Alumnus Sam Mao (MSM ‘17, MSBA ‘18), Co-Founder of DeepTechne, in Shenzhen, China, speaks with Alumni Council member Manish Khadiya (MBA ’04) and shares his experience in startups and how he benefitted from the Wake Forest network.
MANISH: You have two degrees from Wake Forest: the Masters in Management (MSM) and the Masters in Business Analytics (MSBA). What made you decide to come to Wake Forest for the first degree, and why did you stay for a second? How have both degrees benefitted you?
SAM: I attended Furman University in Greenville, SC, for college. I graduated in the humanities and was interested in consulting, but lacked the necessary qualifications, in terms of analyzing how a company is performing. I couldn’t use Excel fluently or understand a 10-K. So my friends who worked at Deloitte China at the time suggested that I gain business knowledge before applying for a position there. Therefore, I applied to the MSM program. As soon as I gained the necessary business knowledge, I got an offer from Deloitte. I started as an intern first and then transitioned to a full-time role. It was during my time at Deloitte that I realized I needed analytics skills for my newly discovered career passion, which led me to stay for another year for the MSBA program.
The MSM degree gave me the confidence to analyze the fundamentals of a business; the MSBA helped me position myself as a pioneer and professional in the forefront of the analytics/AI/data field. Given my current endeavor with an analytics start-up, I am able to talk to investors and other companies’ CEO’s while working on our own analytics product. To me, the MSBA + MSM sounds like an ideal product manager skill set. Or perhaps the skillset for future CEO’s.
MANISH: Tell me about your experience working in New York for two years.
SAM: I started as a data scientist at Finery, a fashion technology company, and worked on product features (like recommendation systems), as well as product analytics. I was able to work with product manager, operation, and tech teams at the same time. It was a great learning experience! That was my dream job because I was reporting to one of the most experienced data science leaders in the world, and the CEO was a really capable person. I always enjoyed working in small teams, and Finery was just the right size. When Finery was acquired by StitchFix, I decided to move out of the fashion tech industry and transitioned to a theatre technology company, Todaytix.
After the pandemic came, I moved to Shenzhen and started a data analytics company, DeepTechne. My company has two objectives: education and consulting. I want to make people literate in analytics. On the consulting side, I am working on a financial index. We are creating data science certification programs for people interested in working in the data field. In finance there are the CFA, FRM, and even Bloomberg certifications. We are developing a certificate in data science, tailored to the Chinese data professionals, so that they can showcase their achievements to their colleagues and their company’s Human Resource department. I hope that by renewing a certificate every two to four years, we can also help them update their knowledge in the field, because the field is just moving too fast.
MANISH: You’ve worked with several startups. How is working in startups before and after the pandemic?
SAM: It seems that companies with the most digital capabilities and offerings, as well as those that implemented work from home policies before the pandemic, adjusted well during the pandemic. Companies without a strong online infrastructure definitely suffered. The job market started actively recruiting people with an analytics skillset during the pandemic as everything was shifting online; those with a good culture had more employees to stay on. Companies that have started after a crisis seem to have done well, as there is an ability to capture a new trend. People are more open to new ideas.
MANISH: How is working in New York and Shenzhen different?
SAM: American culture is welcoming, and people give direct feedback in the US, where it is more vague in China. The culture at a state-owned company is very different. You have to be careful with your questions so that you come across as being prepared.
MANISH: How was your adjustment to Wake Forest?
SAM: My undergraduate college had 2,700 students total, so it was a smaller school [than Wake Forest]. Wake Forest is way more diverse and inclusive, where all cultures are well-respected. As an international student, I felt welcomed at Wake Forest.
MANISH: What advice would you give to current international students?
SAM: Wake Forest does a good job of making students feel at home. International students should mingle and learn from peers. Definitely network! Networking is important and really pays off down the road. I had a good network in New York before I left. Students should try to make meaningful connections.
MANISH: How did networking help you?
SAM: The last job I had in New York came from the Wake Forest network. A Wake Forest alum was working at the company but leaving; it was a good cultural fit, and he recommended me for the job. He also had a good reputation at the company. All of these things sped up the recruiting process.
MANISH: How have you stayed to connected to the School of Business since graduation?
SAM: I keep in touch with John White (Executive Director, Enrollment Management – Recruiting) and help with recruiting new international students. I also help provide support on the career side to current international students. My friends from both programs and I still talk.
MANISH: What were your hobbies when you were a student?
SAM: Intramural sports were fun – basketball, flag football, softball, and soccer. We weren’t as competitive as the Law School! It was an inclusive culture. The Chinese students made hot pot and invited our peers to join us.
MANISH: What is your most fond memory from your time at Wake Forest?
SAM: I made a lot of meaningful connections with professors, peers, and staff in the admissions office. Group study sessions were really fun!