Tag: activities

I came to Olin after striking out with a pre-medical curriculum my freshman year. Looking back on that first year at Washington University, it seems like my aspirations to become a doctor were a lifetime ago.

I now spend my time on campus very differently—splitting my day between classes, running the WU Investment Banking Association, and providing strategic consulting services to startups through Bear Studios. The culmination of these experiences at Olin have helped me define value, otherwise understood as what is at the core of a good, durable business. I have been exposed to various business models operating in different business cycles, from startups to sophisticated financial institutions.

During my time at Olin, I’ve developed a dynamic definition of value, and these insights have changed the way I assess and think about businesses.

When I first joined Bear Studios, I anticipated an opportunity to work with founders that had self-sufficient business models with clearly articulated business plans. Instead, I found the opposite. Many of these founders, often working on innovative projects in software, pharmaceuticals, and medical technology, did not have a thorough understanding of how to operate a business. However, what they lacked in business acumen they compensated for with vision, conviction, and a nuanced technical skill set with little replicability.

Our job was less about fleshing out existing businesses; it was taking a founder’s idea and creating a sustainable operating model around it.

As a finance major and aspiring investment banker, my first impulse to assess the performance of a business is to look at its financial health. My challenge working with our clients in Bear Studios was reorienting my brain to ask the right questions when metrics like revenue, profits, or growth rates were not available to me. I found this to be interesting, albeit much more difficult than I initially anticipated. Founders often came in with no business plan or model. It was up to us to offer suggestions on product distribution, strategic partnerships, cash generation, and strategic thinking around scale.

Through this exercise, I gleaned a few essential insights:

1. The value early-stage businesses provide materializes in the future.

For a venture capitalist or seed investor providing capital to early-stage businesses, the potential scale of the idea, conviction of the founders, and feasibility of the business model matter far more than the business’ ability to generate cash or dividends in the short term. Value here is based more on trust, and how much a allocator of capital connects with an idea or founder.

2. Having a concrete plan to scale early is incredibly helpful.

This step is even more valuable for founders with a developed product or who have started beta/clinical testing. Investors feel more secure with their investment if a non-cash generating business has an adaptable, scalable strategy to eventually return money back to the owners of the business.

3. Founders are short-term focused—they want to deliver a product.

This is reasonable, and it should be the sole responsibility of the founder in the beginning. However, this lends substantially more importance to surrounding the founder with a team with complementary skill sets. Many startup founders in high-growth industries such as technology and pharmaceuticals have a specialized skill set. Receiving input from people who have prior experience developing  businesses or products can be crucial for founders’ development as a manager as the business scales through its cycles.

Value in finance, traditionally, can typically be identified along simple financial metrics. Investment professionals typically look for ability to generate cash, prudent supply chain management, and efficient cost structures to identify a valuable business.

Those metrics manifest themselves in the daily operations of the business. Apple is a great example of a traditionally valuable business.

Ability to generate cash

Many gladly pay an “Apple premium” for an iPhone or iPad. Coupling steep prices with high volume, the cash generated by their products trickles down to the investor, and the potential for future growth in cash generation makes it a particularly valuable business.

Prudent supply chain management

Over the years, Apple has vertically integrated, allowing them to not only keep their costs down, but also to have complete freedom over the manufacturing of parts for their products.

Efficient cost structures

Apple has successfully cut inefficiencies. Whether it’s outsourcing assembly, consolidating internal teams, or reducing headcount when necessary, Apple has been able to keep costs efficient, therefore maximizing their ability to return money to investors.

While many investors look for these traditional metrics to assess businesses by, many businesses simply can’t be defined the same way. Startups don’t have sophisticated operations in the beginning, so they must lean on the quality of their idea to create value.

During my investment banking internship this past summer, I had the privilege of working with large corporate clients in the financial institutions sector. Banks, insurance companies, and payment processing companies are typical of businesses found in this sector. These companies often make money differently than businesses providing a singular product or service. Banks profit by lending money, and receive payments from customers in the form of interest. Insurance companies generate income from premiums paid by their customers. Since the considerations here are different, there are more macro-economic facing factors that affect the performance of the business, ultimately nuancing the way value is determined in parallel with these kinds of companies.

My main takeaway from this experience was that while it’s useful to have a standardized tool kit to assess a traditional business (like Apple), a more important soft skill to possess is adaptability.

While a basic, standardized framework is essential to assess any kind of business, being a versatile thinker able to process and synthesize multiple parts of a business makes one an infinitely better banker, consultant, or operator.

While I’ve been lucky to stumble upon many of my professional experiences, I encourage everyone to seek out opportunities that allow them to become adaptable problem solvers. In my circumstance, I could leverage Olin’s liberal arts and business curriculum along with my professional experiences to create a robust framework for defining value. Going forward, I’m excited to work with businesses across business cycles, and hope to continually refine my understanding of what makes a great business.

Guest Blogger: Syed Ahsan, BSBA’18, is majoring in Finance; he is a strategy fellow at Bear Studios LLC.

A successful business depends on the community of contributors that carry out its mission. Since arriving at Olin last fall, I have found a strong community in Bear Studios, a student-run strategy firm providing a variety of client-based services under the umbrella of consulting, tech, design, and accounting.

Bear Studios has formed several key strategic partnerships with WashU and St. Louis-area organizations, with a focus on organizations that share a similar mission and that have a strong sense of community. In 2015, Bear Studios found that community in TechArtista, a collaborative startup space located in the Central West End.

WashU alumni Eric Hamblett (BA’13, International Studies) and Chris Holt (BS’13, Chemical Engineering) started TechArtista in 2014 to provide local entrepreneurs with an innovative working space and community. The company, now home to more than 120 local organizations and entrepreneurs, provides meeting and work spaces, design rooms, digital and filming equipment, and a variety of other amenities and resources to its members.

Bear Studios and TechArtista both seek to provide assistance and support to the local start-up community through different approaches and operations. The partnership provides TechArtista members with undergraduate talent and resources to aid in their operational development, while Bear Studios fellows gain real-world working experience and expertise from entrepreneurs on the ground.

To further the relationship between the two organizations, Bear Studios and TechArtista recently hosted a joint Happy Hour at TechArtista, where members of each organization could network, converse, and learn. TechArtista and Bear Studios plan to continue the tradition of Happy Hours, while building on the value that is created during those events. The Happy Hour setting provides ample opportunities to discuss particular trends in the start-up space and educate attendees about relevant topics through the perspective of both a student and a working professional.

Building the Bear Studios and TechArtista community will require more than an official partnership or even regular events. A community requires a faithful contribution from each of its members—something that is of abundance in both Bear Studios and TechArtista alike.

Photos courtesy of techartista.org.

Guest Blogger: Lexi Jackson, BSBA’20, is majoring in Leadership & Strategic Management, Political Science; she is a Strategy Fellow at Bear Studios LLC.

It was only a year ago when I stood, notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other, in the center of Mudd Field. The Activities & Club Fair had just begun.

Surrounding me, on all sides, was a river of freshman, snaking its way around a perimeter composed of countless booths. The diversity of clubs and opportunities was overwhelming and the energy palpable, drawing me into the chaotic crowd of students. As I move from booth to booth, I become fascinated learning about each club’s unique mission, culture, and story. While each group is vastly different from the next, there’s a single element present at every table I visit: passion.

It was contagious, and, before I knew it, my inbox was booming with messages encouraging me to try out for countless organizations. I couldn’t wait to get started, but was soon warned by peers and professors, ‘Be careful not to get too involved, if you spread yourself too thin, your experiences won’t be as meaningful.’

Ultimately, I was told to find a single passion of mine to devote myself to, but I just couldn’t bring myself to narrow my interests down. I decided to simply do what seemed the most fascinating and see where it took me.

As I watched the free hours on my calendar gradually disappear, anxiety began to build. I feared committing to too much would detract from my experience in each organization. However, once I adjusted to my new schedule, I found, counterintuitively, that the opposite effect seemed to be occurring. The more interests I pursued and clubs I became involved in, the greater impact I felt I was having in each of them.

The best analogy to capture this comes from the book No Ordinary Disruption, which describes how “with every doubling of a city’s population, each inhabitant becomes, on average, 15 percent wealthier, more productive, and more innovative.” Likewise, as the number of activities I was involved in grew, I found I could deliver more creativity and value to each of them, leveraging skills I’ve gained and people I met from previous projects.

During the training process for Arch Consulting, Olin’s case competition team, senior members imparted years of case competition knowledge within just a few sessions. My first application of these skills, however, wasn’t in Arch, rather in TAMID. During our intra-organizational case competition, the analytical, research, and design techniques gained from Arch helped our team condense what would’ve ordinarily been a 3-hour project into less than an hour’s worth of work. That competition helped refine my ability to effectively manage a project under a short time constraint which, later in the semester, translated into improving my management of six WUMUNS committees for WashU’s International Relations Council.

The most valuable asset I’ve gained through my involvement, though, hasn’t been the skills or experiences, rather the network of incredibly talented, motivated individuals whom I’ve come to deeply respect and admire. One such person, a member of Arch Consulting I met during pledging for DSP, connected me with what I’ve found to be the most meaningful experience I’ve had thus far at WashU. Over the summer, she reached out to me with an opportunity to interview for a position at Bear Studios, a consulting company founded by three WashU undergraduates that provides strategy, accounting, design, and technology services to a wide range of clients. After a challenging case interview that tested the many skills I’d gained over the past year, I got an email congratulating me that I received the job.

Bear Studios has been the culmination of my experiences with extracurriculars at WashU. Being able to deliver value to entrepreneurial clients who are so passionate about their work is both deeply rewarding and intellectually enriching. In addition to receiving the edifying opportunity to discover more about exciting new industries or products, I can see the tangible impact my work has on their business plan and pitches to investors. There’s truly no feeling more rewarding than seeing your work improve the lives of others.

So, to freshman currently embroiled in the stressful challenge of finding that one interest or activity that defines you – don’t. Get involved in everything and anything that piques your interests. The experiences and friendships you gain will be exponentially more rewarding than the time you commit.

Guest Blogger: Alec Johnson, Class of 2020, is majoring in Economics and Strategy; he is a Strategy Fellow at Bear Studios LLC.


Activities Fair photos by James Byard, WUSTL Photo Services