Alumni Profiles: Andrew Chau (BS 2004, MBA 2011), Marketing & Entrepreneurship

Alumni Profiles is a series of posts featuring Haas alumni. It aims to provide the blog’s readers insight into work experiences in various industries and life after Haas.

Andrew Chau graduated from UC Berkeley with Bachelor’s Degrees in Mass Communications, Sociology, and Business Administration in 2004, and received his MBA with a focus in General Management & Global Strategy from the Haas School of Business in 2011. Chau has rich marketing experience from a variety of industries, including Consumer Product Goods (Clorox), Retail/E-Commerce (Wal-Mart, Target), Consumer Technology (LeapFrog), Specialty Apparel (Timbuk2). He has also co-founded and exited Vergence Media in 2006 and 2011, respectively, a patented interactive media solution for e-commerce platforms; and is currently the co-founder of Boba Guys and Tea People. He is also a contributing writer to the Huffington Post.

Andrew Chau making bubble milk tea at Boba Guys

You graduated from UC Berkeley and have had multiple work experiences in marketing and management for Target, Walmart, and Timbuk2 prior to starting your MBA education with the Haas School of Business. What is it about marketing that interests you so much? What excites you most about it?

I fell in love with marketing as an undergrad after taking a sociology class, but I think it all began when I was high school. I was really into personality tests and organizational behavior even as a teenager. I wrote a dating compatibility application on my TI calculator. One time, the teacher almost took my calculator away because he thought I was typing test notes in it and planned on cheating. When he looked on the screen, he said, “What is this?” I said, “I’m writing a dating program that shows how compatible people are. It’s how I’m going to get girls.” I was dead serious. I imagine he told the story to his wife when he got home and got a good laugh. I even had a website on the now defunct-Geocities dedicated to people dynamics. I came up with all these theories on why things are funny or why we like certain brands. Honestly, this is all quite embarrassing, but I share those stories because marketing is a people-obsessed lens. It is something you live and breathe because it’s your view of the world.

Marketing is sociology and psychology applied to commerce. By the time I planned on being a marketer, I already spent hours dissecting consumer behavior because I had been thinking about it for so long. Deciding what shoes to buy or what car to drive is a lot like choosing friends or a potential mate. The choice is the expression of one’s values, experiences, and desires. It might sound provocative, but we’re all fairly predictable as consumers because needs and wants work the same way. Motivations may vary, but the mechanics are similar.

And that’s what excites me. I love that marketing, in my opinion, is a science… it’s fairly predictable and builds on itself over time. At Clorox, a top-tier CPG firm, I turned this theory into practice. The best marketers in the world are able to find a target market and speak to their soul over and over again. And when the right consumer connects with the right product… boom. It’s like magic. I remember getting my first Nintendo after asking for it every year at Christmas. When I finally got one for my birthday, I felt euphoric and untouchable.

That’s another thing that’s exciting about marketing. Everyone thinks it’s about emotions and feelings. It is to a certain degree, but it’s also very logical. Marketing is a discipline that combines both emotions and logic. It’s both Captain Kirk and Spock. I love using a multi-faceted skill set because I always felt different growing up. I did fairly well in my math and science classes, but I happen to love reading, history, and English as well. As I got older, I felt like I had to choose a side as my friends gravitated toward one side or the other. In marketing, you don’t. The best marketers in the world are ones who can balance both emotion and logic.

What made you decide to pursue graduate school? And why did you return to Haas?

I went into graduate school (i.e. business school) thinking of a career change. That’s why most of us get an MBA. I had already spent five awesome years developing my marketing chops at Target and Wal-Mart, so it seemed like a good time to try something new. I was always interested in venture capital, so that’s what I focused on in business school.

The real reason I returned to Haas is a personal one. I knew that I wanted to stay in the Bay Area after school because my family and in-laws are local. I spent my early twenties vowing to never come back to the Bay Area, so it’s ironic that I can’t imagine myself anywhere else. Every time I visit a fantastic city like New York, Chicago, or London, I get homesick. So it’s not the answer you might expect from an MBA, but that’s truly how I made the decision. For me, it was driven by my gut.

I will add that my main concern returning to Haas is that I would be repeating the same material that I learned as an undergrad. I think that’s a myth. In business school, you are in a much different life stage, so you approach things differently. I was a studious, hard-nose bookworm as an undergrad. When I came back as an MBA, I was much more adventurous and confident which resulted in a new learning experience. For example, I spoke up a lot more so I probably got more out of the classroom discussions than I did as an undergrad.

Lastly, I get asked whether or not it’s good to go to the same school twice because it limits your network and options. It’s probably true, but I always prefer to go deep vs. wide. By going to Berkeley twice, I can utilize the resources better than most because I know who to go to. Plus, I would show my MBA classmates around campus which made me feel popular… very different from high school.

How has your Bachelor’s and MBA degrees from Haas been helpful in your career?

Two of the Haas principles are Students Always and Confidence Without Attitude. Those lessons are by far the most important things I learned in school. I say that because any school can teach you intellectual knowledge. I can read a book that teaches me about discounted cash flows or a BCG-matrix. It’s the lessons related to people and leadership that really accelerate your career.

As I move up in my career, my roles and responsibilities are a lot more strategic and people-centered. I won’t be tasked with running analyses or pulling reports like I used to. Instead, I rely on my interpersonal skills a lot more to produce results. And that’s why Students Always and Confidence Without Attitude are so important. Those are leadership qualities. They are soft skills that few people possess, even well-trained MBAs. It takes a lot of practice to turn these values into a part of your character. One of my favorite quotes is, “Make sure your character grows faster than your influence.”

You must be pretty busy. You currently serve as the Global Brand Manager for Leap Frog Platforms, and have co-founded Boba Guys last year in San Francisco and recently expanded into Berkeley. How are you able to manage your career and business so well? Give us a glimpse into your day-to-day.

I do not manage my life well. I give myself a B+ at best. But I have great tips on getting that B+!

The one thing I had to cut out of my life is video games. It sounds trivial, but when you are short on time, you need to prioritize things in your life.

I also like to batch tasks. For example, whenever I meet up with people, I tend to pick places that are near one of my shops so I can run errands before or after the meeting. I also document everything because I have a horrible, horrible memory. I could not run my life if I didn’t have my iPhone with Evernote, Google Calendar, and Gmail.

My day-to-day is that I get up around 7am-7:30am every morning. If I have time, I go to the gym. Then, I go to my day job and work for 8-10 hours. I do get a lot of emails and text messages throughout the day from my business, but I made a rule to myself to separate the two areas of my life. It’s not fair to either company when they start bleeding into each other. Additionally, being “present” is a must-have for me. Sometimes, I used to leave my day job and go to the store and check in on the staff. However, I would be so tired that I didn’t give Boba Guys the best part of myself (sounds like a Katy Perry song). Boba Guys had mindshare, but it wasn’t quality thinking. I was very, very tired.

The way I am dealing with it now is that I learned to control my energy. I minimize my big decisions, so I don’t get decision fatigue or lose willpower. I do this by deferring decisions to others when the impact has low downside risk. I recently read an article about how willpower works. For example, it said that you should make your decisions in the morning when you are fresh. I tend to agree. I recall a lot of my poorest decisions being made when it late in the evening and I just wanted to get something out the door.

You have accomplished so much. What’s next for you?

I don’t want it to sound like false humility, but I truly do not feel like I’ve accomplished anything. I’m only 31 and much of my career has been a result of fortunate circumstances. I think if I was 50 and started two successful companies, I would probably have a different take. Right now, I’m just trying to make a dent in this world, however it may be. It is likely through Boba Guys as time progresses because it’s gaining a lot of momentum. We made it a mission-driven company, so it’s already different from most businesses in the space. Let’s just hope my training up until now helps me lead it in the right direction. I have a great business partner and a talented team, so I think we have a shot.

Starting your own business can be really scary and risky. What general tips can you give others who are interested in entrepreneurship?

This is a big topic to unpack, but I’ll try to get keep concise. I think the ingredients for a solid startup are: passion, complementary and relevant skill sets, and vision.

Another tip is that you have to be okay with failure. Specifically, learn to be okay with failure even before starting the business. If you learn that you can’t handle failure while you’re ship is sinking, there will be some serious trauma.

My favorite take on entrepreneurship is the idea of social risk by Malcolm Gladwell. He says that entrepreneurs are not actually risk-loving people. In fact, they are very risk-averse. The types of risk we entrepreneurs love is social risk. I think that’s how you know if you have entrepreneur DNA. The best entrepreneurs I know don’t care about what people think. More accurately, what people think does not affect their performance, self-worth, or actions.

I get questions all the time about my post-MBA life. I can probably say that I am the only person in the world who went to an elite business school that started a boba shop. It’s not really a claim that looks good on paper. Oops.

Most of my classmates are investment bankers, consultants, or movers and shakers in their respective fields. I—for better or worse—make boba. When I show up to school events, I sometimes hear, “How’s that boba thing going?” It’s not sexy to say that you are dealing with a toilet drain issue or that the sugar supplier isn’t working out. But that’s real and I’m not really ashamed of it. It may seem trivial to some, but I love it. At Wal-Mart, I developed the habit of servant leadership, so I love getting my hands dirty and doing menial jobs. I also grew up in a restaurant, so making boba or serving customers feels like home to me. I truly don’t care what people think… in the nicest way possible!

Do you have any last advice you would give current students about life after Haas? (Anything you wish you knew earlier when you were still an undergraduate student?)

No particular advice other than do what you love. I wrote a Huffington Post piece on this that best encapsulates my thoughts.

Which Haas Defining Principle do you identify most with? How did your identification with this principle(s) help you in your personal and professional development?

Although I talked about Students Always and Confidence Without Attitude, I think the principle that defines me the most is Question the Status Quo. A year ago, my classmates honored me with the “Question the Status Quo” award at our alumni dinner and I was truly humbled. I say that because I got it in part because of Boba Guys. The reward showed me that most of my peers understood my career path and that I was taking the road less traveled. It’s always awesome to feel understood. My cold MBA heart grew three times that day!

Denice Sy
Class of 2014

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