LBS Sloan Masters
Co-founder and CEO of Chalkboard, Philippines
Having launched two startups in the past five years while working full-time, Kristine Brown has become a master at getting things done. Having decided that she wanted to grow her second startup into a global market, she is now studying the Sloan program to help her gain the essential skills and connections she needs to make it a success.
I studied for a bachelor’s degree in accounting at the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines, before spending the next seven years working as an auditor for commercial companies outside of financial services. I then moved to the United States to work as an auditor at Ernst & Young in Boston, specializing in asset management companies, before serving as director of global accounting policy at State Street, a large bank custodian in Boston, where my work focused on financial products. My most recent full-time position was director of accounting policy for 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.
In addition to working full-time, I’ve launched two startups in the past five years. In 2017, I co-founded a startup called Ikademiya Corporation. The intention was to create content for Filipino professionals, such as Certified Public Accountants and Certified Teachers, to provide them with ongoing training and education. The goal was to help them 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 didn’t really work on the day-to-day operation, so I stopped working with them when we launched Chalkboard. I was still working full-time at Fidelity at the time, so I used the time I had to commute to work on Chalkboard.
Chalkboard is an online tutoring company for K-12 students. Our current clients are Filipinos from all over the world and we operate in 15 countries. The idea was born during the pandemic; we were working with teachers in the Philippines during Covid-19, helping them digitize their lesson plans so they could migrate to online distance learning during the pandemic. As a mother, I quickly realized how difficult it was to be at home; both for the children to continue learning and for the parents to help them study, while trying to work and take care of the family. It was therefore very important for me to be able to create this on-demand tutoring platform. We were recently named one of the Top 100 Startups in the Philippines 2021. The awards were organized by the Department of Commerce and Industry of the Philippines.
In the future, I want to scale Chalkboard globally. The mission and the sector are important but navigating the ecosystem and interdependent players is complicated. The aim is to understand them as early and as efficiently as possible and to develop them. Chalkboard currently operates in 15 countries and has grown through word of mouth.
Working on Chalkboard made me realize that I definitely had the business savvy to run it, but it also showed me that running a business was so much more than that. I wanted to recalibrate my skills to give Chalkboard the best chance of success, so I decided to take a one-year master’s 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 London Business School had a wide range of talent, as well as an international dimension, that could give me that. I am always energized by learning new things and knew that having structure, being in classrooms and connecting with world-class faculty would be a great opportunity. I also wanted to study a program that was fast, as I was looking for something that would allow me to continue running my startup while going to school, so the Sloan program seemed ideal. I also really liked the location of the London Business School. London is the talent hub for professionals around the world. I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to come here.
I didn’t really think I was going to get 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 really grateful for this opportunity. It made the decision to come here so much easier. It also reinforced my belief that it was the right thing to do at this time in my life, and that it was also the right time in the life of my startup.
My strengths of the program so far have been the people and the faculty. On the first day of class, I had the impression that we all already knew each other; 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 the class has unique talents and experiences, and it’s great to have the chance to get to know these people.
I was amazed at how generous the professors at London Business School are; I took advantage of the time spent with them to ask more daring questions related to entrepreneurship, and everyone was so happy to share their ideas. Even though Chalkboard is my second startup, I feel like the first one I’ve invested enough time on, and I want access to the right resources and information so I can make the best decisions possible for the business. I feel more confident and have received so many great tips to help me move forward.
The first term of the program was focused on strategy and leadership, and now I’m looking forward to taking more specific courses that are more focused on entrepreneurship. The first trimester was also a time when I was able to spend regular time with my cohort. For the current term and the next, for example, I look forward to taking courses on marketing and financing a start-up business, as well as how to start difficult conversations through negotiation. I also look forward to meeting more people in the venture capital field, such as guest speakers and other entrepreneurs, so that I can refine my presentations to help put us in a good position when we raise funds. .
My advice to people currently in the review stage of the Sloan program would be to go ahead and definitely pursue it. It’s a year of your life, and the investment you put into it, both in time and money, will be worth it. I’m only three months in, but I can already see that coming here was the right decision. For me, the learning associated with connecting with a network of talented people 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 thought leader in the EdTech space from the Philippines. During the three months I studied the program, I was connected to other MBAs, not only in London but also in the United States and Asia, who are doing great things in the EdTech sector. So I will continue to tap into those resources and contribute to that network as well. In terms of soft skills and hard skills, the program has given me many tools and a framework to work with, especially when it comes to dealing with opportunities and problems. Being in school has given me so much more confidence, and I wouldn’t have had that if I had stayed comfortable and doing what I was doing before.