Tag: extracurriculars

Failing… sucks. Whether it’s failing a class, failing to meet new people on your first-year floor, or failing to connect with a professor, feeling inadequate is one of the worst feelings in the world.

Fear of failure makes it that much harder to leave your comfort zone. It’s uncomfortable to start from square one and join a new club or friend group, where everyone else seems to be one step ahead of you. It’s hard when people throw around complex terms or concepts in casual conversation, and they’re all going over your head. One bad experience can set you back for months, afraid to take another chance.

But it’s only by putting yourself out there, asking stupid questions, and failing that we can stumble upon some great opportunities. For me, the great opportunity was Bear Studios.

When I first came to WashU, I tried to branch out and suffered (more than) a couple of setbacks.

I faked my way through the spring rush process for one of WashU’s business fraternities, only to be cut in the final round. My pride was hurt. I was ready to throw in the towel on business and move forward with my Arts & Sciences education, shutting the door on a huge realm of possibilities.

But then somebody introduced me to Peter Delaney (BA’18, Global Health), the co-founder and a director of Bear Studios. And Peter welcomed my stupid questions; he met me halfway. Peter and the team didn’t throw around esoteric terms—they explained them.

This is my advice—my plea, really—for student groups: Meet your new members where they’re at. Don’t call out the first-year student huddled in the corner of your general body meeting. Walk up to them after the meeting and engage in a meaningful way. Welcome the stupid questions, allow new members to grow, and foster that sense of curiosity.

I have been with Bear Studios since March. I’m still asking stupid questions, and I’m still learning on the job. But I think that’s the point: I am learning.

My advice for the Class of 2021 would be to fail. Branch out. You’re an engineering student? Take a history class. IAS (International and Area Studies) major like me? Look into some of the Olin student groups. Take some Sam Fox classes. Get outside your comfort zone and fail a little.

It’s not so bad after all.

Guest Blogger: Jacob Finke, BA’20 is majoring in International and Area Studies, concentrating in international affairs; he is a strategy fellow at Bear Studios LLC.



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.

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