I am what I like to call an accidental entrepreneur. Back in 2007, I was working for a broadcast media company and started getting interest from freelance clients. I resigned and started a small digital marketing agency of my own, retaining that broadcast media company as my first large client. The truth is that I started a business because the opportunity fell into my lap.
My focus initially was on radio and entertainment, and I particularly enjoyed working with corporations launching new stations and new shows. I found that much more exciting than working with people who were already at the top. I began working with a lot of entrepreneurial clients, translating my skills launching new media brands to develop go-to-market strategies for startup companies. That’s how I fell in love with entrepreneurship— helping other people launch new brands, being really scrappy to fight for market share.
How did you get involved with Bundoo?
Bundoo, the company that I now run, is an online resource for expecting and new parents that offers evidence-based, accurate healthcare information. When I got involved, it was in the ideation phase. The company was brand new, just finishing initial consumer research and in the early stages of product development, and the founder was looking for someone to build a go-to-market strategy. I was really attracted to the idea, and I was excited for the challenge of building a business in a very, very crowded market.
I was at the point in my career where I was doing well, had tons of clients, but their problems were all the same. I wasn’t growing. It’s kind of the same reason I decided to apply to UNC for my MBA and focus on entrepreneurship. I felt like I could sit here making money, having clients, but in five years I would either be doing the same thing or I’d be left behind somehow, because I hadn’t been continuously challenged professionally.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA?
You know that saying, “I’m smart enough to know what I don’t know?” At the time that I applied to UNC, I had just gotten a promotion to VP/Operations. I made this major career switch, and I started noting all of my knowledge gaps. That’s when I started thinking it was time to go back to school.
Shortly after that, I hired a life coach to help me grow as a manager and learn to find a balance as a working mom. When we called it a wrap, she said, “I just want to bring something up to you. In all nine sessions, there was one consistent theme: you feel like you need an MBA. So, when are you going to do it?” After that call I did something very stupid: I had what I consider a large glass of wine and applied to take the GMAT in a month.
She asked, “When are you going to do it?” I thought, “I’m going to do it right now. This is ridiculous. There are so many things I could learn from an MBA, especially with this kind of career transition.” My life coach and wine got the ball rolling!
How has MBA@UNC helped you in your career?
After starting the program, my career really progressed. I was promoted several months after starting the program to chief operating officer, and then again a year ago when our founder stepped down and I was promoted to CEO.
I’ve applied lessons from class in my career since I started MBA@UNC. Even right now, as I’m raising capital for my company, I’m taking what I learn back to the business an hour later, as I’m up late trying to get things done. I’ve learned how to inspire innovation and launched professional development programs, but most important, I’ve become a better leader to my team. This program has been a catalyst for both personal and professional growth, and I haven’t regretted my decision for a second, despite the hard work.
How did you decide to pursue an online program?
It was a couple of motivating factors. I had one child already, and I found out that I was pregnant right after I decided to take the GMAT. I needed a flexible program because my life was in flux. I also had an 80-minute commute each way to work, so driving the opposite direction to University of Miami and adding to that commute wasn’t attractive to me. As a mom and a wife, an on-campus program out of Miami was not an option. It didn’t make sense to relocate my whole family, and I wasn’t willing to drop my job for a one-year executive program (although I did take a hard look hard at some of the top schools). Add regular work travel to the mix, and you’ve got complicated needs. I decided to look strictly at online executive MBA programs because they suited my already hectic life as a working mom.
Why choose MBA@UNC?
I considered everything to begin with. I looked at Ivy League executive programs and knew I couldn’t commit to one of those. I looked at local on-campus programs, and the commuting would have left me with no family time during the week. Once I narrowed my search to online MBA programs, UNC stood out to me in a big way. UNC’s general reputation and Kenan-Flagler’s reputation in business were huge factors in my decision. I was very impressed with the online software and felt that the MBA@UNC program replicated a face-to-face program. I wanted an online grad school program that was as close to an on-campus program as possible, and UNC promised that with MBA@UNC. I also was drawn to the entrepreneurship concentration. I hoped to double up marketing and entrepreneurship, and there were few schools that offered that.
What aspects of online education in MBA@UNC surprised you the most?
I would say the community aspect of it was a welcome surprise. One of my highest priorities was finding an online program that felt like an on-campus program. When people think about online education, they have mixed thoughts about it. Many people think that you just watch some videos and turn in some papers and get a degree. People don’t realize that there’s virtually no difference between what we experience in class and what people on campus experience, with the exception of maybe smaller class sizes, which I enjoy.
I didn’t expect initially that I’d get so close to my classmates. We have virtual happy hours, and I’ve made lifelong friends. My husband calls them my “online friends,” and I’m quick to correct him—they’re my school friends! There really is a good community within the program, and that was something that I had hoped for.
How have you been able to apply your MBA to your role as CEO of a startup company?
There are so many ways that it’s impossible to share them all, but two big things stand out. The first is the importance of creating culture. Learning how company culture can foster innovation versus stifling innovation and how it can really bond teams motivated me to develop a unique culture for my startup. I didn’t want a “startup culture” but a culture unique to Bundoo. It’s been rewarding to learn about different aspects of unique business cultures in class and go to work the next day and implement some of them or use them as a springboard to brainstorm ideas.
For example, we read a case study about Pixar where Steve Jobs was not allowed to attend certain innovation meetings. At Bundoo we started a meeting each week for strategic brainstorming. We have a business strategy meeting led by me, and then I leave for the majority of the meeting. The team elects a leader for each meeting and decides whether to share notes with me after the meeting. This was one of the best things we’ve done. People were uncomfortable without me at first, but my absence helps people loosen up and share freely, which has produced some incredible ideas!
The second thing that has been tremendously valuable for me was learning more about how companies raise capital. I realize that most entrepreneurs go into it blind and don’t know anything about it. But I don’t like not knowing things! I think in life, in general, my confidence comes from feeling prepared. If I’m prepared, I feel like I can tackle anything. Starting this program was a way to make myself feel like I was more prepared to do the one thing that I would need to do many times in my career, including right now—seek funding from institutional investors.
Any final thoughts about how the program has affected you?
I don’t have time during the workday to just think. I don’t have time to read cases about what other smart business people have done and how it might apply to my business. The program has given me a chance to reflect on how to apply those. Ultimately, spending hours per week reflecting on the business I’m building as I’m learning new things and thinking about how to solve problems that relate to my job has made me a better executive. This time to be a student of business has been fantastic for my career.
Many people may worry that getting an MBA detracts from the ability to do your job because there are numerous hours per week when you’re doing schoolwork instead of working overtime, or that the mental focus on school will exhaust you and make you less productive at work. My experience has proved the opposite. I can honestly say that the program has given me the chance to sit down and think very, very deeply about small facets of my business and my role there. It’s resulted in some amazing strides forward.