What do you do differently from everyone else?
Neeraj Goyal, Division 3, Graduate school #ws17e-s1d3

In the 1920's, my grandfather and other Mexican-Sikh farmers had to fight U.S. government policy to be allowed to own land. Because it was a hard fought battle, their children and grandchildren were expected to continue farming, and most did. I consider myself fortunate that my father decided to leave his community, and start a small business, a vendor to Goya Foods. He set me and my brother on a path to entrepreneurship. This journey formed the basis of what I do differently from everyone else – I question the status quo – and this has shaped my career progression to date.

As I was studying mathematics and economics at the University of Texas at Austin, the 2008 Global Financial crisis struck, and impacted nearly every industry in the United States. To understand the fundamental causes of the crisis, and the role of government in such situations, I joined the Federal Reserve. Here, I helped the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) design interest rate policy from 2011-2014. I also stress tested top priority banks that were considered systemically important such as J.P. Morgan and Bank of America. Through these experiences, I learned that it is imperative for a leader to think as comprehensively as possibly, and keep everyone in mind when, including those not at the table, when making policy decisions.

I continued progressing my career differently than my peers, and was plucked out of the Federal Reserve by Harvard Business School professors Suraj Srinivasan and Lynn Paine. Here, I continued to question that status quo – I pursued research on how activist hedge funds and contrarian investors impact corporate strategy. Activist hedge funds are led by managers such as Carl Icahn, Bill Ackman, and Dan Loeb, who deeply dive into a company’s operations and opportunities to develop a view on what the company should do. What makes them ‘activist’ is their willingness to influence the strategic thinking of firm management. However, investors such as Warren Buffett have spoken out against such investors. By questioning the status quo, Dr. Srinivasan, Dr. Paine and I published research to opine on whether such activist hedge funds were creating value for the company in the long run, or just deploying a quick hit and run scheme where they forced the company to return capital to shareholders. As I continued developing my view of the impact of finance on corporations, I decided to return to my entrepreneurial roots and run a business myself.
I have now cofounded a social sports startup that we are currently in the process of selling to a larger competitor. We started out trying to solve the problem that young people who move to a new city, often do not have structured opportunities to meet other young professionals. This isolation can have detrimental effects on a person’s well-being. We decided that offering sports leagues, and then hosting networking events at local bars after the games would provide that opportunity to meet new people, and started building our business.

After my experiences in finance, and leading a company, I have understood what initially led my father to move out of our community, and I continue to question the status quo. Entrepreneurs are people who do what no one else will – entrepreneurs pave the path in unchartered territories because they are driven to solve the problem at hand. Through the process, an entrepreneur gets the most rigorous training in business imaginable – you become an investor and put your own capital at risk, you become a consultant and influence your cofounders’ views and strategies, you become a recruiter and inspire people to work for you for practically no pay, you become a salesman and fight for a customer’s attention, you become an investment banker, and learn how to approach competitors when selling your company.

Now, as an incoming MBA student at the University of California, Berkeley, I intend to continue questioning the status quo. I will advance my development as an entrepreneur and incorporate the principles of lean operations into my managerial toolkit. My main goal at Berkeley is to leave with a VC-backed startup in FinTech. Specifically, I plan to develop an equity crowdfunding platform which serves as a global marketplace for entrepreneurs and investors. Although this is a risky venture, as there are only a few companies such as SeedInvest in New York and WeFunder in Boston in the market, I believe the University of California, Berkeley will provide me the necessary training and introduction to Silicon Valley that will help me grow my next venture.
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