Having launched two startups in the past five years, all while working full-time, Kristine Brown has become a master at getting things done. Having decided that she wants to scale her second startup to a global market, she is now studying the Sloan programme to help equip her with the skills, and crucial connections, she needs to make it a success.
I studied for a Bachelors degree in Accountancy at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, before spending the next seven years working as an auditor for commercial companies, excluding financial services. I then moved to the US to work as an auditor at Ernst & Young in Boston, focused on asset management firms, before taking on a role as Manager of Global Accounting Policy at State Street, a large custodian bank in Boston, where my work was focused on financial products. My most recent full-time role was as Accounting Policy Director of Fidelity Investments in Boston, the second largest asset manager in the world. I was working on creating a framework for their Bitcoin business, which was pretty exciting.
Alongside working full-time, I’ve launched two startups in the last five years. In 2017, I co-founded a startup called Ikademiya Corporation. The intent was to create content for Filipino professionals, such as certified public accountants and licensed teachers, to provide them with continued training and education. The goal was to help them to continue to be professionally accredited in their fields.
I then co-founded an EdTech company called Chalkboard with my friend in November 2020; it’s a pandemic baby. Although I co-founded Ikademiya Corporation, I wasn’t really working on the day-to-day running of it, so I stopped working with them when we launched Chalkboard. I was still working full-time at Fidelity at the time, so I’d use the time I spent commuting to work on Chalkboard.
Chalkboard is an online tutoring company for kindergarten to grade 12 students. Our current customers are Filipinos around the world, and we’re operating in 15 countries. The idea came about during the pandemic; we were working with teachers in the Philippines during Covid-19, helping them to digitise their lesson plans so they could migrate to online distance learning during the pandemic. As a mother, I quickly realised how hard it was to be at home; both for kids to stay learning and for parents to help them study, while trying to work and take care of the family. So it was really important to me to be able to create this on-demand tutoring platform. We were recently named as one of the Philippines 2021 Top 100 Startups. The awards were organised by the Department of Trade and Industry in the Philippines.
In the future, I want to scale Chalkboard globally. The mission and sector are important but navigating through the ecosystem and interrelated players is complicated. The goal is to figure these out as soon, and as effectively, as we can and to scale up. Chalkboard is currently operating across 15 countries, and has grown through word of mouth.
Working on Chalkboard made me realise that I definitely had the business acumen to run it, but it also highlighted to me that running a business was so much more than that. I wanted to recalibrate my skills to give Chalkboard the greatest chance of success, so I decided to take a one-year masters program. I also saw it as a way to invest in myself. I wanted to learn new ways to solve problems, while making fewer mistakes along the way.
I also wanted to build a great network, and I knew that London Business School had a wide area of talent, as well as an international dimension, that could give me that. I’m always energised by learning new things and I knew that having a structure, being in classrooms, and getting in touch with a world-class faculty, would be a great opportunity. I also wanted to study a programme that was quick, because I was looking for something that would allow me to continue leading my startup while going to school, so the Sloan programme seemed ideal. The location of London Business School also really appealed to me; London is the central hub of talent for professionals around the world. I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to come here.
I didn’t really believe that I was going to receive the Sloan Alumni Scholarship in Memory of Professor Michael Hay SLN19 (1987) at first. I knew there were so many other people who were qualified to receive the award, so I’m just really thankful for the opportunity. It made the decision to come here so much easier. It also really doubled down on my belief that this was the right thing to do at this time in my life, and that it was the right time in the life of my startup, too.
My highlights of the programme so far have been the people and the faculty. On the first day of class, it felt like we all knew each other already; the atmosphere was very warm, and it was really easy to connect with people. Everyone is so open and generous with their time and expertise. Everyone in class has unique talents and experiences, and it’s great having the chance to get to know these people.
I’ve been amazed at how generous the professors at London Business School are; I’ve used the time with them as an opportunity to ask more daring questions that are entrepreneurship-related, and everyone has been so happy to share their insights. Even though Chalkboard is my second startup, it feels like the first one that I invested enough time on, and I want to have access to the right resources and information so that I can make the best decisions possible for the company. I feel more confident and have received so much good advice to help me move forward.
The first term of the programme was focused on strategy and leadership, and now I’m looking forward to taking more specific classes that are more entrepreneurship-focused. The first term was also a time where I got to spend time consistently with my cohort. For the current and next term for example, I’m looking forward to classes on marketing and financing a startup venture, as well as how to engage in difficult conversations through negotiating. I’m also looking forward to meeting more people in the venture capital space, such as guest speakers and other entrepreneurs, so I can refine my pitches to help put us in a good spot when we raise money.
My advice for people currently in the consideration stage of the Sloan programme would be to go for it, and definitely pursue it. It’s one year of your life, and the investment that you put in, both in time and financially, will be worth it. I’m only three months in, but I can already see that coming here was the right decision. To me, learning coupled with connecting with a network of talented people that you call friends is impossible to replicate outside of London Business School.
For the next step in my career, I want to continue leading Chalkboard. I also want to become a contributor and a thought leader in the EdTech space starting in the Philippines. In the three months that I’ve been studying the programme, I’ve been connected to other MBAs, not only in London but also the US and Asia, that are doing great things in the EdTech sector. So I’m going to continue to tap those resources and also contribute to that network. In terms of soft skills and technical skills, the programme has given me so many tools and a framework to work with, especially when it comes to tackling opportunities and problems. Being at the School has given me so much more confidence, and I wouldn’t have had that if I had just stayed comfortable and doing what I was doing before.