After three months at Sauder, the full-time MBA class was tasked with a live case study on Friday, as five representatives from an MBA graduate’s company came in with a real business challenge for the students to tackle.
MBA alumnus Sean Clark and four other SHOEme executives – including fellow alumnus P.J. Worsfold – had the students come up with ways to accelerate Canada’s e-commerce market. SHOEme.ca is a burgeoning online shoe retailer that Clark founded a couple years after graduating from the MBA program offered by Sauder’s Robert H. Lee Graduate School. Based in Vancouver, the fast-growing company now has 60 employees.
Instructor Paul Cubbon, who led Friday’s class, said it’s important that students get exposure to recent graduates who have successfully launched businesses to get a real world account of how to put their training into practice.
“When we talk to our students about entrepreneurship and starting businesses, this is what’s possible,” Cubbon said about SHOEme. “It’s great for our students to see the possibilities and connect the dots between where they are and where they can go.”
All MBA students take part in four integrated case days in the first semester of the program, and Cubbon said the latest one required students to come prepared not only with a business strategy, but with a thorough implementation plan.
He said first-year business students are often best at theoretical analysis, so they can learn a lot from having the SHOEme team pick apart their ideas and explain that instead of always adopting slower or more expensive research-intensive plans, they need to develop iterative strategies that yield quick results.
At the end of the morning, Clark spoke to the class about launching the company in 2012 when he saw there was a lack of online shoe stores in Canada. He said SHOEme’s main challenge is to warm Canadians to the idea of buying shoes online.
“Entrepreneurship is about figuring it out and doing whatever it takes to get customers,” Clark said. “Profit comes later.”
Clark said he was happy to be giving back to UBC, as he did two degrees at the university. “And we got some great ideas from the students today,” he added.
After the students from across the program presented their ideas to SHOEme team members the best strategies were presented in “lightning pitches” which included: a Tinder-style app for shoes; a mobile shoe store; a new social media strategy; and a sizing algorithm asking potential customers what size fits them best from various brands.
The winning strategy, as chosen by Clark, was a “SHOEme SHOEbox” stall which could be set up at festivals as an outreach vehicle for potential customers that adds a human touch to the online shopping experience.
James McAllister, who presented his team’s SHOEbox idea to the class, said he learned a lot from Clark and his team about what really matters when running a growing business.
“It’s so helpful, for any of us interested in entrepreneurship, to hear from somebody who’s doing it in real life and knows what matters – the skills you learn both in and out of the classroom,” McAllister said.