“Boston Calling”: One Woman’s Journey through Two Years in Boston (B)

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Harvard Business School

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HBS Case No. N9-716-023

Revised June 30, 2016

Erica M. Zendell

“Boston Calling”: One Woman’s Journey through Two Years in Boston (B)

On June 21, 2016, a sunny Tuesday morning, Erica Zendell ventured out to Boston’s Copley Square Farmers Market, browsing the options for what to cook for dinner with her newly-free time. It was just over three weeks since her graduation from the MIT Sloan School of Management and she was getting back in touch with the people and places she loved but had largely abandoned while consumed by MBA life, from her coworkers at HBS to her teammates at sweetgreen. 

At the Copley Market, she ran into her food business mentor from her Zen Cookery days. As they caught up, Erica realized just how much had changed for the both of them in the last two years. Her mentor had grown her business by leaps and bounds and was leasing a physical storefront in Somerville that was thriving. Erica had chosen to go in a very different direction when it came to her career—much to her surprise, it was away from food and into furniture. She was one month from starting work as a Product Manager at Wayfair, just across the street from this very market.

As she walked home from Copley Square through the Back Bay, she soaked up Boston’s long-delayed summer sunshine and reflected on just how much had changed for her in the last two years. 

Happy [Z]endings

 “When it comes to Zen Cookery, there are three days I’ll never forget: There’s the day I went to my first Farmers Market in Cambridge to sell my products. There’s the day I received my wholesale license approval in the mail—on the same day I decided to shut down operations. And then there’s the day I walked through the Boston Public Market (Boston’s equivalent of the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace) and saw an allergy-friendly baking company there, in the space I almost rented. I know things worked out for the best, but I often wonder what my life would have looked like if I had not gotten into business school and had stayed the course with Zen Cookery.”

One of the biggest decisions Erica had to make in 2014 was whether to continue her food business, Zen Cookery, when she began her MBA. She already knew she couldn’t operate on the same scale that she had been were she to continue running the business alone. Besides doing the actual baking, selling at multiple farmers markets, managing retail and accounts, finding creative ways to attract new customers consumed more than 12 hours of her time each day.

Concerned that hiring an intern would require too much time and training, Erica considered outsourcing the baking to a copacker to eliminate the physical baking time from her schedule. But after evaluating the risks and the costs of bringing a copacker into her supply chain, she decided against it. “I came to the conclusion that keeping the business as a retail and wholesale baking business would leave me with too much to do to take my education seriously. So I did what any startup does in a situation like this where the core business needs to change for the sake of the company’s survival—I pivoted.”

Over the course of the summer and early fall, Erica worked with a web designer who redesigned her website with a new food blog template. This would allow her to shift her strategy and reinvent the business as a health and lifestyle brand instead of a food brand. “My thought was I’d be able to blog at my leisure, adding new recipes and things I’d learned about diet and nutrition from my two years on a largely plant-based gluten-free diet.” Later on, Erica hoped to identify blog followers and Boston locals who might be interested in paying for cooking lessons or personalized nutrition coaching.

 Erica researched a number of leading food blogs like “Smitten Kitchen,” “Oh She Glows,” “Love and Lemons” and “My Name is Yeh,” analyzing the authors’ writing styles, types of recipes shared, their approaches to email, social media and affiliate marketing. She implemented what she learned from dissecting these blogs, publishing a blog post and adding a few pictures and recipes to the Zen Cookery website in the first few weeks of school. “No matter what I did, the blogging just didn’t feel right, and forcing the business into continued existence was making me miserable.”

Then it dawned on her:  The thing she loved most about these blogs was what she called “the appearance of effortlessness” in all dimensions, from the photography to the recipes to the storytelling bringing them both together: “The reality was that these bloggers were working full-time to make their effort look effortless. These women were making their careers out of this thing I was trying to do while studying full-time in business school. So I decided to stop putting so much pressure on myself to make this blog work when I just didn’t have the time or the drive to do it: it could be a pastime at least and a part-time job at most while I was at Sloan—not the center of my life.”

Erica felt confident in her ability to become successful in the packaged foods or food blog space should she decide to come back to it later. While she felt like a failure for not having “made it” with Zen Cookery and felt uncomfortable explaining to people that she was no longer running the business, she was excited to put her entrepreneurial pursuits on hold. She could finally make space in her head and time in her schedule for all the things she could learn while at MIT.

First Year: September 2014-May 2015

 "My ‘freshman year of business school was 20% daydream and 80% nightmare. I was so grateful to have gotten into the program and loved the cool new people I was meeting, but on four days out of the five I spent around campus, I felt like I was drowning. My brain was being bombarded with new concepts and lingo and none of it seemed to stick in my brain .The only person who knew how stressed out I was was my boyfriend—he broke up with me three weeks into the program."

Academic Life

Erica knew that starting business school at a place like MIT wouldn’t be easy. The place had a reputation for being more academically demanding than many of its peer schools that were less “quant heavy” and team project based. Moreover, the MIT MBA program was structured so that first year students took all their required coursework in the first semester instead of over the course of the first year. Once she survived “The Core,” the intense fall lineup of accounting, statistics, economics, leadership communication, and organizational processes, she’d be free to take any classes she wanted in her remaining three semesters.

The classes were structured to ‘teach to the middle’ of the experiences and backgrounds of the people in the room, making things challenging for Erica given her age and roles prior to attending business school. “I consistently came on the low end of expertise in these classes, and the breakneck pace of “The Core” made it hard to keep up. Even with tutoring, I barely made it through. By the time I made it to Thursday afternoon for Organizational Processes, the only class I really liked that fall, I was too tired to pay attention.“

First year students were required to complete the majority of their assignments as “Core Team.” Working at HBS, Erica largely completed her projects alone, which made working on a six-person, assigned team of peers for a semester very challenging for her.  “My ‘Core Team,’ the Pacific Petrels, was perfectly engineered for the diversity on which MIT prides itself: it was half male, half female; half international, half American; half with a consulting background, half without. Half of us were also ‘planners” ’and the others were ‘just-in-timers’ when it came to completing work, but somehow we got everything done.”

Coming in as a writer and entrepreneur, Erica felt that her contribution was doomed to be minimal—most of the class work played to the strengths and expertise of the individuals with consulting, accounting, and economics backgrounds on her team. “I still don’t understand anything we did in Excel, but I wrote pieces of the reports we had to submit, so I wasn’t a total ‘good-for-nothing.’ By the end of the semester, some core teams end up being best friends while others want to murder each other. Luckily, we were pretty neutral.”

By second semester, things felt more natural to Erica. “I had three of my best classes of my MBA career that semester. An advanced communications class, an accounting class that made me less afraid of dissecting a 10K, and a leadership class structured around studying leadership principles through Shakespeare and putting on a performance of Julius Caesar for the whole school. When I wasn’t recruiting or recovering from recruiting during the spring, I felt like I was actually engaged in class.” 

Social Life

 “There are 3 reasons people tend to go to business school: to go back to school for particular skills or knowledge, to change careers, or to go on vacation for two years with a bunch of ambitious people with high career potential.  I’d say my motivation was 50% career-switching, 25% going back to learn skills, and 25% meeting people. Some people it’s 100% partying, which is totally fine. It just wasn’t me. From that perspective, I’d say many of my peers had way more fun than I did in business school.”

On top of the academic obligations, Erica had to balance a very heavy social calendar. “People tell you that networking and socializing is a huge part of business school, but I don’t think I realized just how huge it was until I had to live it. Every week there were at least 10 major social events going on outside of class from international trips to birthday parties to drinks outings—and those were just the 10 or so that I knew were happening.” Erica’s dietary needs made some of the socializing around beer and pizza impossible, so she tried her best to connect to people in contexts that were quieter and more manageable for her, like lunch dates and coffee dates.

Erica felt particularly strongly about her Ocean, her 70-person MBA cohort with whom she took all her fall classes. “The Pacifics were a positive, energetic group, and made it easier to get through a really tough beginning to my MIT experience. And by the time I hit December, I cared about some people enough to write them holiday cards, which was a really nice feeling.” She was especially proud about a award she had quietly initiated earlier in the semester: people in her Ocean would recognize someone for being kind, helpful, or otherwise spirited within the Pacific community and the person recognized would wear a Hawaiian lei for the day until awarding the lei to a new person the following week. 

Over the course of the year, Erica signed up for many clubs, but eventually pared down her extracurricular commitments. At the beginning of the year, she had applied for nearly 10 leadership positions in student organizations and conferences. “In high school, college, and in pre-MBA adventures in Cambridge, I managed to ‘do it all,’ but it wasn’t possible in business school. I spent the fall signing up for things and the spring getting rid of them,” she laughed. “Once I survived marketing a Sustainability conference on campus, all I was doing by the end of the year was writing for the ‘MBA Class of 2016 Blog’ for Sloan Admissions and organizing a student storytelling event called ‘The Yarn.’” These were the things Erica cared most about and refused to give up, even when life caught up with me. “They kept me grounded, and I had no way of knowing this at the time, but they would also be my legacy at Sloan and define my identity within my class. Ironically, I came into school wanting to be a quant and lose my squishy ‘poet’ self, but when I leaned into those tendencies, that’s when I was actually able to do my best work.“

The Internship Search: Rough Beginnings

“I experienced a ton of rejection in the recruiting process. I’m grateful for it because it forced me to broaden my career prospects beyond the food industry. I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing next without all those doors being slammed in my face.”

When Erica applied to business school, she expected to use her time there to work on Zen Cookery and take steps to grow it into a nationally-scalable fast-casual restaurant. When she finally got to business school, her perspective had changed: the MBA was a chance to do something different. She believed her time at business school, professionally-speaking, would be best spent trying to work at a traditional ’Big Food’ or consumer products company. She believed getting more conventional experience at a place like McDonald’s, Coca Cola, or Procter and Gamble would give her the right connections and relevant knowledge to go back to the startup food world and really win at it.

 However, when Erica began recruiting for food companies, she became disillusioned. Most companies in the food and beverage space didn’t hire MBA interns and the ones that did had strong, preexisting relationships with other business schools. Because Erica came into Sloan more interested in entrepreneurship, she had not paid much attention during her MBA application process to the school’s recruiting strengths. Now she realized that Sloan’s career connections were concentrated in consulting, tech, finance, healthcare—not food:

“Getting an internship in a given industry—even if it’s not the school’s wheelhouse—is possible as a MBA. It just takes a lot of due diligence to figure out who the recruiters are and if there are alumni there who can connect you to someone with hiring power. In my case, though, by the time I found the right person to talk to in these food companies, I had missed the deadlines to submit my application,” Erica reflected. “When I did make it to the next phase, my chances at getting the one MBA slot left open at General Mills or Pepsi to someone who wasn’t from Kellogg or NYU Stern were slim to none. I’ll never forget going to this MBA Marketing event at Clorox with two girls from Sloan and the three of us realizing, ‘Wait, they have no intention of hiring anyone from MIT. What are we doing here?’”

Even though dropping her resume for consulting would have been easy, she reminded herself that the lifestyle and work of consulting was out of alignment with her sense of self and sense of purpose in business: “to create products that help people live happier, healthier, more fulfilled lives.” She held onto this mission and became more creative over the course of the fall in searching for job opportunities: reading the career digests from different clubs at Sloan about internships, talking to her mentor, and even scouring opportunities on social media: “My entire process with Nestle started from tweeting at someone in Human Resources!”

 The job search for Erica and many of her peers was like having a third full-time job on top of the full-time academic and full-time social commitments. Because the opportunities she was seeking were not with companies that came to campus, Erica felt she was constantly searching and applying and generally “going the extra mile” to pursue these companies. “I spent Veteran’s Day Weekend splitting hairs on my application to L’Oreal, and the minute I finished my Core Semester finals—when I should have been drinking and celebrating with my classmates—I was on a plane to Cleveland in a last-ditch attempt to move forward in my recruiting process with Nestle. I spent much of Martin Luther King Day in a $50 Uber to do ‘field research’ at the nearest Walmart so I’d be prepared for my interview with their Strategy and Finance team the next day.”

Her interview weekend with L’Oreal, “A Taste of L’Oreal” was a particularly taxing experience. “It was insanely competitive, 50 MBAs competing for 5 spots. It started Thursday night and ending Saturday morning with an in-office interview. Friday was spent locked in the Times Square Westin in a conference room, with about 12 tables of people. We were total strangers in groups of 5 or 6 and had half-hour increments to complete pieces of a marketing case together Employees clad in black silently scrawled notes about us as we worked—after this, I have a lot of empathy for lab rats, because that’s exactly what I felt like. I could sense that people in the room on Friday or Saturday didn’t like my approach to solving the problems put before us: ‘How can we make this skin care brand relevant to millennials?’ ‘What’s the target market for this new mascara product?’ Much as I love skin care and mascara, I was certain I wouldn’t fit in there.”

Though challenging, Erica believed her time at L’Oreal was a great experience: “The best part about it in hindsight? I got a swag bag worth $500+, met a really cool team of women at my case table with whom I stayed in touch, and went out on a great first date the minute I got back to Boston with the guy who would later become my boyfriend. Not to mention, I dodged a bullet on company culture—I would have been miserable there.” Even so, getting the formal rejection still hurt: “I remember sitting in the Denver airport after the MBA ski trip on the weekend of Boston’s first big snowstorm. My flight had been cancelled twice and I was sitting through my hours of flight delays waiting for L’Oreal to call. They didn’t. When my roommate from the weekend texted me letting me know she got an offer, I felt completely defeated. ”  

The Beautiful Breakthrough

By February, Erica was feeling frustrated. She had foregone her final round interview with Nestle to go for L’Oreal and had nothing to show for it. “I was so upset because three of my classmates went to final rounds with Nestle and two of them got offers—I beat myself up every day whenever I thought, ‘If I went for Nestle instead of L’Oreal, I’d have a great offer for the summer and be done recruiting already.” She was talking with Burger King and Bimbo Bakeries but didn’t feel excited about the work or culture of either company based on her conversations with employees.

In March, things started to turn around. “My parents were on vacation in Florida and a friend of a friend of theirs knew someone at Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (DPSG). For the first time ever, one of my parents’ connections pulled through. Suddenly I found myself in a lovely, hour-long interview with a hiring manager, who told me the company still had one spot open for a MBA Brand Management or Consumer Insights Intern.” Right around the time Erica was talking to Dr. Pepper, she heard back from a company she adored and to which she’d applied on a total whim back in February: Sephora. “I was sitting in a Dunkin Donuts in suburban Massachusetts before my final round interview with Ocean Spray when I got an email from Sephora inviting me to interview for dotcom strategy and store digital teams. I had not applied to either of these positions and had no idea what the teams did, but I didn’t care.”

On the morning of March 19, Erica flew down to Dallas for her final round interview with Dr. Pepper. She spent the plane ride reading the company’s annual report and thinking about questions to ask the people she was supposed to meet. “I had been rejected by Ocean Spray a few days before and was determined to crush this interview—it was my very last thing in the pipeline.” As Erica was preparing to get off the plane, she received some unexpected news. “I turned off ‘airplane mode’ on my phone and checked my email to see an email with the subject ‘Sephora Internship.’ ‘Hi Erica. Apologies for sending this via email, I am traveling and in a noisy airport at the moment. I really enjoyed our discussion last week.  I would love to extend an offer to have you join the Sephora Store Digital Product Management team as an intern…’ If I hadn’t been stuck in the airplane cabin waiting for everyone to slowly de-plane, I’d have been jumping up and down.”

Erica still had a day of interviews ahead of her in Plano, Texas at the DPSG Offices. She put the joy of the Sephora office aside for the moment to keep her focus. The following day, March 20, Erica sat in the airport to return to Boston. Hours after leaving the DPSG offices, she received an offer to be a MBA Brand Manager there for the summer. “DPSG was a big food/beverage company giving me the title I wanted with excellent money. Sephora was a retail company giving me a job I didn’t even know how to describe with awful pay. But I knew I couldn’t see myself building a career in Plano, Texas and was curious about what it would be like to work in tech, in San Francisco, and at a company I’d secretly wanted to work at for years. The next week, I made my calls to DPSG and signed with Sephora.” 

Summer in San Francisco: June-August 2015  

“My only experiences of San Francisco were visiting a guy I’d been in love with at Stanford in January 2012, and visiting my college friend Eileen while in November 2013, and January 2015. Spending a whole summer there was a big bet.“

The final two months of Erica’s first year in business school flew by, and on June 5, 2015, Erica flew out to San Francisco to settle into life in California before her internship. “I stayed with my friend Eileen for the first few days, and then moved into a ‘Hacker House’ loft for the rest of the summer with 4 rising college seniors and one random person who switched on the weekly.” Erica had largely lived alone since moving to Boston in 2012, so moving into an apartment built for two but accommodating 6 in bunk beds was an adjustment. “Luckily, my roommates were lovely and our schedules lined up really well. We went to Napa together, had near-weekly dinners, met our significant others, and supported each other through the tougher parts of our summers. It could have been hell, but it wasn’t and I couldn’t be more grateful for that crew.” (See Exhibit 1 for the blog post Erica wrote about her roommates).[1] Even though the Hacker House was an overpriced Airbnb, it was a 30-minute walk from her work, highly accessible by public transit, and right next to the Embarcadero and AT&T Ballpark.

The job at Sephora was a major experience for Erica, since it was the first time in recent memory she had held a formal “9 to 5” office job. The last two years, her job at HBS had a flexible schedule and her startup filled up every spare moment of her schedule. She had worked at Telebrands, an infomercial products company the summer before she started college, and had a summer internship her junior year of college, but that was it. Erica was surprised at how much she liked the sense of stability and routine that came with the job: “I was essentially being paid in makeup and not money, but it was a pretty good lifestyle: I woke up at 5:30 and went to Philz when it opened, sat and wrote for a bit, went to work out around 7, showered and rolled into the office at 8:30, made up and dressed “in concept” (Sephora’s dress code: red, white, black, grey, and/or the Pantone Color of the Year--Marsala in 2015). I left by 6 or 6:30 every day. On weekends, I went to the Ferry Building Farmers Market and sampled fruit from every stone fruit vendor.“

While Erica enjoyed the routine she had developed, the people she met, and the work she did over the summer, she couldn’t see herself living in San Francisco after graduation: “I loved my team and my MBA cohort at Sephora and was learning a ton about the organization, the beauty business, and the place (or lack thereof) of tech in retail. I liked the work of product management, and wanted to explore it more thoroughly after graduation. But I had little patience for the Silicon Valley tech culture and a lot of reservations about San Francisco. I came back to Boston ready to come back to Boston in September.” (See Exhibit 2 for the blog post Erica wrote about her impressions of San Francisco.)

Second Year: September 2015-June 2016

 “I remember nothing of my second year of business school. Did it really happen?”

When Erica returned for her second year at Sloan, she came back with renewed sense of focus. “I didn’t care about the classes or grades anymore. I was more committed to enjoying the people around me while they were still around me.” When not spending time in one-on-one contexts with different people at school, Erica was focused on organizing community events, like ‘The Yarn’ student storytelling event and later ‘The Last Lecture,’ an event where three faculty members give speeches imparting life wisdom to the graduating class:

“When I started working on ‘The Yarn’ in September 2014, it was hosted in this crappy Coffee House room in MIT’s student center and barely 50 people attended it. Two years passed, and the audiences grew. We had to host the final one in May 2016 in the Sloan auditorium. There were at least 300 people there, not including the folks sitting in the aisles. It was the first time I felt I’d actually built something and I was moved to tears. Looking out on the audience and delivering the closing remarks at ‘The Yarn’ that week and‘The Last Lecture’ the following week are probably the proudest moments of my life so far.”

 Despite her focus on community engagement, Erica had a stronger academic experience in the tail end of her second year of business school. She worked in New York City at West Elm for a course called L-Lab (Exhibit 3), cross-registered for a course at her old casewriting grounds at HBS (Exhibit 4), and took courses on career-building, social media management, and service operations with exceptional faculty with whom she intended to stay in touch. She also attended South By Southwest Interactive in Austin for the very first time during her spring break (Exhibit 5). Outside of these trips, classes, and activities, the thing that most consistently took up most of her time was starting a podcast with one of her classmates, Lily, “The Business of Being Awesome,” (Exhibit 6) and getting help with it from a few friends. The podcast, by nature of its mission to help listeners ‘not quit their daydreams,’ reinforced her commitment to following her own path, even as the stress of full-time recruiting began to build. 

The Full-time Hustle

Erica’s full-time job hunt was more targeted than her internship search. She wanted to work in a tech role in a company that sold physical products rather than digital ones, and she wanted to be at a company focused on serving everyday people rather than big enterprise clients. “I liked being a PM at Sephora because the tech I was working with, from hair scanning to foundation matching, was so tangible, personal, and human. That’s why I couldn’t be a PM at a “pure tech” company.” Based on her friends’ experiences from Google over the summer, she thought: “If I were working at Google as a PM on Gmail, for example, the most work I could do is take user research to upgrade the Gmail layout with a new icon or feature, That’s cool, sure, but I have a much easier time imagining—and getting excited about—someone feeling empowered by using technology to find their perfect lipstick than using an icon on Gmail.”

Erica searched for Product Management roles not only at retail and consumer products companies, as before, but also at media companies. “The media thing came out of loving my trip out to LA while in California over the summer and hitting it off with a few people in the media and entertainment industry at conferences in Cambridge—I had some great conversations with FOX and goop, the lifestyle brand headed up by Gwyneth Paltrow, of all things.”  In the end, she most actively pursued five companies of varying sizes and levels of establishment: The Walt Disney Company, Wayfair, Estee Lauder, Starbucks, and The Honest Company.

Erica was rejected from Disney after the first round on account of her nontechnical experience and never heard back from Estee Lauder after her first round interview. Both her friend at Starbucks and people she knew at Honest told her to circle back in the spring to see what openings were actually available, since both companies hired in more of an ad hoc fashion. Erica did a final round interview at Wayfair on November 12 and got an offer to join as a full Product Manager on November 16. “I was in the middle of a recording session for the podcast,” she remembered. “Lily and my friend Sydney, who was being recorded, were watching me on the call and couldn’t tell whether I had or hadn’t gotten the job—the HR guy was weird. ‘The team likes you, but you’re not experienced enough, but decided to give you a shot.’ Not how I would have delivered the news, but hey, I was hired!” 

Evaluating Wayfair

You’re going to mess up on this job every day at the beginning—at least for the first three months you’re going to be making mistakes all the time. Every day I’m going to ask you what you learned. So long as you keep applying what you’ve learned, we’ll never have a problem. I have no doubt in just a few months, you’ll be a rockstar here.”—The Manager

 While delighted to receive the offer, Erica had some reservations about joining Wayfair: “I wasn’t particularly keen on staying in Boston, and compared to beauty, I had no real interest in furniture or interior design.” Erica was also concerned about the financial components of the offer. “Because I knew a lot of the compensation numbers for my fellow MBAs (both in and outside of Product Management) I was disappointed when I saw the pay package. My offer was justified given I’d only done 10 weeks of Product Management in my entire life and how inexperienced I was compared to members of my potential team, but it was still demotivating to hear my peers’ negotiation success stories knowing that I was getting barely half of what they were getting from their employers.”

Erica spent the following month reflecting on whether she should take the offer or continue recruiting. “Over the next few weeks, I had three big realizations around the money, in particular. The first was that the compensation number I’d have wanted for myself, including benefits and bonuses, prior to business school was the number Wayfair was giving me. My thinking that this number ‘was not enough’ was the result of warped perspective from being in a MBA program.

The second realization I had was that everyone I knew and liked at Wayfair had chosen working there over staying at a really prestigious company with a higher salary. They seemed to care more about building a great company and having a great quality of life outside of work than they did about making the extra few thousand dollars. Given that these people could probably work wherever they wanted, I was convinced Wayfair’s culture had to be good enough to attract them and hold onto them. The last realization came when I thought back to my friends in college who ended up in investment banking: they made a ton of money, but worked insane hours and barely had lives. That extra money is the difference between a company employing you and owning you, and I didn’t want to be owned.”

After consulting her coworkers from Sephora, her family and friends, and reflecting on her own, Erica believed that Wayfair would be her best next step. “I had a strict list of 11 things I needed to have out of my post-MBA role that I’d written right when I got back from San Francisco—Wayfair checked every box. I don’t think any other company in the realm of my consideration could have hit all 11.” The item on Erica’s list of 11 that stood out most with regard to Wayfair was working for someone she respected. She believed she had found that person in The Manager:

 “I met The Manager at the Product table at Wayfair’s MBA Open House. We really hit it off, and the next time I saw him was in my final round interview. He was my last interviewer of the day. He didn’t waste my time with questions about my resume or ask me for stories about times I’d failed or what I was doing in school. He said, ‘Tell me what you want to achieve in the next three years and I’ll tell you if this is a place where you can make that happen.’ We talked about the people he had mentored and what kinds of work they were doing now, and I could see myself in their stories. I left the interview thinking, ‘If I get the offer and I can work for him, I don’t care that I’ll be selling lamps instead of lipstick next year. I’m in.’

With the understanding that she would be able to work for The Manager, she signed her offer letter on December 18, 2016 to work as a Product Manager at Wayfair starting Summer 2016.

Happily Ever After?

“Anyone can be cool, but awesome takes practice.” Lorraine Peterson

Erica graduated from MIT Sloan with her MBA on June 3, 2016. While she was sad to see some of her friends leave town, she felt relieved. “My schedule wasn’t stuffed to the gills anymore. I slept until 11 for like a week and a half (totally unlike me) and polished off book after book from the library (a little more like me). It was delightful but also completely disorienting.” Erica also enjoyed seeing and reconnecting with her non-MBA friends in the weeks following graduation: “I feared I’d lost a lot of friends in the all-consuming MBA experience—I’m grateful that the good ones stuck around and were still standing by me.”

With just a few weeks before her start date at Wayfair, July 18, Erica was feeling a little bit anxious.  She had lived in Boston for four years now and had expected to leave the city after business school. Because she wasn’t, she was hoping that starting work, along with moving from the West End to Chinatown, would be just the changes she needed to see the city and herself with new eyes. “I’ve reached the point in Boston where it feels like I’ve seen it all and done it all, but the good thing about it is that even though the city hasn’t really changed, I know that I have.” For the first time, Erica was living in Boston and not working at or attending a school. “I spent the last four years trying to convince people that I was more than an academic—and now I finally get to make it happen. I finally got the business job I wanted, the identity I wanted. Though whether I’ll actually be a good Product Manager is a whole other story.”

 Still Erica had no intention of losing her creative self while pursuing her career. She and Lily had plans to do a third season of the podcast and after Erica’s success getting a MBA blog post on The Economist, she was determined to take her writing more seriously and eventually get published. Encouraged by one of her professors and one of her close friends to not stop writing, she began to make a list of writers whose work she particularly admired and to assemble a portfolio of work worthy of their caliber. “I started writing my blog four years ago, and it’s time for me to stop pretending that I don’t want to make something from this. I do. I really, really do.”

As she walked through the Back Bay toward the Charles River Esplanade, Erica took a minute to pause and watch the sailboats along the river. She knew she’d be ready to sail away someday, but for now, she couldn’t complain about being in safe harbor. It would give her a little more time to prepare to make a bigger splash.   

[1] *Erica’s best roommate moment of the summer, save for those reading aloud lines from “Grey” and watching BoJack Horseman was this: “I was in Santa Monica for a few days when a guy I’d met on Tinder in Boston reached out to me. He had had his passport and money stolen while hiking Yosemite, needed a place to stay in San Francisco. Since we were still friendly and his situation sounded awful, I agreed to help him out. I told him there was probably a bed in the Hacker House that was open and that I would ask my roommates if they were cool with him staying for a night or two. He did, but was gone by the time I was back from LA. I asked my roommates about the interactions with him. Nothing was particularly extraordinary save for this one conversation. One of my roommates asked the guy, “So, how do you know Erica?” “Uh, from the Cambridge community,” he answered uneasily. My roommates knew me and my story well enough by this point to know, “Yeah, this guy met Erica on Tinder.” The mildly hilarious aftermath is that this guy was lazy and decided to leave his camping gear in our apartment, including his ice axe “as a gift.” We took pictures with it and one of my roommates, a talented photoshopper, took the guy’s Tinder Profile and did some creative editing of it as we posed with the camping gear. The final kicker? He and one of my roommates were on the same flight back to the East Coast. They took a picture together and sent it to me. I couldn’t believe this whole thing had happened.