Q&A with Alums: Jacob Choi
February 6, 2023
Meet Jacob Choi (MS '18), MS&E alum and product manager at Beacons.
Prior to his current role, Jacob worked as COO of a Stanford-founded startup and spent time in venture capital. He graduated with a master's degree in MS&E, and was a Threshold Venture Fellow during his time at Stanford.
"There are moments at Stanford that you have faith, if only for a split second, that you might be capable of greatness in your career instead of the mundane."
Why did you choose MS&E at Stanford?
Modern careers require modern educations.
Technology is evolving at a faster pace than ever before; it’s impacting every facet of humanity and largely impacting the jobs available for us to pursue. The entropy of innovation is accelerating, and universities play a dual role in both driving that progress and studying its consequences. Stanford MS&E is at the forefront of wrangling this entropy, studying its wake, and educating the next wave of technologists.
In 2012, I completed my undergrad degree at Vanderbilt University with a major in civil engineering when computer science departments were mid-sized versus other engineering majors. In 2016, I realized that software was indeed eating the world, and what better place to go than the birth of software, Silicon Valley. Attending Stanford for graduate school was hands-down one of the best decisions of my life and one of the achievements I’m most proud of.
What does it mean to be an MS&E alum?
Stanford as an academic institution is extremely diverse in its various disciplines, but one trait aligns everyone that invests in learning there: a life-long pursuit of knowledge discovery. There are really special moments during your time on campus where a famous speaker comes into your lecture hall or you’re working with teammates on a project that you believe can truly become a company. It’s in those moments that you have faith, if only for a split second, that you might be capable of greatness in your career instead of the mundane. Being an alum means carrying remnants of that confidence in my daily life and being able to connect with others that share that feeling.
How did your time at Stanford impact what you do now?
The connections you make during your time at Stanford can shape the course of your future. During my first year of my master's degree, I met another student in the business school named Charlie Maynard who wanted to start a company to address college financial affordability. After our first meeting on campus, it became clear that I wanted to work with him and his co-founder Raymond Murthi. We did a summer accelerator at Sequoia Capital and then Pear VC. Just a few months later, we had raised a $2M seed round to build Going Merry, a scholarship and financial aid platform. I joined as COO, and within a few years we had reached a million students in over half the high schools in the country. We were acquired by Navient (NASDAQ: NAVI) to be part of Earnest, its student lending company.
I then transitioned into venture capital working at Floodgate, an early stage fund, with Ann Miura Ko and Tyler Whittle, both of whom have strong ties to Stanford and MS&E. Over the course of a year, we launched a crypto-focused fellowship and an accelerator program.
After about a year of working in venture capital, I wanted to continue honing my product-building skills, so I joined an early-stage company called Beacons AI as the first product manager hire. I had met the CEO, Neal Jean, over a decade ago during undergrad, but we crossed paths again at Stanford. After he and two other co-founders graduated from Stanford with PhDs in AI, they decided to build Beacons, and I wanted to join them for the ride. Beacons AI is an all-in-one business platform for creators, with incredible investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Y Combinator.
Was there a particular class or professor that really stuck with you?
Heidi Roizen, Adjunct Lecturer in MS&E, and Tina Seelig, former Professor of the Practice in MS&E—the instructors for the Stanford Threshold Venture Fellowship—had an immeasurable impact on my time in school and still to this day. The fellowship was a cohort of twelve students from various engineering disciplines, and we covered a wide range of topics related to launching and leading high growth companies. I was also assigned a fascinating mentor during this program, Scott McNealy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, one of the early computer technology companies most well known for creating the Java programming language. I met some of my closest friends in this fellowship and am still actively involved with the alumni.
What advice would you give to current MS&E students?
- Take advantage of all the incredible resources while you're there. Consider taking classes from a wide range of departments at Stanford, especially outside the engineering school, such as the Graduate School of Business (GSB) and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school).
- Meet as many like-minded people as you can in clubs, classes, and socially. Focus on building deep enduring friendships instead of transactional ones.
- Identify where you want to be in your career in 10-20 years, find people who have reached that point, and then try to backtrack what it would take to get there.