May 032011
Harvard Business School

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Kimball Thomas and Davis Smith, co-founders of the e-commerce site, had just six hours in Brazil to pitch to prospective investors and recruit a promising executive for the chief operating officer role.

With little time left after a four-hour meeting with Monashees Capital, the prospective candidate, In Hsieh, agreed to drive the entrepreneurs back to the airport for his interview, braving the city’s notoriously congested roads as he answered their questions.

Mr. Thomas and Mr. Smith, who are cousins, made their evening flight, and Mr. Smith got home in time for his final exam at business school.

“Between my redeye flights, I didn’t have time to study,” Mr. Smith said. “But I realized, the whole reason I went back to school was to build a business like this.”

Mr. Smith, who attends the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Mr. Thomas, of Harvard Business School, are part of a growing number of business school students rejecting traditional postgraduate path

At Harvard, some of Mr. Thomas’s classmates are applying their entrepreneurial ambitions to technology ventures. Kevin Nazemi, a formerMicrosoft product manager, started Done, a personal productivity service, last year. Daniel Gulati, a student who helped Mr. Thomas draft his early investor presentations, founded the retail site with a fellow classmate, Vivian Weng. Graduates from the class of 2010 started 30 to 40 businesses last year, a 50 percent increase from the previous year, said William A. Sahlman, a professor of entrepreneurship at Harvard Business School.

“The level of entrepreneurship activity here, and I presume at other schools, is up dramatically over the last two years,” said Dr. Sahlman. is the second start-up for Mr. Thomas, 31, and Mr. Smith, 32. In 2004, the students started, with about $20,000 scraped together from friends and family. The venture — which taught them the basics, like how to coordinate with vendors in China and how to run an e-commerce site — was profitable in its first year.

Now, the two are tackling a broader, if more complicated market.

Mr. Thomas and Mr. Smith got the idea for after Mr. Thomas tried to find diapers for his son, Jack, during a family trip to Rio de Janeiro last year. He had to visit three stores to find a package of Pampers in the right size. Struck by the lack of high-quality baby care goods, Mr. Thomas saw an opportunity in Brazil’s fast-growing market, where more than three million babies are born every year, according to data from the World Bank.

The start-up follows a similar strategy to Quidsi, the owner of That site, also co-founded by a Wharton graduate, has attracted more than a million parents in the United States with free shipping on goods for their children. Earlier this year, the e-commerce giant snapped up Quidsi for $545 million.

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