From: Quito, Ecuador 🇪🇨
Who: MBA student @ Stanford
Quote of the interview: Life comes with good and bad things in the package. One just needs to know how to make the best use of their package
I am an Ecuadorian, I was born in Quito and lived there for 18 years. I also have American citizenship. Now I am an MBA student at Stanford and I am now also working on a climate risk analytics startup. I graduated high school in Ecuador and then went on to study in Harvard (applied math major). Right before Stanford I came back to Quito for 2 years and started several businesses.
Most of my family lives back home in Ecuador. My dad is a veteran of the American army, he worked with telecom systems in Latin America and ended up living in Ecuador. He became a farmer, started huge pineapple farms and made a big fortune on that. My mom is Ecuadorian, she got a scholarship to study soil analysis (she is a soil chemist) in Germany and worked in Ecuador after her studies. I have an older brother (he is an entrepreneur in Ecuador) and an older sister (she is a chef that now turned into a manager), she now lives in Tampa.
I like doing fitness, love reading fantasy books, watching sci-fi and adventure movies. I love dining out and traveling. When I travel I try to get as close as possible to the local people – I try to understand how they live. Ideally, I myself live like a local – before I used to do backpacking and sleep at local’s houses, now I do Airbnb.
Have you found your way in life?
I am not sure there is a way, I am definitely having fun with what I am doing and I’m excited to see where it goes. So in some sense that is a way, but I couldn’t say I plan it, it just sort of happens. I am where I am not because I planned it, but because I made the best of the opportunities on my way.
What’s your story?
I studied in a private school in Ecuador – at first, my dad was well-off and then as his money evaporated I managed to get a scholarship. My goal in school was just to stay at school, maintain my scholarship and have good grades. The first years I was a bit bullied, I was very shy, very much into books, I loved to be left alone to read and do what I was asked to do for classes. I had nice grades, wasn’t top of the class.
There was a moment when my brother kind of pushed me to try more extracurricular activities. Honestly, I feel like I just followed my brother’s steps – he recommended most the extracurriculars that I did. These activities really helped me become more extrovert. I did mathematics and debates club, model UN, I studied French, played basketball, did the student government. All these extracurriculars helped me relate to people more, I made some really good friends there. I became more social, more friendly, less shy.
School wasn’t the best part of my day. I much more enjoyed extracurriculars, especially those where I was able to set my own pace. When I moved on my own pace on the math class, for example, I did do a 2-years program in 1 year, so in the next years I would skip math classes and would spend time in the library studying something else. How did the teachers allow me? They just made an exception for me.
In my school people had a very set view of who I am and how I behave. So when I went to a different school to do model UN I was with a new group of people. This allowed me to create social experiments and portrait myself in different ways. It allowed me to test things and redefine how I interact with people.
You’d ask me why would I even spend time on extracurriculars – why I spent my weekends and evenings doing them. Well, I am a very curious person, I like to try things, so I tried them and some didn’t work out, but those that did – I really enjoyed, really really.
I was inspired by my elder brother – he studied in a nice school in the US (he got a full scholarship). However, he got through admissions but didn’t get a scholarship into Cornell University which I wanted to do – I just really wanted to get into that college and wanted to be able to afford it. I didn’t think what I needed it for – just wanted to have a job and good life after. Back then I wanted to study economics and political science.
One day a letter came that was inviting me to a summer program in the US. The reason why I got the letter was that I was really good in math and scored very high on math tests (thanks to the math club). The application was very complex – I had to write over 10 essays in less than 2 weeks, so I took a couple of days out of school and completed the application. I actually applied to some other summer programs, especially those that were free or potentially free – my parents wouldn’t be able to afford to pay them. In the end, Telluride Association Summer Program (TASP) accepted me for the program and even paid my travel, all my expenses, and the program itself. That’s how I spent my first summer at Cornell. There was no sign yet that it would be a turning moment in my life.
This program in Cornell turned out to be a very exclusive one. The program consisted in taking college classes at Cornell, the major was social studies. The rest of the time we had fun. 70% of students came from very privileged families, 30% – from unprivileged. I was the only foreigner in my class. It turned out that most kids attending the program end up going to Ivy League schools, this program is known as a gatekeeper for these universities.
So there I suddenly met lots of Americans who were about to apply to Harvard, Princeton or Yale. I just happened to be in the same place as them. All of the kids around me had been planning their route to a top school, many of them were already putting together essays, getting recommendations etc.
This kind of setup made me aware of these new opportunities – now I knew that getting into this summer program could help me get into an Ivy League school for free. I learned that top schools have better financial aid programs than average schools.
I came back to Ecuador and decided to apply to Yale – just because most of the folks I met in the program were applying there. It took me 1-2 months to learn how to make a good application, put together essays, take some new tests, and eventually apply in September 2008. Late November 2008 I got accepted to Yale. I was very happy to be accepted and immediately started thinking what was the next opportunity to take.
So I thought that if I could get into Yale I could get into Harvard and couple other good schools. In January 2009 I applied to Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford – I did only 3 because I only had money for 3 applications.
I got accepted at all the 3 schools, but Harvard offer was the best – they not only offered me a full scholarship, they would also provide me with free room & board, a free winter jacket, and one flight home a year. You can guess – I went to Harvard.
Remember, all of this wasn’t planned at all – it just happened. If you are too focused on planning 5 steps ahead…if things change – you might miss out an opportunity because you are too focused. I dislike long-term planning, I’ve always been a happy person that always has a good amount of luck. I’ve always tried to take advantage of the opportunities that came around. This is just how I am.
In Harvard I found a lot of new friends. We shared a lot of drive and interests. Initially I was going to study political science and economics, but in the end, I decided to go for applied math. I also learned that I love philosophy, so I did a minor in philosophy.
Almost all of the sides of my life were transformed. Harvard changed how I see myself, it allowed me to solidify my personality, accept who & how I am and come to peace with it. I became a lot more conscious about who I am, what I like and what I don’t, how I relate to people. All of this mainly happened thanks to a great group of friends I found in Harvard – the 6 people I felt like at home with. I was very lucky to find these people that resonated with me.
The best thing about Harvard wasn’t education – all of the knowledge you can find online. The best thing about Harvard was getting in front of a whole new bunch of opportunities and a great group of people.
The first 3 years I was so happy that I didn’t plan anything, I didn’t think about the future at all. So in my last year I realized it’s time to start applying and applied to a bunch of different jobs that looked interesting.
Also, as I was inspired by my dad’s business success, I applied to Stanford business school. At that time someone told me Stanford GSB was looking to get more applicants with major in hard sciences and less from traditional business and econ. It was a new MBA program specially designed for hard science students. Applying to Stanford I meant avoiding competing with thousands, I was only competing with dozens – knowing about this opportunity changed my game.
Again, I knew that most people from my class would be competing for rare consultancy slots in Boston, so I just went for something no one was looking at. You can tell, I tend to go for opportunities that others just don’t notice.
I applied in September 2013 and in January 2014 I got accepted, but for a batch starting 2 years later. Those 2 years I had to do some projects, do something cool and then come back – that’s what they said.
So I went back to Ecuador and started a couple of small businesses. I still consider it my biggest achievement.
Why did I do business and not something else? Well, at some point I realized that no one knows what they are doing. Especially, the experts. Most of the times success comes down to common sense and luck. So I just thought doing business would be the best application of my skills. I felt like it would be the most satisfying thing I could do, especially because I’d work with my brother and I’d help my family. I might just believe in myself a little more than others and that’s why I just did it without planning or thinking too much.
The first business was an agriculture project that completely failed.
The second one was the roses trading company – we would buy roses from the local farmers and sell them to Russia and China – this firm one collapsed after the ruble crash in 2015. The third company was an English language school – it was profitable from the first month and it’s running even now with my brother leading it.
I never felt too bad about my failures and never felt too awesome about successes – I was always thinking what’s the next step going to be. There’s too much luck involved in life for one to feel too much pride about success or sadness about failure.
On a side note, I have a neuromuscular disease – slowly, over time, one loses the ability to use his legs and arms. I learned about it when I was 10, I wasn’t fully diagnosed until I got to Harvard – there I got a hip replacement and learned that I had been misdiagnosed for many years.
So far the neuromuscular disease hasn’t been cured, but it seems like within the next 10 years there will be a drug for this. I think about my illness as of a chance – I don’t feel angry or sad about it.
Life comes with good and bad things in the package. One just needs to know how to make the best use of their package. So just look out for your opportunities – when they come, just take them.
After the 2 years in Ecuador I moved to Palo Alto and started Stanford MBA program. I am very happy with it, I had some great courses in this last 2 years – “Touchy Feely also known as Interpersonal Dynamics” (how to communicate emotions), “Design thinking”, “Ideas communication”, and “Pursuing happiness”. Now alongside my MBA I am working on a startup with a group of friends. I think I am a very very happy individual.
3 key realizations
Chance plays a significant role in life, life is chaotic. One can either try to deny or ignore it or try to embrace it. I learned that embracing it makes good things happen
There’s no need to pursue specific goals. I am just very happy in every moment. I just do things that make me happy, I enjoy the process instead of thinking all the time about where I need to come to
Do little things every day to maintain your body and mind – that helps one be on track and be happy
Who helped you most along the way?
My brother who has always been my source of inspiration. My family – they’ve always been there for me. My teachers who gave me lots of opportunities. My friends and many other people who I met along the way – they all triggered something in me that shaped me to be who I am now.
What are the top books/videos/movies that inspired you?
Hmmm….not my thing. As I mentioned, I read and watch some random stuff, I haven’t watched or read anything really meaningful.
My thing is people – I love talking to people. Some great professors that I had taught me tons.
What does it mean to be lost and found to you?
You are always lost – remember, life is chaotic. If you are ok with being lost and can still feel comfortable with being lost, then you are found.
Do you think you’ll be doing what you do now for the whole life?
I am so not sure even about what I am doing right now. I never really had a defined occupation. One is no way bounded by what you are doing.
Just do what makes you happy. Do things in line with who you think you are. No need to be anyhow bounded.
What’s your purpose?
I don’t believe I have a purpose. Hopefully, some good will come from me being in this world. Maybe I haven’t found it yet, maybe it doesn’t exist. At this moment I don’t think I have a purpose.
Get it touch
Feel free to reach out to Max on Facebook.