The Knewton Blog

Our monthly newsletter features edtech and product updates, with a healthy dose of fun Knerd news.

Meet Rawson Daniel: Columbia MBA Student and Entrepreneur

Posted in Test Prep on July 14, 2011 by

Thought b-school was a challenge? Try juggling reading case studies with starting a VC-backed company with your classmates.

Welcome to Rawson Daniel’s life. Rawson is a Columbia MBA Student and the Director of Marketing at BestVendor, a company that “helps people at startups and small businesses make faster, smarter purchasing decisions through social recommendations” (CrunchBase). The company is aiming to be for businesses what Amazon is for books and Yelp is for restaurants.

We asked Rawson to answer a few questions for readers who might be curious about entrepreneurship, b-school life, and balancing the two. Check out the full transcript and our fun Prezi of the highlights below.

.prezi-player { width: 550px; } .prezi-player-links { text-align: center; }

1. Who are you? And what is BestVendor?

BestVendor is a startup based in NYC. We’re building a web offering that helps people at startups and small businesses make faster, smarter purchasing decisions through social recommendations. Our vision is to become the first place you go whenever you need to figure out what to buy for your business. I’m heading up business development, finance, and some of our database efforts.

I am an MBA student at Columbia. I grew up in California, went to high school in Texas, and have been living in New York for about a year

2. Tell us a little bit about the process through which you and your colleagues came up with the idea for BestVendor.

Jeff Giesea connected with co-founders Ben Zhuk and Magnus von Koeller as they were finishing up at Columbia this past year. Jeff had built and sold a B2B media and lead-generation business and saw an opportunity to use social tools to provide better purchasing resources for businesses. He partnered with Ben, who then brought in Magnus, and together they sharpened the focus of the business. Both Ben and Magnus were in Columbia’s Greenhouse program, and that gave them the chance to use the resources of the school to develop the business.

3. What is it like working with fellow alumni from the Columbia MBA program?

It’s fantastic. It’s nice having colleagues who understand what life is like as a student. When I was working during the school year, they were very supportive of other stuff I had going on. They are also cognizant of helping me pursue new skills and experiences that are additive to my previous work experience. It’s also fun having shared history. We share common friends and activities outside of work.

4. What do you think of the NY tech scene? Do you have a relationship with any other NY startups?

I moved to New York about a year ago from California, so I am constantly comparing the New York tech scene to Silicon Valley. I think the New York scene has a tremendous level of creativity that Silicon Valley lacks. The design and user experience talent in New York is really amazing, and you can see it in companies like Tumblr, Etsy and SquareSpace. The New York tech scene is also unique in that companies are mostly clustered on the south half of Manhattan. The Tech Meetups are very well-attended and that leads to great networking opportunities.

I don’t have professional relationships with any other startups, but have gotten to know a handful well. Sportaneuous is another startup founded by Columbia Business School students. They have an app that enables you to find and sign up for pickup sports games in your area. H.Bloom is a startup in the flower industry that is really cool. I have a good friend from college at Bonobos, the online clothing retailer.

5. Having worked in finance, how does being an entrepreneur compare in terms of the challenges and rewards?

Both are intense – you tend to measure your success daily and are constantly striving to hit milestones within the next week or month. For me both roles are very analytical as well. In finance it took the form of spreadsheets, but here it takes the form of analytics and strategy for building our product, acquiring users, and laying the groundwork for a great business.

The biggest difference is atmosphere of the work environment. At BestVendor, we wear shorts to work half the time (as opposed to suits) and talk about technology (as opposed to the markets).

6. How do you spend your typical day? What’s the most exciting part? The most boring part?

I don’t have a typical day because we haven’t even launched the product . The most exciting part is monitoring our site analytics and helping design our product. It’s fun to see us get traction and to have a hand in the creative side of the business. There aren’t any boring parts yet.

7. So what do you think – is the MBA necessary for aspiring entrepreneurs? In your mind, what are the pros and cons of having the degree if you want to start your own company?

It is definitely not necessary. There are too many examples of entrepreneurs who didn’t go to college (and many of entrepreneurs that didn’t go to b-school) to say that … I also don’t think VCs look at MBA degrees when deciding whether to fund a company.

The biggest pro is the network you develop in business school. I wouldn’t know the guys I am working with if I didn’t meet them through school. And we have tons of connections that will help BestVendor in the investment banking, consulting and PE/VC worlds as a result of our business school networks as well.

The biggest con is probably the expense of school. Obviously the debt or lack of cash flow can be a concern when deciding whether to do something entrepreneurial.

8. Do you have a favorite business quote or piece of invaluable business advice to share with everyone?

Well, my favorite movie is Point Break and my favorite line from that movie is: “The little hand says its time to rock and roll.” The context is a bank robbery but I think it’s pertinent for any startup as well.

9. Is this what you thought you’d be doing with your life when you graduated from Dartmouth as an undergrad?

In some big ways, yes – I always wanted to be in tech and work for a startup. In other ways, no – I didn’t have plans to go to business school, though so far it’s been a really fruitful experience.

10. How do you feel about mistakes and failures? Are they necessary and character-building or best to be avoided?

Definitely necessary and character building. Mistakes teach you a lot more than successes.

11. Now for our favorite part. Choose one of each of the following pairings! Feel free to add a comment.

A) Tumblr or WordPress


B) Starbucks or Dunkin?


C) Kindle or Ipad?


D) Android or Iphone?


E) Yankees or Mets?

San Francisco Giants

F) Jets or Giants?

San Francisco 49ers