Word on the Street

Go behind the scenes of the businesses on Babson Street. Discover more about the founders and owners, read about what makes them tick, and how Babson helped pave the way.

 

Word on the Street Dynamic Play Network

Mark Nathan MBA'88 of Dynamic Play Network

September 2021

Mark Nathan MBA'88 has a gift for negotiation. From the toy industry to sports licensing focused in motor sports, Nathan has used his talent and skills to transform and grow businesses. After selling his own toy company in 2018, Nathan founded Dynamic Play Network which helps brands and organizations with everything from inception to product deveopment to global sales. Learn more about Marc's negotiation advice, his lessons from Babson, and if he prefers books or podcast.

When growing a business you lend you expertise in several different areas of operation. In which of these areas do you find businesses often need the most help?
MN: The lack of Negotiating skills is probably the area most in need of help in the majority of businesses, no matter what the field.  Most companies do not realize that negotiating is the most undervalued and overlooked skill they need.  I have turned companies 180 degrees by either teaching pertinent staff how to negotiate with their vendors, or by having them engage me to negotiate directly with their factories.  For instance, the Sales area is the heart of a growing company and highly in need of employees’ excellent negotiation skills.  In order for an organization to reach its full potential, the sales team must understand the nuances of selling and negotiating, which includes reading the buyers’ body language (difficult in this video conference era) and listening carefully to their “real” concerns and needs.  The salespeople are a company’s eyes and ears on the ground. They must be able to instantaneously bob-and-weave during the sales process, taking prompts from the buyers’ visual and verbal cues and negotiating each step of the way.

What advice can you give to somebody who wants to be a better negotiator?
MN: 
Listen, listen, watch. While most negotiators have a predetermined end-game, the expected conclusion rarely occurs. So listen, and watch how your “opponent” moves their body, rolls their eyes or reacts with words or just noises. Truly capture and digest every detail that comes from the other side of the table. Then, and only then will you obtain the true power to direct the conversation along the path that leads to your goal.

What was the biggest lesson you learned during your time at Babson?
MN: Teamwork. No one person excels at everything.  Empower your team and let those who are more knowledgeable about a particular task to run with it. A strong team leader realizes that others in the organization may be more knowledgeable about a particular subject than he or she, usually because these team members are either more educated on the subject or are more involved in that issue. Good team leaders cannot micromanage or they will sink.

People say success is attributed to both hard work and luck. Did luck contribute to any of your business success?
MN: Despite the fact that this may sound biased, no one works harder than I.  The  companies with which I have been associated will tell you I am non-stop.  My mindset is “if you do not try, you cannot succeed.”  Just as the lotto adds warn, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” Luck is normally a part of any success to some degree.  I also consult for entrepreneurs and start-ups, and I consider it “luck’ that they bring me products which we can build companies. Obviously many products never see the light of day, but the ones in which we truly believe and build upon, the “lucky” ones, will be successful.  And “lucky” for my company that we were given the opportunity.

Do you have a favorite quote?
MN:
 "Take Risks, Fail Fast"

And now a "This or That" speed round:

  • Beach or Ski vacation? Beach
  • Laptop or Tablet? Laptop
  • Mornings or Nights? Mornings
  • Books or Podcasts? Books

Word on the Street BW Sweets

Brianna Wong '16 of B&W Sweets

June 2021

Media Analyst by day, baker by night (and day too sometimes). With a full time career already, Brianna Wong '16 decided to also pursue her passion for baking, opening B&W Sweets in 2019. Wong talks keeping up with bakery trends, surviving the pandemic, building a business from scratch, and what truly is the best kind of frosting.

What has been your favorite creation so far?
BW: This is a tough one, I love all of my creations! If I really had to choose, I'd say my cakesicles. It's really tough to get a perfect balance of chocolate and cake and I truly think I've mastered it. Plus, they're super cute and customizable. You can have a lot of fun when decorating them.

How do you keep up with the bakery trends or fads, such as the hot chocolate bomb this year?  
BW: 
This takes a lot of research and time - I spend hours browsing through Instagram, Tiktok, and Facebook to see what's up and coming. It also takes a lot of planning and innovation - finding out where I can get supplies fast enough so that I can still be a part of the trend is a big one. I'm a quick learner so once I master whatever is trending, I then spend time trying to differentiate myself and make it my own - that's the hard part. All in all, I keep up my dedicating time specifically to research and test things out.

What was the most challenging aspect of building a business by yourself?
BW: Education and accountability, hands down. There is so much to do and so much to learn and you have to do it all by yourself. There are no employees, no one to hand things off to even when you're tired from your full time career. There are a lot of resources out there for you to learn business best practices, but it does take a lot of time and dedication to learn and put these tactics to use. Also, when things go wrong, you have to figure out how to bounce back and think about how every decision could potentially impact the future of your business.

The food service industry has struggled in the last year. As a baker, did you find yourself experiencing the same drop in business? If so, what changes did you make to encourage orders?
BW: 
This was a weird time for me honestly. My business was just beginning to take off as the pandemic hit, so I wasn't really sure how to gauge my success; however, I did see the impact on other companies and felt that I needed to work harder to make sure I didn't fall apart. One of my first initiatives was marketing 'Care Packages' that consisted of 6 cookies and a handmade card, which was perfect for loved ones you couldn't see due to COVID. As time progressed, I began working with classmates and their employers to develop team bonding cookie kits - so the team would order custom cookie kits inclusive of icing, 'naked' cookies, and sprinkles and they'd decorate them together via Zoom.

Let’s end the debate – what’s the best type of frosting?
BW: 
Personally, I'm a fan of whipped cream frosting. Its tough to get the perfect texture, but so worth it.

And now a "This or That" speed round:

  • Tablet or laptop? Tablet
  • Blue or red? Blue
  • Breakfast or dinner? Dinner
  • Cupcakes or cookies? Cupcakes

Babson Street Word on the Street

Renee Fry WIN Lab '19 of Gentreo

April 2021

Inspired by her father's diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease, Renee Fry set out on a quest to create an easier way for people to create and share health and estate plans. Read to learn more about Gentreo's unique position in the market and why you should think about estate planning no matter your age.

What first sparked the idea to create an easier way for families to create and share health and estate plans?
RF: Our father has Alzheimer’s disease.  It is just as bad as all that you have heard about it.  Our mother, at 70, struggled to learn whole new skillsets to try to plan legally and financially for herself and my father. She is not alone though.  In the US today, there are over 40 million Americans who are over sixty-five and these families have over 60 million children who are helping care for them as they age.  Our research showed that many families are just like our own, they know they need to do planning -- like estate planning and figuring out how to pay for care, but often don’t know where to start or find getting help is too expensive.  That is why we created Gentreo.

What’s the most rewarding story you’ve heard from a client?  
RF: 
We have heard from several people who were so happy with the documents and the website, that they contacted us about giving subscriptions to friends and family.  One woman in Iowa stood out because she is caring for her aging parents and was particularly stressed about ensuring that their financial future.  She lives in IA and her parents are in FL.  With Gentreo, it was easy to complete all the documents her parents needed and now she always has access to them with just a few clicks!

Many people put off writing their will because it’s an uncomfortable topic. How do you make this an approachable conversation to have?
RF: Thinking and talking about your future in this way may not be everyone’s favorite topic but we emphasize that the conversation is really about choices and ensuring that what your wishes are followed whether it’s about your house, money, pets, or favorite possessions. You will want to make sure that you make the decisions and not a court. One suggestion to make this conversation more comfortable is to begin talking about politics, then any other topic may be welcome. Jokes aside, doing estate planning when you are healthy is much easier than waiting for emergencies to happen as they will, and not being prepared costs families thousands of dollars, lost time and lost choices.

Why should people start thinking about planned giving at younger ages?
RF: 
Estate planning is for everyone over eighteen years of age as it protects health care decisions, assets and choices. We do a lot with life inflection points. For instance, if you are getting married you might want to name your spouse as your health care agent instead of your parents. Or, if you just had a baby, you want to make sure to add your child to your will and name guardians too. In other cases, it is particularly important for those needing care so they decide who can make critical health care and financial decisions for them. COVID has taught us that this can be any age.

Unfortunately, estate planning today is completed by only about one-third of Americans, and the number of protected Americans is dropping significantly—reflecting a 25% decrease in just three years. Estate planning attorneys exist to prepare documents, such as a will or health care proxy, yet these services cost thousands of dollars and are hard to access, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. Even if documents are created, these are often lost or misplaced. This lack of planning leaves families, especially caregivers, with unexpected expenses, large losses of time and great angst.

Even though decision-makers and caregivers, especially those caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and AD-related dementia (ADRD) (also known as People with Dementia), are often motivated to help family members, they usually have no resources to turn to and face major barriers in completing estate planning and using on-going support tools to help make their lives easier and more affordable

Is there an unconventional question you ask when interviewing potential employees? Or what quality do you look for most when hiring somebody?
RF:
Do you have Wi-Fi and a dining room table? How do you do working remotely? We've grown quite a bit and have employees from around the United States. Making sure everyone has a good place to work is a critical component of making sure that person is setting themselves up to be successful. We have a great office at Qubic in Quincy, MA for those who are local, but many of us—due to COVID concerns—work from home.

What is one small thing that can make any day better for you?
RF: Finding a bargain. Even though I don’t own a cat, I once bought cat food for an animal shelter because the price was too good to not take advantage of a great deal. The shelter was very happy! We have sent lots of taco seasoning to our troops abroad as well (in addition to other gifts).

Who was your biggest supporter when you were creating Gentreo?
RF:
 I want to give the Babson WIN program a huge shoutout. Throughout the 6-month WIN program we learned how to raise capital as female founders, develop strategic partnerships, and that the bottom line matters. As finalists in the Babson College Women Innovating Now Contest of 2019, sponsored by the WIN Lab, we attracted the attention of our first seed investor and have taken off from there.

Did you have a New Year’s resolution for 2021?
RF: 
My resolution is to make others make getting their estate planning done their resolution!  Plus, I am walking at least five times a week with our dog Butter.  Butter loves having us home lots more and is good at reminding me it is time for our walk.

And now a "This or That" speed round:

  • Music or podcasts? 1980’s Music
  • Paper book or eBook? E-book, but I typically don't read books, mostly articles and news.
  • Relaxing or productive weekend? Productive—like fixing my front stairs.
  • Road trip or flying? Road Trip!  I've been to 44 states in the U.S. so just a few more to check off in the south and west.
  • Sunrise or sunset? Sunset

Babson Street Word on the Street

Sara Wu '09, MS'09 of Accountrepreneur

February 2021

Inspired by her mother, Sara Wu discovered a passion for accounting. After working for a Big Four firm, Wu eventually started her own company that helps entrepreneurs and small businesses get started. Read why she finds accounting interesting (even fun!), why trust is so important in this field, and how she's tapped into the Babson alumni network to build professional and personal relationships.

Your business focuses on serving entrepreneurs and small businesses? Why is this service so important to them?
SW: For every stage of the business, an entrepreneur or small business needs to have a trusted CPA to help them along the way. Our firm gives them the upper hand in the early stages of businesses, helping them set up the right tax structure from the beginning so they are not overpaying for taxes later on, maximizing various tax benefits and deductions every year, and ensuring they have a perfectly organized and well-managed bookkeeping system. This allows them to assess the financial health of their business as well as gain deep insights into the business to make better and profitable decisions.

When did you discover your passion for accounting?
SW:
 My mom is also an accountant. Hearing her talk about stories on how accounting is used to improve the bottom line of businesses, to detect fraud, and uncover embezzlement within a company was very fascinating to me. I started taking accounting classes when I was a junior in high school. I love math and business, so accounting is an intriguing subject to me. I like that accounting is very practical and useful for every business. By understanding numbers and facts, businesses can use the information to guide their decisions and business strategy. 

When it comes to marketing your business, what have you found to be most successful?
SW: Because Accounting and Tax advisory are such personal matters, our business relies on trust and personalized relationships. We found that attending networking events, connecting with small business owners, and really listening and providing good advice from the get-go is what helps us to gain the trust and confidence of our potential clients. The other is constantly providing quality services and care to our existing customers so that they become our biggest advocates and referrals.

Let’s be honest, only accountants think accounting is fun. In one paragraph, make it interesting for the rest of us.
SW:
 Oh, this'll be fun! I found that having an accounting mindset really helps you to understand how money works and flows in a company, and ultimately, how a business operates. Whether you are an investor or an entrepreneur you need to understand how to read financial statements. You can learn a lot about a business' profitability, their cash positions, their liquidity, and even their strategies by reading their financials. For example, I was evaluating a business investment opportunity and quickly spotted that they might have future cash flow issues despite the fact that their profit and loss statement shows a net profit. Because I understood how to read their financials, I was able to avoid a costly investment that could have impacted my financial position.

Ok, we’re semi convinced! So what’s the most valuable thing you learned at Babson?
SW:
 Building relationships and networks are key to business success. I learned when I was still a Babson undergraduate that there is a network of successful Babson alumni around the world that I can connect with and learn from. I connected with an alum when I was searching for an internship at a Big Four accounting firm. Through her I was able to learn about the ins and outs of the firm, she introduced me to her partner, and she was my first unofficial mentor at PwC.

Then when I started my accounting firm, I was able to connect with alumni who helped to push my contacts to their clients. Last year after connecting with an alum, a start-up founder from his network reached out and became my client.

I am very thankful for all the connections and friendships that I have made over the years because of the powerful Babson network. So go out and connect with your Babson network, you never know the kinds of opportunities that may come your way and the people will meet.

What is the most important trait you look for in an employee?
SW: Curiosity and the willingness to learn and to improve. During my accounting career, I often found that the most successful employees are the ones that are always asking good questions, who are innovative, and are constantly improving and thinking of better, creative, and efficient ways to do things. We want employees that can think on their own and are curious to learn. Our firm uses technology and automation to minimize the mundane administrative tasks for our staff so that they can have the capacity to do more high level and interesting work. We always look for feedback and technology suggestions from our staff. So we appreciate employees who are adaptive to technology and changes.

What book are you currently reading?
SW:
 Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh. After hearing of his tragic passing last year, I was curious to learn more about his story. I have always heard and read case studies about the Zappos employee culture, so I wanted to learn more about their story from Tony's perspective. As an Asian American and an introvert in the business world, I drew inspiration from his work, his acts of kindness, and charitable work to his community.

Word on the Street Spext

Anup Gosavi MBA'13 of Spext

December 2020

Wanting to create a podcast, but frustrated by the audio editing software that was available, Anup Gosavi MBA'13 set out to build an easier platform. Spext was born, making voice media creation easy and accessible. Read how this technology has exploded over the past few years, what Gosavi's favorite podcasts are, and a few tips for aspiring entrepreneurs. 

Did you have your own podcast when you first thought of making audio editing easier?
AG: I did not but I wanted to create a podcast for the startup I was working on - as a content marketing channel in addition to blogs and video. But to edit the podcast, you had to learn waveform based softwares which had a high learning curve. I tried learning but it took too much time and I just didn’t have the bandwidth - that meant I never started a podcast but found an opportunity. If somehow you could make audio editing easy, it could allow millions of people tell stories in their own voice.

Why are podcasts so popular?
AG:
 There are a few trends that made podcasts popular:

  1. Awareness of screen fatigue - we are staring at our devices all day and are becoming aware of the fatigue it causes. So, we are actively trying to monitor our screen time and actively reduce it. Podcasts are a great alternative to spending time looking at screens
  2. Need for nuance - Social media is all about short bites - 280 characters, 1min TikToks or 5min YouTube videos. As nuance is becoming rare, we are craving it as society and podcasts is a great channel. You can have hour long conversations and go deep on any subject. You hear the person’s voice, their tone etc. which feels intimate, generates a lot of empathy and is a type of conversation that is not seen elsewhere.
  3. Alexa and other voice only interfaces - these interfaces are very easy to use and are in millions of homes now. This reduced the barrier to access podcasts

Has there been an increase in Spext users with more people working from home? 
AG: Very much so! The number of recorded audio/ video conversations has grown 100x in the last 3 years, with most of the growth coming in 2020. People are recording all types of content and want to edit, share and clip the best bits. 

Do you have advice for our recent graduates looking to break into the field of technology? 
AG:
Unlike other sectors, tech is very open and has an inherent culture of paying it forward. So, you can cold email a founder, investor or manager and there are high chances that they will reply to you. So, my advice would be to have a clear ask/ request and just send it out to people in tech you want to meet. Make it personal, crisp and clear and people will open doors for you. That is how I got into tech. So, just send that email!

What was the most influential class you took at Babson? 
AG:
Mergers and acquisitions was a great class as it set the base for evaluating opportunities/ companies. Valuing a company has a lot of assumptions and is as much art as science. You can assign a probability of success to each assumption and then, evaluate the opportunity holistically. This probabilistic mindset has helped me in making decisions, taking bets on innovative projects inside the company and broader investing.

What are your favorite podcasts and why?
AG: Two come to mind: First is a fictional audio drama called Dust. It’s about an AI that avenges the extinction of the human race caused by an alien race. The script, voice performances and depth of the story was incredible. It was like a Marvel movie made for the ears. Second, The Portal podcast by Eric Weinstein. Eric is a first principles thinker and invites guests who have unique insights about the world we live in - from politics, physics and art. The unique perspectives of guests are incredible and you learn to look at the world differently.

What habit or activity would you recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs? 
AG:
Getting enough sleep! It helps you stay positive, make better decisions and remain energetic for the long haul.

Are you most productive in the morning or night?
AG: Morning person - I like to get up early and feel I am most productive between 8am-11am when I get quiet time to work on my tasks before the meetings start.

Do you live to work, or work to live?
AG: Live to work would be honest but I think like all entrepreneurs, I am all about work-life harmony. You will never have a balance in the traditional sense - you can’t just switch off work at 5pm. But if you deeply enjoy what you do, it doesn’t feel like work.

Worst job you ever had?
AG: Don’t think I have ever had a bad one to be honest and I am very thankful for this.

Something on your bucket list you haven’t done yet.
AG: Visiting Europe! Have never been. Hopefully in 2021.

Babson Street_Word on the Street_November 2020

Jeremy Cai ND'17 and Derek Tu'18 of Italic

November 2020

In 2018 Jeremy Cai ND’17 and Derek Tu ‘18 launched Italic--a virtual marketplace where members can purchase luxury products from some of the world’s best known brands (think Prada, Gucci and Louis Vuitton) directly from the manufacturers--minus the label. According to Cai, Founder and CEO, and Tu, Product Manager, Growth, it’s an entirely new category of shopping, one where consumers prefer quality over the label. They knew they were on to something when they had to waitlist people to get in.  

What is the most exciting part of running such a unique business?
DT: No two days are the same and I'm constantly feeling pushed and challenged.

How did you know when you had the right idea?
JC: After we launched the Italic membership, we began to see members placing orders 4x more frequently as before and customer lifetime value increase by 50%. Between the numbers and the demand for membership, especially when we had a waitlist in place, we knew were on to something.

How do you handle adversity or doubt?
DT: I rely on my faith, knowing that the man above wouldn't give a challenge I can't handle. 

Do you see Italic staying a unique shopping experience, or do you think more companies will follow your trend of direct to consumer shopping?
JC: We've already seen more and more companies adopting the "direct from manufacturers" verbiage and raising funding under similar premises to us. We're able to offer an incredible value proposition for consumers by innovating on the supply chain, and the industry is taking notice.

What types of products sell best on your website?
DT: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we've seen sales of products in the Home and Kitchen categories skyrocket. Makes sense, with everyone staying put and looking to upgrade their living spaces.

How do you define success as an entrepreneur?
DT: Taking a quote from my bother - "A succesful entrepreneur is someone delusional enough to think the world can change and narcissistic enough to think I can be the one to change it."

What are 3 characteristics you look for when hiring someone?
DT: Loyalty, self-awareness, humility

Describe yourself in three words.
DT: Always ask why

What is your dream vacation?
DT: My wife and I would love to make it to the Maldives, before we completely lose them to climate change.

Do you prefer coffee or tea?
DT: Tea in the morning, coffee in the afternoon!

What celebrity or athlete would you most like to meet and why?
JC: Blake Lively. I'm a huge Gossip Girl fan.

What is your favorite memory at Babson?
DT: There's not a singular memory that stands out, but I miss the late nights in eTower jamming on ideas and talking about our dreams.

Word on the Street Hans Homberger Rooster Natural Booster

Hans Homberger MBA’14 of Rooster Natural Booster

September 2020

Hans Homberger MBA’14 founded Rooster Coffee Booster with his brother Paul in Costa Rica. They wanted to create a natural and coffee-based energy drink. With no sugar, no gluten and no lactose, the 15-calorie drink can now be purchased in the U.S.

Where are your energy drinks currently sold?
H: Throughout Costa Rica and in the USA through Amazon.

Which flavor is your personal favorite?
H: Grape (this one also has 10mg of CBD) and Watermelon. 

How do you differentiate your brand from other energy drinks on the market?
H: Rooster is the only natural energy drink made out of coffee caffeine, has zero calories, and doesn’t make you “crash” afterwards. 

What type of day makes you most need an energy drink?
H: Any day that I work out! I take it 15 minutes prior to working out and gives me a 4-hour energy boost. It’s also great for studying/working since it improves your mental performance. 

Was something more difficult about owning your own business than you expected?
H: Definitely! The amount of times we had to iterate to make Rooster a great product were far more than we expected! 

What is the most valuable thing you learned at Babson? How have you used it?
H: Fail fast, fail smart.  Rather than planning too much we do small and quick tests to verify what the market says about our products and modify accordingly.

The best advice you ever received?
H: Define what your purpose in life is and go for it, no matter what!

What’s something you can’t live without?
H: Coffee and caffeine! And tons of them! 

Word on the Street Dawn Parker Health

Dawn Jasie Parker ’92 of Dawn Parker Health Coach LLC

August 2020

Dawn Parker ’92, helps people lead a healthy lifestyle. After months of quarantine, she offers tips on how to get back (or stay) on track, explains why diets aren’t always one-size-fits-all, and assures us that we can still satisfy our sweet tooth.

How do you feel about the various mainstream diets right now?
D: 
As a functional medicine health coach I believe that no one diet is right for everyone. There are some excellent philosophies behind the Paleo diet, the Keto diet, the Ketotarian diet, and some others. But in the end, I often see clients in my practice that have tried them all and still don’t feel well. I think these diets will be around for a while, and new ones will come as people are always trying to find that one, perfect diet. Things to look for in any diet are an emphasis on less sugar, less processed food in general and more nutrients (vegetables, clean proteins, healthy fats, etc.). What any one diet cannot do is account for individual nutrient needs, food intolerances, genetic differences, underlying health conditions and tastes. Having a coach with strong knowledge in nutrition and functional medicine can help you find the way of eating that works best for your unique body.

In your cookbook, The Healthy Chocoholic, you show people they can eat healthy and satisfy their sweet tooth at the same time. We’re all ears.
D:
There are a lot of chocolate lovers out there, but also a lot of people that want to be healthier. Why should we have to choose? Cacao is one of the highest antioxidant foods in the world and has been shown in clinical studies to have multiple health benefits. It’s what food manufacturers add to the cacao that make many chocolate treats unhealthy. In The Healthy Chocoholic cookbook, cacao is combined with other healthy ingredients like nuts, seeds and coconut to create healthy sweet treats. And to be lower glycemic and less processed, white sugar is swapped out for more natural sweeteners like dates, coconut sugar and maple syrup. Since food intolerances are on the rise, top allergens like gluten, dairy, soy, corn and peanuts are excluded, and many of the recipes are perfect for those following a paleo or vegan eating style. There’s something for every chocolate lover.

Do you have a favorite “cheat meal” or guilty pleasure?
D: 
As the title of my cookbook might tell you, my favorite guilty pleasure is dark chocolate. I particularly like salted dark chocolate and dark chocolate covered almonds.

What is the most satisfying part of coaching somebody?
D: 
As part of my initial work with a new client, I have them fill out a health history form and a symptom questionnaire. I typically meet with clients every two weeks and it’s very satisfying to hear about client progress at each session. But the part that always blows me away is when they fill out their symptom questionnaire again at the three month mark. It’s not uncommon to see 70-90% reduction in symptoms in just three months. To be able to review that together and celebrate with them just how far they’ve come so fast is a rewarding feeling. The power of nutrition and the body’s ability to heal itself never ceases to amaze me. And to help people get their energy back and feel good in their body again is an amazing gift.

Some people may have developed unhealthy habits after being stuck inside for the past several months.  What are some tips you have for staying healthy right now?
D:
Yes this is so true! I have had a big surge in new clients over the last couple of months. One thing this whole epidemic has highlighted is the importance of preventing and addressing chronic health conditions. Some general tips that will serve most people well are:

  • Get outside a bit each day, especially in the morning. It’s no fun being cooped up inside. If it’s a nice day, taking a walk in the morning sunshine or even just enjoying your morning beverage outside is good for mood and for the circadian rhythm (think better sleep). My personal favorite ways to get some sunshine are playing tennis with friends a few days a week and doing at least one video call a day out on my back patio.
  • Stay hydrated, and get real with yourself about your choice of beverages. Are you getting enough clean, filtered water? Or are you going from coffee to soda to wine? If you need coffee in the morning to wake you up, soda in the afternoon to help with the 3 pm energy crash, and alcohol in the evening to relax, perhaps it’s time to make a shift. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with coffee or wine (and in fact there are really great healthy options on the market for both), it’s about balance. 
  • Get moving with frequent breaks. With more people working from home than ever, it’s easy to just sit at the desk all day on video calls and doing work on the computer. This sedentary lifestyle is very bad for our health. And can also result in back and neck issues from being hunched over for hours at a time. A couple tips are to take a walk during phone calls, or make yourself a standing desk for part of the day, or just simply set a timer to remind yourself to get up every 20 minutes (do some squats, refill your beverage, etc.).
  • And of course, eat less sugar and more vegetables. How could I not say that?

Where is your favorite place?
D: 
My favorite place—other than my home—is Canyon Ranch in Lenox, Massachusetts. I’ve been 10 times! I get to enjoy healthy gourmet food, massages and body treatments, take fitness classes, and best of all, it’s a weekend away from it all to de-stress and have fun with girlfriends. I always come back home so rejuvenated.

Word on the Street Sarah Dyer Chuckle Hounds

Sarah Dyer ’95, MBA’07 of Chuckle Hounds

July 2020

Dogs! Now that we have your attention, read how Babson Street shopkeeper and Babson alum Sarah Dyer ’95, MBA’07 found work/life balance—even when she’s working 14 hour days, and how her business selling fun bow ties, collars and other accessories for dogs (and goats and pigs) is a labor of love. 

Why dogs?
S: Because dogs are awesome. I started the business when I was living in Montreal and had just adopted a new puppy. There weren’t any fun options for collars, leashes, etc. for him. I was bored, and a friend owned a dog boutique in Boston so I made a few bow ties for her to sell, and brought a few to a shop down the street from my apartment and it just took off from there.

What do you enjoy most about running your business?
S: The dogs of course! We get to meet all kinds and people love sending us photos of their dogs in our bow ties and accessories. That’s pretty great. It’s hard to have a bad day at work when you make bow ties for dogs. My dogs can come to work with me every day. Plus, the flexibility is nice. I joke that I work 14 hours a day, but I get to pick which 14 hours.    I’m fortunate to live by the ocean in Maine, and it’s amazing to be able to have lunch on the dock, or take the dogs swimming when the tide’s in. That quality of life element is so important.

Do people often send you pictures of their dogs wearing your creations? What’s your personal favorite?
S: They DO! And I love it. It makes my day to see how happy our products make people and when they take the time to take a nice photograph and send it to us, it means a lot. Hmmmm…my personal favorite changes every time I get a new photo. But we’ve had some really unique ones—a pair of miniature pigs in Jacksonville, and last week I had a picture of a goat in North Carolina dressed up and looking pretty dapper. Weddings are good too. I love when people include their pups in their special day. 

You recently expanded your business to include face coverings. Was this an easy pivot from dog collars and accessories?
S: Surprisingly, it WAS easy! We have a full storage area of fabric in our studios, and when our main revenue shut off with the closing of our retail clients (dog groomers, pet boutiques, etc.) we started getting requests from local clinics, care facilities and even our local grocery store for masks. So many of us felt helpless and just wanted to feel useful. I teamed up with my mom, and some friends and neighbors who were also looking for ways to help, and we just started cranking them out as the requests were pouring in. From there, we added some to the website for a few clients who were still open (vet clinics, etc) and it really took off. Now, we’ve expanded to have “mask mates” where we match the human face mask to a bow tie for their canine companion, and it’s been really well received. It’s a fun way to make the best of the crazy situation we’re in. I also think it helps kids get on board with wearing their own mask when their dog has a matching accessory.

What type of dog(s) do you have?
S: We have an 8-year-old black lab named Magnus (who was the inspiration for the company) and a 5-year-old Catahoula/Lab mix named Jake who was rescued from Texas. 

Tell us about how you help animal shelters?
S: Any way we can. It’s an important part of our mission to be a contributing community member. For us, that translates to volunteering at shelters, fostering puppies (yeah, pretty great) and running fundraisers to help raise money for critical medical expenses. In addition, we donate hundreds of bow ties to shelters to help with adoption photos and as prizes or giveaways for their own internal fundraising events. 

How do you take your coffee?
S: Who has time for coffee? Kidding, I’m an espresso gal… but it takes me two days to drink a latte…hot day 1, and half into the fridge cold for day two. Strange, but true! 

What book are you currently reading?
S: I’m split between Detective in the Dooryard by Tim Cotton and Vegetables Unleashed by Jose Andrés (I’m obsessed with what’s happening in my gardens this year). 

Do you have a message for our newest alumni, the Class of 2020?
S: The best advice I can give you is to get out and embrace life. Don’t get sucked into work too much. You’re young, flexible and there are so many cool things to do at this stage in your life.  Find a company that celebrates your need for personal time and development. I was lucky to be living in Boston when I was younger, and loved using the Community Sailing program in the summer. My job let me off early one day a week so I could go learn to sail. I made some lifelong friends, and have some amazing memories of beautiful sunsets on the Charles River. Find your sunset and summer breezes and make sure you get to enjoy them!

Word on the Street Kamaal Jarrett Hillside Harvest

Kamaal Jarrett MBA ’12 of Hillside Harvest

June 2020

Born in Cypress Hall, Jamaica but raised in Massachusetts, Kamaal Jarrett MBA ’12 founded Hillside Harvest, using delicious gourmet sauces to combine the two cultures that raised him, and combine his passions for food and entrepreneurship.  Read everything from how he hopes for real progress during this moment in history, to why his Original Hot Pepper sauce is worth the burn.

What is your favorite part about working in the food industry?
K: There are a lot of reasons. Chief among those would have to be the connections that I have been able to make across local communities. I’ve met great folks, from customers to competitors, who have been integral to growth of Hillside Harvest and to my development as a business owner. I also love that my current product line allows me to be a purveyor of happiness and adventure. Hot sauce may be one of the few products where you’re guaranteed to get a smile and possibly a story even when someone is turning down your offer for a tasting.

Which sauce is your favorite and what food do you most like to pair with it?
K: Of the sauces that I’ve launched thus far, my favorite is the Original Hot Pepper. I use it as a marinade for grilled chicken and fish, I douse it over pizza, and it’s incredible as a topping for oysters. It’s a little spicier than the other two sauces but the burn is well worth it for the flavor! 

If you didn’t run Hillside Harvest, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
K: The easy answer is that I would have continued along the path of Product Management that I was on prior to starting Hillside Harvest. I really enjoyed the ownership of the development process and I got to work with really smart and inspiring folks. Though, I like to think that I would have started some other venture had it not been Hillside. I’ve always had a passion for food and an itch for entrepreneurship.

The world has changed dramatically over the past few months. What are you most hopeful for?
K: I’m hopeful for actual progress. It’s virtually impossible to improve on issues that aren’t acknowledged. We’re in a historic moment in time when citizens and corporations are having difficult but overdue conversations about systematic inequality, making it hard to ignore. I’m hopeful that we’re finally uniting as a country to confront a broken system and working towards a future where opportunity (or lack-there-of) is no longer correlated to skin pigmentation.

Do you feel it’s important for people to support black-owned businesses?
K: I believe it’s important to support black enterprise. However, we tend to put a lot of onus on the Consumer to carry this support. I view them as only part of the equation. I believe that there needs to be more focus put on ensuring that black entrepreneurs have equal access to vehicles of development and growth for their businesses - namely; experienced advisors and access to capital.

What is the most challenging part of what you do? The most rewarding?
K: The most challenging part of my job is juggling the constant cycle of strategy, execution, and pivot. There is no better example than the past few months as to why business owners need to be flexible. Those challenges are compounded a bit when you’re a company of one.

The most rewarding part of my job is still the sale. Regardless of the channel, it never gets old. I could be having the absolute worst week ever but getting a few pings of online orders or an email from a prospective wholesale client fills you with so much energy and excitement that it can turn everything around. Aside from the obvious monetary benefit, sales are a great source of encouragement and they provide you with the confidence needed to keep pursuing your goals. 

Do you have a show that you’re currently binge watching? 
K: It’s probably safe to say that we all have had more free time than we would have liked. I’ve been filling some of it by watching an embarrassing amount of “People Just Do Nothing” on Netflix. Ironic title given the circumstances, but ridiculously funny show.

What message or advice do you have for the Class of 2020?
K: It’s been a tough year, but use this time as an opportunity for self-reflection. Now, more than ever, the world will be relying on its future leaders to develop opportunities for growth and positive change. Be brazen in your quest for innovative solutions especially in the face of those who tell you things are impossible. 

Word on the Street Balaji Vaswanathan Invento Robotics

Balaji Viswanathan MBA’14 of Invento Robotics

May 2020

Viswanathan of Invento Robotics says that “great businesses are born in disastrous conditions.” He managed a critical pivot during the pandemic. His robot, Mitra, initially developed for banks and office receptions for interaction with visitors, is now being used to offer contactless screening of people as they enter buildings.

In what ways do customers use your robots?
B: Our robot was used in customer engagement in banks and office receptions. These converse with visitors and can do a range of complex applications such as insurance selling through a voice based interaction.

How did that change with COVID-19?
B: We now have two robots — one for screening and the other for disinfection. The screening robot, Mitra, uses face recognition, computer vision and speech recognition to do a contactless entry into a building. It identifies people, takes pictures, checks for masks, temperature and asks a few details like name and phone numbers which are then validated with an OTP to do contact tracing later. Mitra is a full fledged screening + visitor management solutions for hospitals, hotels and offices.

The other robot Astra is a disinfection robot. It uses self driving algorithms to go around hospital hallways, hotel rooms, etc., and switches on the UV radiation when no human is present. This radiation is powerful enough to disinfect a hallway in about 7 minutes. This is to limit surface contamination of Coronavirus and limiting other types of infections we might catch inside hospitals and hotels. We also launched one non-robotic version for disinfection of packages, masks and gloves in homes and offices.

What are the benefits to having robots working in a hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic?
B: The screening robot decreases the exposure of healthcare workers to COVID patients, increases their productivity and the quality of data collected to help in better disease management. The disinfection robot decreases the spread of infections.

What part about running or growing your business do you enjoy most? 
B: Building new product ideas and taking it from concept stage all the way to production. We now have built a full chain in product development and can rapidly iterate and bring new product designs locally.
What kind of reaction would you get when you would tell people you planned to create intelligent robots?
It ranges for incredulous (wow, that is awesome) to dismissive (robots won’t work in these situations) to anger (will robots take away jobs?).

What advice do you have for the Class of 2020?
B: Great business ideas are born in disastrous conditions. Rather than passively worrying about disaster [I have had multiple doctor visits worrying about the economic conditions and the threats to business] we have to actively fight to build solutions. Status quo and prosperity is seldom good for entrepreneurship as people would be less likely to change. Thus, a disastrous time is a good time for an entrepreneur where people can be a solution improving both his/her life and those of the world around them.

What is your favorite Babson memory?
B: The $5 challenge that Professor Heidi Neck gave. We had to build a new business idea in about 4 hours with $5. We had so much fun. Our team was among the toppers where we sold brewed chai with the $5 investment and converted it into $62 at the end of the 4 hours.

What is the silliest robot-related conspiracy theory you have heard?
B: That robots are super smart to achieve singularity in the near future. We are very far from building a robot that can compete with a human in general applications — as opposed to specialised tasks like factory assembly and disinfection.

 

Word on the Street - Chia Pan of TabeTomo

Chia Pan ’14, Founder of TabeTomo

April 2020

Pan founded TabeTomo, a premier Japanese dipping noodle restaurant located in East Village, New York. He talks about how COVID-19 forced him to reinvent his business model, why helping his employees through this time is so important, and how he’s serving up some gratitude for health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic. 

What message would you like to give to the Babson Community right now?
We can’t predict the future, but we can maintain a positive attitude when facing adversities. Babson has taught me to think outside of the box, take calculated risks, and stay positive. My Babson network has provided tremendous support by offering advice, resources, donations, and words of encouragement, all of which enabled me to overcome fear and self-doubt during times of uncertainty.

How did you adapt to COVID-19 restrictions?
Before the coronavirus, TabeTomo operated only as a full-service restaurant. It was not set up for take-out or delivery as we were solely focusing on providing the best dine-in experiences. However, the Coronavirus changed our original business model. As we searched for new ways to sustain our revenues and retain our employees, we pivoted and repurposed the restaurant by setting up deliveries with Caviar and other food delivery services providers. We also created a new catering menu and started looking for B2B opportunities. Managing this rapid change to business structure was challenging as it required cooperation and alignment of interests from my staff, suppliers, and delivery partners. 

Are you taking any extra steps to support your employees?
TabeTomo’s growth can be primarily attributed to the investments we made in our employees. Since the inception of TabeTomo in 2018, we have focused on installing a collaborative and collegiate culture. We treat our employees fairly and respectfully, which has translated into great efficiency and loyalty. As a result of the coronavirus, we were forced to reduce our team by almost 90%. Informing the employees that they could no longer work was one of the most difficult conversions in my entrepreneurial journey. Instead of getting paralyzed by the situation, we sought new ways to keep our doors open. To support our employees, we are giving 100% of net profit to them to help them get through this difficult time.

You’re participating in Feed Your Hospital by raising money to deliver meals to healthcare workers on the frontline of COVID-19.  Were you surprised by the support and donations you’ve received?
My friends, classmates, family members, teachers, and colleagues saw the fundraiser and extended their hands to support TabeTomo and its initiatives. It was heartwarming to see the community coming together for a shared mission. To date, we have delivered over 500 meals to healthcare workers at local hospitals. We are on track to reach our goal of delivering 1,000 meals by early May. In addition, we rehired seven employees and we plan to bring back more people.

What has been most rewarding about participating in Feed Your Hospital?
Partnering with Feed Your Hospital has not only allowed us to retain our key employees, but also create meaningful social values. It was rewarding to see the team working tirelessly to prepare meals for healthcare workers. While we cannot cure the illness, we hope that our food can send our warmest gratitude to those who work in the frontline of COVID-19. Also, it has been a wonderful experience collaborating with other Babson alumni Lena Wu (’16) and Tina Xiao (’17) on this initiative.

How do you decompress during these stressful times?
I recently took my first yoga/meditation class through Zoom. It was a great way to internalize problems, alleviate stress, and find inner peace.

What are you most looking forward to once social distancing is no longer in effect?
I miss seeing and hanging out with my family, friends, and colleagues. I can’t wait to catch-up with them in-person and let them know how important they are in my life.

 

Word on the Street Allison Grekin Moviing

Allison Grekin ’13 of Moviing

March 2020

Moviing is an online subscription-based fitness program offering on-demand yoga, barre, dance cardio classes and more. Based out of the U.K., Grekin is helping people everywhere active while confined to their homes and tells us how her experiences at Babson inspired her to help people. 

How have you found creative ways to reach people now stuck at home during this global health crisis?
A: 
Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak we’ve been running offers so that everyone is able to benefit. We want to make sure people stay active and healthy. We’ve also partnered up with Gabrielle Caunesil, influencer and founder of clothing brand La Semaine Paris, to bring our audiences free Instagram Live barre and meditation classes 4 times each week. 

What advice do you have for business owners during these unprecedented times?
A:
 It is a tough time for all businesses—especially smaller ones. My one piece of advice is to be creative. Think about ways to make your business stand out. Plan your business strategy for the future and think outside the box.

We’re surrounded by a lot of negative news right now. What’s something positive that happened to you this week?
A: 
Being able to be so close to our community on social media, and agreeing on this partnership with Caunesil to reach more than 1.5 million people.

How do you calm down after a stressful day?
A:
 After a long stressful day or after sitting for a long time at a desk I love doing Aurora Bowkett’s Stretchy Release Flow class on Moviing. 

What book are you currently reading?
A: 
Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore. 

What class or professor at Babson influenced you the most?
A: 
This is a tough question because I’ve genuinely been inspired by so many professors at Babson. However, if I had to narrow it down to one it would be Professor John Fisher and his Brand Management class. He would always emphasize how critical it is for brands to create an emotional connection with their customers. Emotional connections vary from one customer to another depending on their cultural backgrounds. “Think Global, Act Local” is a concept I’ve been very carefully implementing at Moviing.

Do you have any message to show your fellow alumni that we are all #OneBabson?
A:
 I grew up in Paris and decided to leave for the U.S. for my undergraduate degree. Leaving Paris meant leaving my friends and family behind. Although I was anxious, the entire Babson Community embraced me. I was able to connect on a deep intellectual level with my teachers and met so many exciting people. I remember thinking to myself, “This isn’t just a school, this is a family.” So in that sense, I guess Babson really taught me the true meaning of “community”. I left school with a whole new perspective on the effect that humans can have on humans, which is why I started my own business. 

 

Word on the Street Sianna Elise Fande interview

Sianna Elise ’18 of FÀNDÉ

February 2020

FÀNDÉ is an online women’s clothing line based in Liberia. It blends traditional prints with modern styles to create unique looks. It also partners with local artisans and businesses to foster entrepreneurship in growing economies. And with its initiative, The Give Back, FÀNDÉ puts the profits from “giveback items” towards purchasing school supplies for children in Monrovia, Liberia.

What is the most rewarding aspect of running FÀNDÉ?
S: Launching FÀNDÉ has allowed me to showcase and exercise all parts of my personality. I love that I can be creative and strategic bringing value and solving problems. Owning a clothing line allows me to put my creative ideas to use when designing looks, website graphics, and Instagram themes. 

How do you to relax?
S: While working in Liberia, I often go to the beach when I need to relax or decompress. In the warm weather, I often feel the sun helps relieve my stress and instantly picks up my mood. I often bring my laptop and work on the beach. When visiting my family for Christmas in New Jersey, I would often complain about the gloomy sky. I also am an extrovert, so a night out with friends after a long day erases any worry.

What is your favorite Babson memory?
S: 
CWEL was a big part of my Babson experience and the source of many of my friendships. During my freshman year we had a bonding event in Reynolds where we painted and talked. At the end of the exercise, I had five abstract canvases that I hung up in my dorm room in North. The people I sat with making those paintings are still my friends. Those paintings filled my room with joy year after year. I brought them with me to Liberia, and they fill my apartment with the same warmth.

What bad habit do you struggle to give up? 
S: I’m a night owl. When I started FÀNDÉ, I would stay up until 4 am thinking about clothing ideas, writing notes on website changes, and creating a marketing strategy. Although this routine helped me get the business started. It is not healthy to stay up that late, looking at a laptop and getting 5 hours of sleep! I wish I could say I don’t do that anymore but it happens at least once a week!

What’s the best thing to happen to you this week?
S:
 Completing my FÀNDÉ beach photoshoot. The day was very stressful, but in the end, it all worked out and turned itself around. I got some great photos for content on my Instagram @thefandefeel.

 

Word on the Street Ebru Ipekci Butterfly Chocolate

Ebru Ipekci of Butterfly Chocolate

January 2020

Butterfly Chocolate is a world-class boutique chocolate brand featuring handmade chocolate collections and pastries that are sold online and at trendy cafés in Istanbul, Turkey. 
 
What has been the biggest challenge in running your own business?
Ebru: The business you create becomes your baby, you want to take care of every aspect of it by yourself. It takes time to understand that you have to know how to delegate.

What has been most rewarding about it?
E: To create a brand from scratch and to see people enjoying it.

Tell us something you learned at Babson that has helped you most?
E: To know the difference between the balance sheet and cash flow.

What’s one piece of advice you would give Babson alumni?
E: When you’re an entrepreneur there will be times when you say I want to exit. Keep on going if you believe in it.