How has your liberal arts degree been influential throughout your career?
It turns out that the four things I concentrated on at Penn—Economics, Math, History, and Art—made it pretty easy for me to figure out how to talk to almost anyone at their level. People who want lots of details, such as mathematicians, can be met with formulas; people who want stories respond well to historical anecdotes; and people who want theory are usually satisfied with graphical solutions similar to what I learned in econ. Plus, my wife is an art historian, so art has been pretty invaluable to me.
What is the value of the Penn network, and how has it played a role in your career?
Penn’s network has helped me out several times—first, when I got my first job out of school, as that firm was recruiting primarily at Penn and Stanford; second, when I started running Allmenus.com, where I was working for a guy from Penn who I’d worked for while an undergrad; and third, when I joined 1-800-flowers, where my boss was a Penn grad and probably gave me a shot in part because of that.
What advice would you give students at the College who are trying to decide what career path to pursue?
Don’t try to decide on a career. I’ll be 40 by the time this comes out, and I’ve done a little bit of everything—finance, consulting, operations, and now, running companies. Your first job or two out of college is likely to be a complete and total bust, so just learn what you can and then pay attention to the things that interest you, not the things you feel should interest you. There are a lot of ways to pay your dues—you don’t have to work 100 hours per week in an investment bank to learn, nor do you need to shed everything and travel the world. Take the opportunities that are in front of you, today, and make the most of them.
What was your favorite course in the College and why?
I had two classes late in my Penn career that I loved—one was an economics class on Social Choice Theory, which I found interesting because the theory (in my mind) tried to codify common sense, which in and of itself was interesting because I didn’t think it could work. The second was a math class where I was out of my depth and trying to model the spread of diseases with nothing but theory and a few statistics … and figuring out that we actually could (imperfectly, but close enough).