Interview with Will Ranish '15

Interview by Howie Rhee '04, with contributions by Coco Chen. Added May 28th, 2016

Tell us about what you studied at Duke and which program you were in?

I was a Daytime MBA student at the Fuqua School of Business, with academic concentrations in both Decision Sciences and Entrepreneurship. When evaluating various programs, Duke appealed to me immediately primarily based on the enthusiasm of the students I met. I remember asking students, “Are you looking forward to graduating?”. The horrified look on their face at the prospect of having to leave their Duke experience made me realize that Fuqua was an exceptionally unique place. 

Talk about your prior work experience.

Prior to Duke, I was a computer forensic and data analysis consultant for PwC. I also completed a fellowship program for the Cleveland Indians baseball team. I learned a tremendous amount as a consultant for a multinational advisory firm and met a number of exceptional colleagues, however ultimately I recognized that what I enjoyed most was the opportunity to build and create something new and see an immediate impact from my work. I looked toward my time at Duke as an opportunity to broaden my skill set and dive deeply into entrepreneurship, startups, and early stage company building. 

What did your recruiting process look like?  

The first few months of an MBA program can be overwhelming, as students adjust to a new city, dive back into challenging academics, and decide among many extracurricular and leadership activities. Adding career and internship considerations on top can be a lot for anyone! 

Startup recruiting can often feel like an unstructured path with no specific outline or map to follow. As I spoke with more and more people, I was often surprised to learn the many unique paths that led to their job offers. It was clear that those successful in their recruiting all shared and demonstrated extraordinary individual initiative, flexibility, and innate drive that allowed them to overcome the difficulties of an unstructured recruiting process.

I quickly learned that there were a number of challenges unique to startup recruiting. First, unlike many traditional MBA roles, there aren’t the same alumni and institutional knowledge base to draw from to get a sense of company culture, growth opportunities, and career paths. Second, the process and timing for interviews and offers can vary widely from company to company, and therefore careful planning is needed. Third, there aren’t many early stage companies coming to campus, so company outreach can require a lot more hustle from the student. 

What was especially helpful for me was to focus my career and recruiting plan and outreach very early on and recognize that I would pursue small companies exclusively. Further, it was helpful to create an outline and a set of goals to make the process more systematic. While many of my friends spent their recruiting time by connecting with companies coming to campus, applying to Fuqua job postings, and attending company socials, etc., my time recruiting largely included outreach to companies, informational interviews, reading and reviewing companies I was following, and researching new companies. 

How did you come up with a list of companies to target? How many people did you reach out to?

For startups, one challenge is that there are many companies doing very interesting work!

I started very early on developing a spreadsheet listing early stage companies that were particularly interesting to me, either in specific verticals or because I loved the product or service they offered. This list came from companies I’d read about or those that friends, faculty, or speakers on campus would talk about. I then used this list to track, follow, and prioritize outreach during my two years at Duke. By graduation, I had approximately 200 companies on the list. I attempted outreach at the majority of these firms and ultimately had about 100 informational interviews by the end of my two years. 

What was a favorite article or tip that someone gave you on the job search process?

I received many helpful tips and advice from the people with whom I connected. Often times it was helpful simply to hear how they landed at the company they ultimately decided to work for, what their day-to-day job looked like, what they like the most, what they like the least, what to look for in a company culture, what questions to ask in an interview, etc. All this was helpful as I considered various opportunities and roles.

One online source that was particularly helpful during my job search was Wealthfront’s online blog. Wealthfront has posted a number of great articles, including recommendations on companies to consider and advice on managing your tech career, that were very helpful while recruiting.

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