Michigan Ross MBAs, Entrepreneurs, and Founders of Bschool Travel [Episode 295]
Interview with Dale Jarosz & Dhruv Dhawan, MBA Students and Founders of Bschool Travel [Show Summary]
Two Michigan Ross MBA students launched their brand new business, Bschool Travel while attending the Michigan Ross School of Business. Let’s learn how these two very busy MBA’s managed to start and run a business while attending a demanding MBA program. Actually we’ll also discover how the Michigan Ross MBA program and Zell Lurie Institute helped our guests get Bschool Travel off the ground. Listen in for their fascinating story!
Michigan Ross MBA Students Talk About Admissions, Business School Life, and Founding a Company [Show Notes]
Both our guests today are members of the Michigan Ross class of 2019 and the co-founders of Bschool Travel, which we’ll learn about in a few minutes. Dale earned his bachelors in mechanical engineering from Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2012 and then worked for Caterpillar for five years before coming to Ann Arbor. Dhruv Dhawan graduated from UC Irvine with a BBA and then headed into public accounting for a couple of years followed by a three-year stint as Director of Marketing and Operations for a health supplements company. With that as background, let’s hear about their MBA experience at Ross and the founding of Bschool Travel.
Can you tell us a little about your background? Where you grew up? What you like to do for fun? [2:16]
Dhruv: I’m originally from Los Angeles, but went to international high school in India before returning to go to UCI. I worked in public accounting for a few years, but decided I wanted some more operational experience so I transitioned to my family business, Health Plus Inc., where I learned a lot. My true passion is travel, and I like to get on a plane whenever I can. Basketball is also a big part of my life. I’m a huge Lakers fan.
Dale: I grew up outside of Chicago, I was really involved in sports growing up and engineering-related fields. My dad is an engineer and I followed in his footsteps. I went to Caterpillar to work in product development and innovation which got me interested in being an entrepreneur. My family also has a business so I came to Ross really focused on entrepreneurship. Dhruv and I met during the interview process and said we should start a company, and now we’ve actually done it!
What was hardest part for you in the MBA application process? How did you handle that element? [4:46]
Dale: I think the hardest part is honing in on your story in the essays, connecting the dots and having the vision for where you want to be afterwards. As an entrepreneur I didn’t know what company I wanted to start and in what industry, but that doesn’t cut it for a story, so I really sat down to think about what industry I would fit and overall what mattered most. Once I did the reflection it was very informative.
Dhruv: My answer is similar but different. I had worked in my family business, so had non-traditional experience, and I made it more of a challenge than it needed to be. Since I had already experienced entrepreneurship I really needed to know if it made sense that I want to be an entrepreneur. I had to sit down and reflect, figure out why I wanted an MBA, and what I needed to be successful as an entrepreneur that I didn’t have before.
Is Ross meeting your expectations? [7:59]
Dhruv: My expectations have been exceeded in every way. I wanted to leave California and maintain a strong network, and the strength of the network is great. The support with our new business has been amazing. Whether it be from customer discovery, or introducing us to students at other schools, or whatever! I mentioned that strategy was an important component for my education, and the strategy classes and professors have been fantastic so far.
Dale: I echo everything Dhruv said. Coming into business school I talked to several students. Many were going into traditional career paths. I knew those resources would be available, and had low expectations for resources for entrepreneurs. The Zell Institute is amazing. There are fellows there 24/7, and it provides an incredible springboard. Ann Arbor also has such a strong entrepreneurial environment. There are lots of investment dollars, incubators, and it is just such an amazing place to come and dive deep into the community.
How did you come to choose Ross? [10:25]
Dale: I was deciding between a few schools – Duke and UCLA. A lot of people bring in the weather aspect, but for me that wasn’t an issue. The seasons bring a pleasant change of pace to the academic experience. I narrowed down by the strength of entrepreneurship programs and Michigan was just so strong. I am also a huge sports buff, and it’s a really cool environment for that. Also it’s not in a huge city, so it’s a more cohesive environment.
Dhruv: I had three main criteria: I didn’t want to be in a large city, I wanted a global network strong in California, and entrepreneurial excellence. When I went to Ann Arbor for my interview it just felt right. Going out, exploring, walking around in nature - it made the decision easy.
What would you like to see improved? [13:06]
Dale: University of Michigan is incredible with how many top graduate programs it has, with one of the best law schools, best medical schools, engineering schools, etc., and there is so much great innovation. I would really like to see more collaboration across schools. Our business experience would be above and beyond what it is today.
Dhruv: This may seem trivial, but the space sometimes seems too small. It can be challenging to find study rooms. And also a separation of the undergrad and grad programs in terms of building space would be helpful.
What did you do for your MAP project? How was the experience? [15:07]
Dhruv: I traveled to Peru in the foothills of Machu Picchu. I was working in a healthcare nonprofit which provides training and medical treatment in the Andean Mountains to create a sustainable business model for them. They had tour groups coming in and we wanted them to commercialize that to take advantage of the tourism industry. The experience was incredibly rewarding. I used a lot of the learnings in my internship.
Dale: I was in South America as well, working for a startup company in Brazil. The mission and vision was to bring smart capital access to start ups in developing countries, helping to connect entrepreneurs with investors through a digital platform. I got to do discovery, met with incubators, and it helped reiterate why I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Regardless of location, you’ve got that “Grind it out” mentality, and it reenergized me to work on my own venture.
Dale, you worked at Caterpillar for five years, working for an enormous organization. How did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur? [18:01]
Similar to Dhruv, my grandpa had a business as well, so entrepreneurship was part of the family. For me, working in a corporate setting with all the bureaucracy and red tape made me realize it wasn’t for me. I wanted more autonomy in my lifestyle, and the traditional 9-5 white collar job wasn’t the right fit. I knew business school would be a two-year, failsafe opportunity to start a company, and if it didn’t work I would have a top MBA and be able to find a job. I was really excited to dive in.
Tell me about BSchool Travel? How did it start? [19:21]
Dale: Travel is one of my biggest passions. We each came in with our own ideas we wanted to try out. We discovered our ideas were feasible but would require a lot of capital and venture fundraising, which we didn’t have time to do as students. Through MTrek, which almost 90% of students do, we dug into the industry and saw it was very fragmented with no dominant player in group travel. The per unit price is high so you could scale quickly and grow revenue, and we also noticed a lot of consolidation going on as well. It just seemed like a good industry to be in. We knew we could get in and execute better than others as far as the experience given that we had the MBA feel and touch. We started with a manual process to develop itineraries. As we got traction we’ve been improving the overall process.
Dhruv: The seed was planted in the summer of 2017. There is an amazing impact challenge for incoming students and we were hanging out at Dale’s apartment. I had noticed hotels didn’t seem up to par for what we were paying. Dale’s trip was half the cost of the one I was going on, so we saw there was definitely a need.
How has your Ross experience or education helped you in launching Bschool Travel? [22:38]
Dhruv: The most important aspect has been the Dare to Dream program, a three phase grant program. There are two aspects to it – one is financial and the other is a series of workshops/education to get the grant. Venture shaping required us to do 25 customer discovery interviews. Once you test that you get $500. When you do financial feasibility you get $1,500. Once you launch your business you do a 20-page business plan and you get $5,000. We’ve also been accepted to the Zell Entrepreneurs Program between Ross, Kellogg, and IDC in Israel. It is a mentorship group, we travel to Israel, and we get to pitch to Sam Zell, which comes with a $10,000 grant.
Dale: Another is one of the student-run venture funds. Being able to sit on the other end of the table and understand what a good and bad startup looks like has been helpful in my own entrepreneurial experience. One other thing I would add is courses available for entrepreneurs are great. New Venture Creation is one example where the deliverable is to pitch to the class and they decide whether to invest. It required us to do pro forma financials, which was a great learning experience. Another great course is Entrepreneurship via Acquisitions, and was really helping in learning about other vehicles of entrepreneurship other than from the ground up.
How do you manage b-school and Bschool Travel? [26:10]
Dale: It is very time consuming, but we both stay up really late which helps. A lot of the suppliers we work with are international, so time zone differences require us to stay up late anyway. Really leveraging the support from Ross is important. I’ve accelerated my coursework so I only have 2.25 credits left so I am essentially graduating early so I will have tons of time to focus on the business these next few months.
Dhruv: At the end of the day it comes down to do you really want this and is it your priority. You might miss out on a football tailgate or an evening at the bar, but it is so worth it. Not having to worry about recruiting really did open us up. This is the number one priority right now, and we hold each other accountable.
Dale: It’s incredible finding a partner as well. Having someone to hold you accountable, or when one of us is busy to rely on the other has been incredibly helpful to launch a business.
What exciting trips do they have planned for this summer? [29:17]
Dale: In a week and a half there is a Wharton trek all across India with 68 students, where we are providing all kinds of unique experiences that we were able to set up with Dhruv’s connections. With Ross we are offering a Japan, China, India, and Korea Trek and a preMBA MTrek experience. We are also working on a Stern trek to Vietnam with 35 students. We are in the planning phase with MIT, and working with several other universities.
Dhruv: Internationally we are working with HEC Paris on corporate treks. Rather than doing something on a leisure basis, they are going to Singapore to meet with companies. We are also working with universities in India and China to replicate that model.
Are you offering group tours to schools, or offering to individuals tours they can join, or both? [31:28]
Dale: We are offering primarily group travel for schools. We work with school club leaders, like the Indian Business Association will contact us, for example. We are also offering cross-MBA treks to incoming students who might otherwise go backpacking. Their friends might not have the luxury to go on a trip with them, so it is an opportunity to meet other incoming students and travel, which they are likely to do anyway, more on a leisure basis. We are also doing corporate treks to the west coast for tech companies and New York for meeting with banks, so there is no need to be a part of a group to do that.
What are your plans for the future? What if someone who is not a b-school student wants to go on one of your treks? [33:27]
Dhruv: We identified this market in the bschool area to start with since we were familiar with it, but the higher ed travel industry is $64B and student travel is $320B, so we want to be a group travel platform for students. For leisure-based trips we are thinking of making cross-disciplinary treks as well, providing cross-functional networking opportunities for the world we live in today.
You ever think of having treks to business school? [36:43]
Dale: We met with an admissions coach in Singapore and we are thinking of launching a trek to visit top business school programs in the U.S., and incorporate sightseeing along the way.
What was the most memorable travel experience you’ve had personally? [37:53]
Dhruv: For me it was to the Galapagos Islands, sophomore year in college when I went with family. We stopped by the different islands, and being a science nerd it was mesmerizing the untouched, marine life, iguanas; I want to go back.
Dale: I went to a friend’s wedding in the south central part of India, and it was the most culturally different experience I’ve ever had. The wedding was five days long and being immersed into the culture was incredible. The food was amazing and overall different experience.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [39:49]
Dhruv: I’d say, what was my most impactful class at Ross, which was Entrepreneurial Turnaround Management for MBA2s. You take a case on a distressed company and need to make a plan to turn it around. In the midst of the course I wasn’t sure how much I was getting out of it, but when it came to the final and all the elements came together it all clicked, and the seven weeks changed my way of thinking in looking at the company. It provided me with a true general management mindset.
Dale: A lot of your listeners are potential clients of ours, so how can they learn more about bschool travel and get ahold of us? Go to bschooltravel.com, where you can check out corporate treks, leisure treks, and if you already have a group in mind, we do custom travel for individual groups. We are offering scholarships for one of our trips this summer and are always looking for new students to connect with. We like to build out our network, so feel free to reach out to us with any questions on our business or business school.
• Michigan Ross MBA: It’s About REAL, Clear, and Teamwork
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