Author: Guest Blogger


About Guest Blogger

From time to time we have professors, students, staff, alumni, or friends who are not regular contributors, but want to share something with the community. Be sure to look at the bottom of the post to see the author.


Mike Harding, BSEN ’14/MBA ’16, wrote this for the Olin Blog.

Team on a Nike corporate team building scavenger hunt.

Nike corporate team-building scavenger hunt.

Helping people explore and connect around the world while working with clients like Nike, Amazon, and Google: Just two years after graduating from Olin, this is where I find myself.

At Olin, I studied quantitative finance. After graduating, I quickly landed a job at Allstate. But my true passion was entrepreneurship, which I also studied. I had already created two companies in my life, which both failed, but I was ready to try again.

While working at Allstate, commuting two hours a day, I was also working 50 hours a week on a new venture: a scavenger hunt app.

Let’s Roam is a scavenger hunt tour company that helps people explore their surroundings, connect with others, propose to their partners, and raise thousands of dollars for charity through donations and Charity Fundraising Scavenger Hunts.

On each scavenger hunt, questions, facts, and photo challenges are tied together with a smartphone app. Everyone works together to answer questions, learn about their surroundings, and take quirky team photos. I founded the company along with my brother Charlie Harding.

I wrote the first scavenger hunt in St. Louis. I walked around downtown on one of the hottest days of the year, connecting landmarks, and crafting games. After getting dehydrated, the end of the hunt was nearly incomprehensible—but I was quite literally pouring sweat into scavenger hunts.

Team on an Amazon corporate scavenger hunt with Let's Roam,

Amazon corporate scavenger hunt with Let’s Roam.

After I made that first hunt, I thought to myself: “Why couldn’t we build a company out of scavenger hunts?” One of my most profound moments at school was when I doing an independent study with John Horn, my professor of practice in economics. I researched the businesses that exist all around us and found that the simplest idea can be turned into a successful company. All you need is a market.

There were plenty of others selling scavenger hunts online, but as I learned from Cliff Holekamp, who was my professor of practice in entrepreneurship, it’s OK to jump into an existing market. At least you know there’s a demand.

We weren’t worried about hurdles or mistakes. They would surely come. We weren’t worried about investors either. We grew our company one scavenger hunt at a time.

Let’s Roam slowly built a team, which had its own learning curve. Apparently, you can’t just hire a developer and say “go develop.” I had to understand every angle of our business to know how to manage employees and know what to expect from them.

My brother and I combined our mutual love of travel, complementary skills, and a brutal honesty honed over a lifetime of butting heads. Our chemistry seems to be working. So far, these scavenger hunt tours have spread to more than 300 cities around the world, enjoyed by thousands of adventurous travelers and hometown explorers. A revised version of the original St. Louis Scavenger Hunt tour has been played thousands of times.

We’ve also been offering team-building scavenger hunts for companies big and small (see name drops above), as well as bachelorette scavenger hunts and charity fundraising scavenger hunts.

In the last few months, we have created a highly refined product. My brother and I, along with our ever-growing team, work tirelessly behind the scenes to enhance the scavenger hunt experience every day. The Let’s Roam app has a 4.9-star rating and 300-plus reviews.

In the coming year, we’ll be expanding into ghost hunts, food tours, and bar hunts while inspiring fellow travelers through our blog.

With the help of Olin, I’ve been able to pursue my passions, travel the world and build an ever-growing, fulfilling company. I don’t mean to brag. I want everyone studying at Olin to take get their degree and soar!

Pictured above: Founder Michael Harding, left, with brother Charlie Harding.


Rik Nemanick

Rik Nemanick, a Washington University adjunct instructor, wrote this for the Olin Blog. He is the author of The Mentor’s Way: Eight Rules for Bringing Out the Best in Others and is leading an upcoming daylong workshop on mentoring and leader development at Olin. This is the first in a series of Olin Blog posts on mentoring.

One of my graduate advisors once told me, “Your diploma does not mark the end of your learning. It is a license for a lifetime of learning.” When students transition from the classroom back to their worlds, they are faced with numerous opportunities to learn, but often lose the forum of reflection and context the university setting provides.

Mentors can serve as vehicles to extend and enhance learning, which led me to write The Mentor’s Way, to help mentors facilitate learning.

This blog post is the first in a series of three that explores the concept of mentoring at Washington University. I interviewed a half dozen alumni from the School of Engineering and Olin Business School who have served as mentors for students in those schools. I wanted to understand how they viewed mentoring overall, the role mentors played in their own careers, and how they viewed themselves as mentors.

To begin, it can help to define the role of a mentor. It can be difficult to come down to one definition, as mentors play multiple roles for us. Some give us advice, while others ask us questions. Some teach about the big picture and others help us solve tactical problems. There were qualities that many mentors have in common.

Haroon Taqi, BSCS ’90, MSCS ’95, said it is “the role of a mentor is to support and encourage someone less-experienced in the development of professional skills and knowledge.” Mike Ferman, BSBA ’68, defined a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide that supports the growth and development of the mentee.”

Finally, Scarlett Lee Foster, EMBA ’00, summed up a mentor as “someone who can provide advice and prepare you for the road ahead.”

From these definitions emerge common themes that include a trusted, experienced guide who supports and encourages the growth and development of a protégé to prepare for the road ahead.

One of the ways mentors support growth is by creating the time and space to learn and reflect. In describing his approach to mentoring, Taqui shared that “when giving them direction, rather than tell them what to do, I ask questions and engage them into a discussion so they learn how to deal with new situations, challenges, and opportunities.” In this mode, mentoring is a natural extension of the lifelong learning process.

One area that often surprises new mentors is the importance of the relationship itself. As you will see in the next blog post, the level of trust that exists between a mentor and protégé often determines how much a protégé will learn.

The relationship quality was noted by two of the alumni, when Mark Pydynowski, BSBA ’04, said mentors take “a genuine interest in helping someone else,” and Sally Roth, EMBA ’95, said that the best mentors “care about their mentees.”

“Mentorship & Leader Development,” a workshop presented by Olin Business School Executive Education, will be Nov. 6 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Get more details and register.

Kevin Kim, BSBA ’19, is focusing on marketing in his studies and minoring in design. He wrote this post about his trip to London and his internship as a recipient of the Avram A. & Jill Glazer Global Learning Program scholarship.

I was fortunate enough to participate in Olin’s study abroad program in the vibrant city of London. Even before applying to the programs, I’ve always wanted to experience life in a European city. I have imagined living abroad and assimilating myself to a new culture. With the opportunity to live and work in London, I think I’ve made one of the best decisions of my life.

As this was a full semester program, we spent half of our program attending school and half the time at our internships. This already was very different from attending classes in the campus. To get to the class, we usually took the bus or the tube (subway). After passing about four stations, we would walk to a building that does not look like a school at all. It was a house before it turned to a commercial space.

As our courses were only taken by fellow WashU students, it was natural to get to know them and spend time with people who you would not probably meet in St. Louis. I think that was one of the advantages, getting to meet and hang out with other students of all sorts backgrounds from WashU.

We didn’t have classes every day or throughout the whole day, which meant we had time to rest and roam the city. In addition, the school had travel programs that allowed us to travel to different parts of the UK and London. This past semester will be one of the highlights of my college years.

Scoring one for his internship

As for the internship, I was very fortunate to work in Manchester United Football Club’s London office (even though I support Chelsea!). I am a huge football (soccer) fan and I think it’s every football fan’s dream to work for a club like Manchester United. Having an opportunity to work for one of the biggest sports teams in the world was amazing.

The office was very close to our dormitories, which was convenient. Before going in, I had no expectations because I did not know what kind of work I could do for Manchester United and what they were expecting of me. But the office clearly briefed about the work and the supervisors were very clear on what I would do every day.

Our supervisors were younger than I expected, and our colleagues were two or three years older than us. Our supervisors were easy to talk to and they were really polite about everything. But because it’s Manchester United, our supervisors were always caught up with work and their agenda was stacked with meetings and deadlines.

This resulted in limited amounts of time to talk about career goals, but they still made time to talk to us and keep communicating, which I really appreciated. I was in the market research department where my role was to research companies, industries, and executives for possible partnerships with Manchester United.

I’ve learned so much about market research and the organization skills required in an office setting. Although it was more corporate-like than I expected, the office was a young, vibrant, and enjoyable place to work. All in all, having an opportunity to intern at Manchester United will definitely set a strong foundation to my career.

Well suited to see the world

I chose the London internship program because I believed that the program had everything I wanted. After attending school tirelessly for five semesters, I wanted something different and wanted to take a rest to replenish myself. The London program provided the chance to explore London and Europe and also experience internship in London.

I could not have made a better decision. While attending school, we had plenty of time to rest and tour the city. On the weekends, we could book a flight to somewhere in Europe and explore the world because we were so centrally located. Even during the internship, our weekend getaways to Budapest or Nice were more than enough to replenish and reenergize.

Through this program, I think that I was able to break out of my comfort zone and learn to adapt to life in a totally different city. Before entering into the real world, I think having an experience to live and work at a totally different city will be an advantage because it makes me more flexible to go abroad.

In the end, London internship program didn’t just provide a chance to live and work in London. It widened my perspective about living abroad and I was able to break away from my bubble. I learned so much about life skills and getting myself around to anywhere in the world and have some time to myself and think about my future.

In addition, I made friends I might not have made in St. Louis because we came from such a different backgrounds and interests. I think my experience was pretty similar to any other student who participated in London program and I’m still missing the days that I’ve spent in London.

Dhruv Patel, PMBA

Dhruv Patel, PMBA 45, wrote about his personal experience applying his professional MBA education to his startup business.

As gaming becomes more competitively aligned with sports, it has created multiple new business opportunities. Celebrities in professional gaming communities earn millions of dollars a year with major brand endorsement deals and cult-like followings on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, and other social media.

As I took notice of this activity, I started a game development and software company called Mathmoola in 2016 to capitalize on this trend. Mathmoola was a simple math game competition website with daily prizes in its early days, and it became an instant hit with 1,500 organic users overnight. Since then, we’ve halted the website operations to focus on app development and developed a software that can turn gaming apps into profitable free-to-enter competitions almost instantly, with monetary prizes for players.

The software will allow game developers to analyze their user data and run profitable competitions, boosting in-app purchases and ad revenue with added incentive for the users to not just play the game, but also earn passive income routinely.

We are basically trying to expand the professional gaming market trend from big computer games to cellular gaming apps. Imagine playing a game like Candy Crush or Temple run on your phone—with an added incentive to win $1,000 a week? Competing in multiple such gaming apps can allow users to earn considerable passive income.

I convinced a senior software engineer and his team from one of the biggest tech giants to join me. I realized that I had a lot of leadership experience being a military officer, but I needed quantitative and qualitative skills to complement my managerial experience to lead such an experienced team.

After being referred to St. Louis’ T-REX business incubator and Arch Grants St. Louis by Megan Waite, then Olin’s associate director of admission for graduate programs, I knew this was the institution committed to developing young entrepreneurs like me. Olin’s PMBA program was naturally a perfect match.

The opportunity to learn new skills every Saturday in the classroom and apply them directly at your work on Monday makes PMBA an ideal program for driven working professionals. Being able to pitch and discuss ongoing challenges to talented group of individuals every Saturday with variety of business experience is a great opportunity to seek valuable mentorship.

My PMBA classmates Sandeep Sign and De Bona Paolo for example, both with statistical and data analysis background provide routine feedback on my progress. As a result, my Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop has improved by tenfold.

Classes such as quantitative decision making, managerial statistics, critical thinking and impactful communication were so applicable to challenges we were facing on a daily basis. Such classes helped us optimize our profit-maximizing models, construct algorithms for our software and do statistical analysis on the expected number of active users and their willingness to pay for in-app features.

We’re testing our software using our original game—Mathmoola—and plan on running multiple gaming apps from various genre in-house. We believe that will give us more flexibility and control over our software initially, making us well differentiated in a saturated market. Maybe in the future, we will start looking into revenue-sharing deals with already established games to reduce development cost and time.

Jeff Brown, MBA ’19, wrote this on behalf of his practicum team from the Center for Experiential Learning. MBA ’19 team members included Jeff Brown, Abdul Rehman Azmat, Grace Lee, Ricardo Marrujo Mexia, and Samuel Roth. The project advisor was Rich Ryffel.

Our client was Doyon Limited. Doyon is an Alaskan Native Corporation (ANC) and the largest private land owner in the United States. At the beginning of the project, we knew little about ANCs or about the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that led to their creation.

What we soon discovered, however, was that Doyon has a responsibility to protect Native Alaskan land and resources and to help its shareholders flourish. The part we were to play in helping Doyon fulfill this mission involved strategic planning as Doyon seeks to diversify beyond its core upstream oil and gas ventures.

Structuring the problem

Our first task was to bring structure to ambiguity—to bring ourselves down from 30,000 feet to ground level. This proved to be more difficult than expected. The complexity of the project put us in danger of venturing down numerous rabbit holes and getting lost in the minutia of the industries we were tasked with analyzing. However, our ability to clearly define the project via a statement of work hammered out together with the client helped us to create a project framework and stay on track.

Interacting with the client

In our first week on the project, we had the pleasure of meeting Doyon executives in person. Throughout the day, we interacted with the client professionally and—just as importantly—personally. too. This time spent together allowed us to better understand Doyon’s business and helped build a rapport that was useful during subsequent meetings. We became more confident that we could ask difficult questions, and at the same time, the client gave honest feedback on our work. In the end, because of the trust we built, we delivered a better final product and more value for Doyon.

Housekeeping and administration

Sometimes the little things can have major implications in a client relationship. After our first virtual meeting, our advisor, Rich Ryffel, gave us a piece of advice that we will use moving forward: “Make sure to keep meetings within the scheduled time or the value of your time will be diminished in the client’s eyes.”

Rich explained that not only should you respect the client’s time but that the client should respect yours, too. Mutual respect can keep both sides from making unreasonable asks and help maintain a productive working relationship.

Getting to know the local culture

Phase 2 of the project took us to Alaska, where we visited Doyon’s offices in Fairbanks and Anchorage. We also presented the results of our analysis and recommendations on which industry to make the focal point of phase 3.

The team spent the first two days as tourists, attending cultural events and visiting various attractions. We watched the beginning of the Iditarod, hiked a waterfall trail, and even caught a glimpse of Denali. When the meetings started, we were given a tour of Doyon’s in-house museum of native Alaskan artifacts and had lunch featuring dried salmon that is apparently such a delicacy that buying and selling it is regulated by the federal government. These experiences taught us a lot about native Alaskan culture and drove home the importance of Doyon’s core values.

Understanding the client’s businesses

Through meetings with various subsidiaries, we developed a better understanding of those businesses’ relationship with the holding company. We learned about utility joint ventures, oil exploration, pipeline building, oil and gas engineering services, and government IT outsourcing.

The meetings illustrated the real-world implications of findings from Frost and Sullivan, Ibis, Bloomberg, and others. Each night, after a long day of meetings and dinner, we rushed back to the hotel and worked well after midnight to incorporate what we had learned into the presentation we were preparing for senior leadership.

Adapting the message

Finally, the team met with the CEO, COO, and CFO to present our mid-project recommendations. Each executive brought a different perspective, and with that perspective, a different level of interest in or resistance to our recommendations. The discussion was not always easy, but the reactions we received taught us that, when presenting to executives, we need to consider all the vested interests in the room so that recommendations may be as acceptable, practical, and actionable as possible

Pushing till the end

Our final presentation went off with a hitch, and our team leader, Jeff Brown, was even invited to present our findings to the Doyon board of directors at their annual meeting. The feedback from Doyon was positive, and we wrapped things up with confidence that Doyon could integrate our recommendations into its long-term strategic planning process. While we learned a lot about business throughout this process, the best part of the experience was the time spent with the team and the client.

Having fun with the team

As MBA classmates, we already knew each other to varying degrees, but sharing this experience brought us closer and created moments that we’ll remember long after we’ve forgotten the actual project. One such memory was the birthday party that we threw for Grace while in the middle of putting the final touches on our executive summaries.

We surprised Grace with a card and cupcakes and sang happy birthday in the meeting room. It was just one moment during one meeting, but the experience was indicative of the good times the team shared together and of why we are much closer now than at the beginning despite the intensity of the experience.

Working with the client

Working with the client has taught us how to lead meetings with confidence, how to communicate more clearly, and how to read the client for clues about where they are taking the conversation. All these skills came to bear during our final presentation, which was done remotely via WebEx.

In a video conference, reading nonverbal cues can be very difficult, and the meeting flow can easily break down. By the time we delivered our final presentation, we had already completed five previous video conferences. As a result, we were familiar with how to manage the pauses, how to read the client’s questions, and how to reply in a way that moved the conversation forward.

These experiences will be invaluable in our future career and made us look back on our final presentation with so much pride about the work we’d done.

Pictured at top: Team members Jeff Brown, Abdul Rehman Azmat, Grace Lee, Ricardo Marrujo Mexia, and Samuel Roth, all MBA ’19.

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