If you want friends be friendly”  Often I hear the anecdote that a business guy will come by and ask “Can you code” and then pitch their idea.  The plain audacity of this stupidity confounds me.  My rule in life is always ask questions – another Chinese idiom I remember is “You learn a lot more by listening than by speaking” so I will try to engage whoever I’m talking to be an interested in them.  I’ve seen business peeps do this soliloquy time and time again to no avail
  • Prove yourself – to business minds coding is some black box.  To engineers, the business side seems almost pointless – build a great product and they’ll come.  Both are true and false.  I never believe I deserve the respect of someone, I’ll always work to earn it.  That means busting my ass and proving to others (business or engineers) the value I can add.  This work ethic and results build trust and an appreciation of value

I think finding founders is like dating.  I think with a bit of work and humility one can find their better half.  I don’t think any of the above is groundbreaking insight.   I suspect this is common sense.  What is clear though is that it’s much harder to execute.  Go execute!

A day’s thoughts to internalise

1.  Talk to the right person

We studied a case where the protagonist spoke to the “Internal head for magazine development” and got politely told to disappear.  4 months later the protagonist speaks wi the Editor-in-chief and leaves with a term sheet.  Moral of the story: make sure you speak to the right person who has the power and whose interest is aligned.  The internal head probably wants to do it themselves and doesn’t want you to do their job for them.  The editor-in-chief wants the best magazines.


2. If someone is willing to give me money, it is NOT necessarily a good idea

In this frothy venture environment, you really only want to be accepting money from experienced investors who can really get you some place.  There’s no point receiving money from someone with no experience to get you to where you need to go.


3. Don’t haggle over the terms, focus on people

When VCs/entrepreneurs haggle too much, there’s a sense of mistrust which seeps into the relationship.  This sets up for a bad relationship, the VC doesn’t work hard for you, their network isn’t tapped.  You don’t get the marquee Board, advisors or customers and the likelihood of your failing stays at 99%.  When you search for investors, search for someone you’re willing to be married to for a while.  Focus on the people on the other side of the table, not the money.


This time of life is all about learning.  Three thoughts:

1. Incorporate early

Start-ups don’t seem to nearly incorporate themselves early enough.  After hearing two lawyers speak on campus there is one clear takeaway – incorporate as soon as possible.  Get those shares out at 0.0000001 per share and figure out the basics.  It’s hard to try say a company is worth nothing the day before a Term Sheet is signed.


2. How to read people’s minds

I heard a great piece of advice from a VC Partner.  There are two things that he has always used to read people’s minds:

– Understand their incentives
– Learn to read body language

The combination of the two throughout a conversation will quickly highlight what someone is truly thinking.  A fascinating piece of wisdom.


3.  Don’t over optimise with a short-term view

We studied a case this week where someone over optimised a single point in time and screwed the other guy.  Turns out this came back to bite the guy in the ass as he disenfranchised others within his company and ruined his reputation.  He is now stuck at a mediocre company with no-one wanting to work with him.

Happy New Year!

Three thoughts to bring in the New Year!

1.  Malaysian and Singaporean Hawker Centre

I’ve always thought Malaysian food was the best in the world hands down, and specifically, that of Penang.  It’s the best of multiculturalism – the blend of Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisines makes for an absolute gastronomical explosion.  I’ve also always wanted to ask someone who earns $2USD per dish if they’d send their family guarded recipe overseas and charge $10-15 per dish.  The numbers look good, the quality of life would improve and the best food in the world would starting making headlines and the western world would drool.

Well, Anthony Bourdain got to it first in NYC.  It seems one of the world’s most renowned chefs agrees with me.

Let me know if you want to start it in Australia or San Fran…

2. Bitcoin

I think there’s a tonne of potential in bitcoin.  I think there will continue to be a huge illicit demand from those who wish to move money around without government interference.  But I also think it has HUGE potential if the market becomes a little more efficient and the value less volatile.  One that really appeals –  making remittance extremely cheap?  In my case, I saved quite a lot in bank fees and foreign exchange rates between the AUD and USD.

From current conversations with friends, classmates and family, not everyone shares my optimism.  I suppose we shall see but I’ve got my money where my mouth is.

3.  The decline of the desktop computer

The break gave me a chance to reflect upon my gaming days and how I miss assembling desktops.  It appeals to some inner want to put things together and build something tangible.  There’s something about researching, assembling and troubleshooting till you have this working machine.  However, a quick bit of research clearly showed the decline: there are much fewer computer magazines around and they’ve all intelligently diversified their focus from the desktop to personal computing in general.  Gamers have moved to the consoles and PC games in San Francisco’s Gamestop have been relegated to one shelf in the basement’s corner.



I love all things sartorial.  At the same time, I have a desire for practicality and presentability that limits my forays into the fashion wild.  I also think the art of being a gentleman should not be lost, but that’s a separate matter.

In any case, the logical extension of makemysuit was a foray into the accessories that make men, men!  So became skinnytie, a first push into the world of classic accessories via ties that I would want to wear at a price I would want to pay.

These ties may not be the wildest ties you’ll ever wear but they’ll be perfect for standing out at work whilst staying within the bounds of presentability.  One of my favourite ties below…


2 inch navy blue tie