A Conversation with Graduate Students and Co-founders of MarketSnacks
Jack Kramer and Nick Martell, Co-Founders of MarketSnacks, are well acquainted with the art of the side hustle. They’ve successfully grown MarketSnacks, the ultimate source of financial news for millennials, over the past six years as full-time employees and now as full-time MBA students. They juggle writing their daily newsletter, taking partner calls, and frequently appearing on the news with the daily demands of business school. Jack and Nick share their entrepreneurial journey and how you can master starting your own business and going to business school at the same time.
Tell me a little bit about your professional background. What was your major in college? What career path did you pursue after graduation?
Nick: Jack and I met as freshman year roommates at Middlebury College. We joked around about how we walked into the dorm room, had the same protein shake, and hit it off as friends. I ended up transferring to Brown University, but we stayed good buddies. I majored in American history and played varsity lacrosse. After school I went on to first work in finance, which I didn’t love, but it’s where Jack and I really grew the idea of MarketSnacks out of what we saw as flaws in the industry. After that I joined a really cool nonprofit called Endeavor that partners with entrepreneurs in emerging markets and connects them with resources and venture capital firms in the United States.
Jack: I was an economics major and football player from the beginning at Middlebury, but I also really wanted to study abroad. I have a little bit of German in my family background and when I was a kid I was obsessed with the Porsche 911, so I ended up being an economics and German double major. That catapulted me into a job at Commerzbank, a large German bank. I was covering German automotive industry from that bank. Everything came full circle. Balancing varsity athletics with our academics definitely prepared us to launch a business and manage our time as entrepreneurs.
So when was MarketSnacks born? How did you come up with the idea?
Nick: It was kind of like a classic, right out of school situation. Jack and I were living with a few buddies in the East Village in New York. All of us were working in finance and we weren’t totally satisfied with news we had to read every day. We quickly became sick of the jargon and the boring articles. After a few different discussions, Jack and I met up at a bar and decided to start a fun quick, clean, and entertaining way to capture what happens in business on Wall Street for our generation. I’m proud to say ever since that day in 2011 we haven’t missed a single day of market action. So although we’ve grown MarketSnacks into an exciting media company over the last six years, we’ve done it on a daily basis, committing hours to it every day and we’re really proud it’s now a fully monetized media company.
Why did you choose to pursue your MBA?
Jack: I think another part of why Nick and I started MarketSnacks is we both sought a creative outlet outside of our day jobs in finance. We scaled MarketSnacks for several years outside our day jobs, but at the same time I felt in my gut I wasn’t going to be a banker the rest of my life. So I was seeking tools to help me switch my careers and I knew that an MBA would be a great way to do that. As a banker I had great skills in finance, business development, and communications. But an MBA would fill skills gaps in my resume – such as management, marketing, and operations. Last, but not least, I’m a huge college football fan and wanted a D1 college football experience and I’m getting that in a big way at the University of Michigan.
Nick: I was traveling to meet with entrepreneurs and seeing their business challenges in my day job, and at the same time I was experiencing as an entrepreneur with Jack what those business challenges feel like as a founder. What I found was there are a lot more questions out there than answers and I thought I could rapidly speed up the amount I could learn by going to business school. There are so many classes where they just pound you with information to absorb really quickly that I also get to learn by doing by running a company with Jack simultaneously. It's really helpful to learn from professors who have already experienced this stuff and are there to help you ask better questions and get the actual answers instead of spending years kind of figuring things out on your own.
How do you handle being entrepreneurs and being full time business school students at the same time?
Nick: Just like when we had full-time jobs, Jack and I literally devote hours to this every day running the company while we’re full time students. I know I always use stuff from my accounting class in MarketSnacks or Jack and I will take something from our strategy class and apply it to building out a new partnership. It allows us to apply what we’re learning in real time.
Jack: Splitting time between our company and school is similar to when we split time between our company and our day jobs. The key is to make it part of your routine. First thing in the morning, I read my daily newsletters. I take my classes in the morning, homework in the afternoon, then I catch up on the news of the day and start writing. I try to finish writing MarketSnacks before dinner and it’s doable if you’re disciplined. I bring my MacBook wherever I go because that really helps me be efficient and take advantage of every gap in my schedule.
What are some of the top benefits your MBAs are bringing to both you and MarketSnacks?
Nick: One of the people that we look up to in the industry is the CEO of Vox Media and he came to visit Wharton because he’s a Wharton alum. I was one of ten students selected to have dinner with him. I was able to share ideas and challenges we face in MarketSnacks with a media leader and get some great, actionable insights. That’s an opportunity I wouldn’t have had if I wasn’t at Wharton.
Jack: The University of Michigan is a huge school with incredible guest speakers and different fellowship and scholarship opportunities. When I get an email notifying me that someone is coming to campus to discuss a topic I find interesting, I throw it in my calendar. I make every effort to not just go, but also to stick around afterwards and ask a question. That soft networking has opened up doors for my career and for MarketSnacks. Also, this creative atmosphere is stimulating us to try new things with MarketSnacks, such as a podcast.
Nick: As entrepreneurs, especially side hustle entrepreneurs, we’ve learned that we have to hustle and take risks to make connections that are meaningful both personally and for the business. We’ve been able to apply that entrepreneurial mindset to our business school experience.
Do you have any advice for other young entrepreneurs considering pursuing their MBA?
Nick: Personally I hear a lot of potential entrepreneurs think that a two-year MBA is too much of a commitment and a waste of time while growing their company. What we found is a couple things. One is that the time flies by. It feels like yesterday we were at orientation. The second is that you can have your cake and eat it too. You can have your business and grow your business while pursuing school. This is arguably improving your business because you’re applying what you’ve learned in real time. We’ve proven that you can grow a successful business and take an existing business to a new level while pursuing your MBA.
Jack: Many people use an MBA as an opportunity to experiment. The summer internship between your two years of a MBA is a great time to try out that business idea you’ve been thinking about. And you can apply the lessons you learn in class to your business model. At least once a week I learn something in class that I think is a perfect lesson for MarketSnacks to improve marketing, writing, pricing, etc. Not only do you have real-time lessons, you have an opportunity to try something. If your summer entrepreneurial activity succeeds, then you succeed. And if you fail, you still succeed because you learned so much. People admire taking risks and trying to make your idea a real business.
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