Student Profile: Easy Office
Two second year students, Jeff Russell and Amy Karsen, were winners in the Connecticut Collegiate Business Plan Competition. The competition — sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, the Apple Pickers Foundation, Connecticut Innovations, and the Entrepreneurship Foundation — is open to graduate and undergraduate students attending college in Connecticut. Winners receive a $10,000 start-up grant and were announced on April 25 in New Haven.
Below is a profile of Jeff Russell, founder of Easy Office:
I’ve always been passionate about helping people become more efficient. It’s kind of a weird thing to be passionate about, but I studied industrial engineering at Georgia Tech, and industrial engineering is all about how to create systems and processes to make things more efficient. I joined Arthur Andersen, where my job was to make companies more efficient. It seemed a pretty logical transition.
I’ve traveled a lot, both for work and on my own. I volunteered for a summer in Papua New Guinea; I spent a year in Australia volunteering with troubled kids. The more places I went, the more I saw a gaping need for development. People really needed help, and being 22 or 23, I wrestled with should I go and make a pile of money to give these people, or should I use my skills to help? With some people I know, I started the Momentum Group, which takes business professionals overseas to help entrepreneurs and aid groups get up and running, set up a website, or learn to run more efficiently.
About four years before coming to SOM, I went to work with a company that provided graphic design for Fortune 500 companies. I lived in Bangkok, and I was responsible for a team with people in seven countries. My son was born in Thailand, and I reached a point where I decided I needed to dedicate more of my life to helping people than just nights and the occasional weekend. I decided to take a step back and pursue an MBA. A lot of people think after business school your only choices are between making a bunch of money or doing good by working at a nonprofit. I never saw a reason to separate the two, and I was thrilled to find a similar philosophy in SOM.
I’ve come to believe the greatest good I can do for the greatest number of people is to mobilize and gather resources and systems to help them make their lives better. I came to Yale with the idea of building a business model around this. I realized a long time ago I could never work at a nonprofit. I hate raising money. I’m an engineer, not a salesperson. My idea was to create a fee-based structure to help people. We’d provide back office services to small- and medium-sized nonprofits, which rarely have the staff to handle that work. Plus they would much rather focus on mission-related work.
Here’s the amazing thing about SOM. My wife and I decided to see if a handful of students would help us with the work of getting the idea off the ground. And we were able to recruit about 20 fellow first-years — that’s 10% of the class. Basically, the workload for them was like another class. And they got no credit for it, nothing, so it was just to help me out and, in turn, help out the idea. Dean Podolny, Professor Oster, and Professor Brewer all coached us on the project and provided feedback, and really helped us through the process. At the end of the project Amy Karson ’08 approached me about getting more involved. Now we’re essentially partners – she’s handling sales in the Northeast. After graduation I’m moving to Boise to run operations. And as a bonus, there are over 250 environmental nonprofits nearby in the Yellowstone region. And they’re all small, and they need help. And we’re happy to provide it.
Interviewed on April 10, 2008.