Career Changes: From Grant Applications to Music Apps


EWMBA careers Stephanie Lai cropped

Student: Stephanie Lai, MBA 14 in the Evening & Weekend MBA Program.

Then: Grantmaking Operations Coordinator at The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Now: Marketing specialist at Smule, creator of social music-making apps such as Magic Piano, Glee, I Am T-Pain, and Ocarina. “I manage customer acquisition and app monetization. Internally, I work with product managers to optimize advertising, publishing, and cross-promotion of our apps. Externally, with mobile ad networks and monetization platforms.”

Why Smule: “Smule’s mission to connect people through music resonates with my own life mission. As an avid cellist, I’ve longed for people to experience the joy of making music. With our apps, you don’t need an instrument or musical talent – all you need is your mobile device.”

Inside Smule: “Our SF office has a grand piano, guitars, and drum set, and we periodically rock out in impromptu jam sessions using our apps and real instruments. While most company holiday parties involve hiring a band, the staff at Smule perform their own acts, including opera, jazz, rap, and a homegrown musical!”

Lai (lower l.) with the Smule band
Call them Maybe: Lai (lower l.) with the Smule band. Video here.

How she did it: "After spending 5 years in philanthropy, I realized I wanted to make a direct impact on people's lives, rather than funding others to make a difference," says Lai. "Given my passion for music, I searched for an innovative music start-up with a fast-paced, creative environment." Lai says Luke Kreinberg of the Career Management Group encouraged her to network and ask friends about any music-related start-ups. "It turned out that my college pianist friend knew the CEO of Smule, and he introduced us via email. Without this connection, I doubt I would have gotten my first interview!"

Haas connections: Two Haas alums work at Smule – the Chief Financial Officer and Director of Marketing. “I met Jessica Wan, Smule's Marketing Director, when we performed at the same wedding in 2009. When I applied, she kindly helped me prepare for my interview by answering my questions about the company. In addition, Smule’s CFO, Sunil Pareenja has shared tips on the Berkeley MBA courses he’s found to be most valuable in his career.”

Life Lessons: “From Mark Rittenberg's active communications class, I have applied Rule #6 -- don't take yourself too seriously! This reminder has been especially helpful as I learn the ropes of the mobile ecosystem. When making a career transition, it is important to be open to change, new ideas, asking questions, and receiving feedback.”

About The Author

From 2011-2013, Valerie Gilbert focused on sharing stories of Berkeley MBA student achievements and connection to the Haas Defining Principles. At Haas since 2004 and now Associate Director of Content Marketing, she still enjoys revealing the different facets of life at Berkeley-Haas to a variety of audiences.