Nikolas Lazar Interview

Nikolas Lazar is a freshman at Emory University, studying finance and international studies. He graduated from Newton South High School in Newton, MA, and he served as the 2016-17 FBLA National Treasurer. During his time in FBLA, he placed three times (Entrepreneurship in 2014, Global Business in 2015, Banking and Financial Systems in 2016) at the National Leadership Conference, served as chapter president, and served three terms as a state officer. Nikolas agreed to sit down with FBLA National President Eu Ro Wang to share his experience with case competitions in college and his tips for FBLA members looking to get more involved.

So, tell me about your experiences with case study competitions in college, and how are these influenced by your experiences in FBLA?

Through FBLA, Nationals provided a really unique opportunity to get an idea of what case studies are all about, both in terms of content and techniques I learned. These have carried over to the beginning levels of doing cases in college. Also, the raw preparation in terms of working with team members, often on very little hours of sleep and in high pressure situations, really helped me prepare for college-level case study competitions. In college, we all really want to win, and create a lot of interest in team dynamics, so having opportunity to experience that in FBLA and hone those skills then has really helped me a lot in preparing for competitions at the collegiate level.

Tell us about what kind of case study competitions you do in college.

Yeah! What’s really neat about university is that there’s a really wide variety of competitions. Really any interest you have, there is usually a competition for it. Personally, back in the fall, I competed in a competition where we were researching Wal-Mart and trying to figure out how to fend off Amazon’s e-commerce presence. This weekend, I’m working on a sustainability competition where we are pitching a proposal that will help Atlanta reach 100% clean energy by 2050. These are two very different topics which may not have seemed interesting going into but have been really great experiences to learn more about.

What got you into these case study competitions?

One thing I loved in high school was having the opportunity to compete and travel with the folks I had met in FBLA, such as going to Nationals. Having these opportunities really compels you to keep on doing them more and more. Now, doing it at university and having that same camaraderie and solving puzzles for each case has kept me doing it.

What have you learned from these case study competitions in college?

We learn everything! For the Wal-Mart case study, I learned everything from random facts about Wal-Mart to tangible skills that will apply in other fields. Everything from how to work PowerPoint and Excel to how to develop frameworks for organizing your ideas. All of those skills, both hard research skills and soft skills, are useful in further studies.

What skills in college do you notice you use often, which FBLA helped develop?

Especially when you know you can serve and compete at Nationals, it develops a really strong work ethic, both individually and in a team environment. I keep my teammates accountable and keep my classmates accountable, and I think developing that work ethic has really helped a lot in college. Building off that, through FBLA you have a lot of opportunities as a state or national officer to really implement change. When you start over in college, you don’t have the same positions of power, but that desire to create change is still there, and you still find opportunities to do so.

What is something that people should know if they are interested in doing these case study competitions in college?

The most important is to find a group of people that are great teammates, and kind of ride with them the whole way. Even if you don’t win one competition, either in FBLA or in college, stick with that team and know them well instead of jumping from person to person trying to win.

For FBLA students that are entering the college admissions process, what do you believe is the most important message to keep in mind?

I think the biggest area where a lot of students struggle is communicating their message and what they have done in FBLA. Something that I have heard from college admissions officers in my own process, is this: there are nearly a quarter-million FBLA members, so while it is great you are in FBLA, you need to distinguish yourself. It might be great that you achieved the Community Service Awards or the BAA’s (Business Achievement Awards), but really what makes you stand out is to say “as chapter president, I implemented this [specific] program”. They want to see that you took your position and you did something with it, and didn’t just serve in that role for a year. Communicating those experiences, when you learn something from creating new programs and developing them as a team, that’s what college admissions officers really want to hear.

You’re studying finance and international studies in college. In FBLA, did you compete in finance-focused competitions? If so, how did these competitions in your career focus contribute to your college preparedness?

I did. I started competing in Global Business in my first two years, then dove into finance my junior year competing in banking financial systems. I am really glad I did three events from different categories because when you start to do events of similar type you learn a lot of the same information and same skills. This is great, but you’re not really diversifying. Now, when I have class about either comparative politics or political violence, I am able to go in each of these classes and apply my learning from FBLA because I got to learn about so many different topics.

What’s a piece of advice you want to offer to students who are struggling to find the perfect college for them?

I would definitely urge students to focus on finding a school that fits them. Once they narrow it down to 3 or 4 schools, I would encourage them to look up what the employment accounts for those schools are. That tells you a lot about the student body, and if you are making such a big investment (for college) it is important to look at what the return you will get on it is. You can Google ‘Emory employment statistics’ or ‘career outcomes’ and find out where people in your major go to work and can tell you if that is a school that is really focused on people into banking, nonprofits, or your major. You can tailor what you want to get out of your education by looking at that in your college decisions.

Do you have any advice for the common FBLA student looking to get involved on a higher level, from your experience as the former national treasurer?

Yeah, something I looked for in applicants for my national council was not really “were they a state officer?,”“were they a local officer?,” “were they president?” Instead, what was really interesting to me was: “in their applications, were they able to stress that they had used their time in FBLA to do something [impactful]?” I had a few members on my council who weren’t state officers and weren’t national officers, but in their chapter they created a program and were really passionate about the program they created. That, to me, as an interviewer, really stood out and that is what got them into my council over people with much higher positions than them.

What was your overall best memory in FBLA?

It’s hard to pinpoint one specific memory. It’s all of the memories you make over those four years, but since I had such a close-knit chapter, competing with them for four years was such an honor and that’s something I miss in university.

Can you describe your term as national treasurer in 3 words?

Sleepless, but quick!

What is the number one lesson you learned through your work on the national level?

When you have had these opportunities to serve in a position, it is really important to make the most of that year. Your national or state officer year goes by so quickly, and the biggest regret most national and state officer alumni have is that they didn’t do enough with the position they had for a year. There are so many officers that come back with regret. I came in running my campaign and passionate about these things, and you want to get as much done as you can in that year and create tangible programs. The officer teams after you don’t care as much if you increased membership or BAA participation, but will care and will benefit if you create programs and structures to help them succeed.

This is the last question. What do you believe pushed you to be elected national treasurer, and what made you successful once you were there?

The biggest thing that pushed me to get there was the great support system, like our state advisors Mr. Paul and Mr. Reynolds, every step of the way from being sophomore state officer and pushing me to take the next step in my FBLA career. Having a great support system is really crucial to getting elected, especially from such a small state as an officer. Once I was there, the same support system was again crucial. Having a great national officer advisor, Mrs. Smothers, was really crucial and having the encouragement from Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Paul when I had an idea at the state level brought me encouragement to execute my ideas at the national level.

Thank you so much for your time, Nikolas. Much appreciated!

Daniel Zhang Interview

Daniel Zhang is currently a junior from California. He competed in Marketing at the 2018 National Leadership Conference in Baltimore, and he placed first at Marketing with his teammate, Raj Dosani.

DZ: I’m a Junior at Dohry Valley FBLA, I’ve just been promoted to a section office in Bay Section of California and events this year I’m doing is partnership with business for chapter event which is really different from what I’ve traditionally done with tests and role-play, but I think I’ll like it a lot.

DT: Thats cool, so why did you and your partner choose marketing as your competitive event last year.

DZ: So I actually like really passionate towards marketing and I want to go into the career of marketing and management so what would be more perfect than doing that as an FBLA event. Also beforehand that I did a marketing internship at a startup company at kickstarters which gave me the background knowledge about marketing that influenced my decision in choosing my FBLA competitive event.

DT: What about your partner, his name is Raj Dosani?

DZ: He goes to UC Berkeley, he was a Senior last year he also worked in a job for sales so we both have the experience of being exposed to the marketing industry.

DT: So you felt like you had the upper edge in this event due to your background in marketing?

DZ: It helped a lot more with the role play than the objective test because it gave us a lot more background knowledge into the general market industry which was useful during the role play because we were able to show our competency in marketing terminology.

DT: Can you give us some details about how the two parts of the competitive event work and tips that you think made you succeed.

DZ: How it works is the objective test is a 100 question test like any other test and all the information was centered on marketing and the different competencies and you have 60 minutes to do that as a team on one computer. For the role play they give you a prompt and they leave you in a room for 20 minutes and you each get an index card to plan on. You do the pitch which should last 4-7 minutes and then the judges ask you questions. What I found most useful in preparing for the objective test was copying and pasting all the marketing competencies on these different google docs and I basically made my own worksheets to study from. I spent a lot of time doing online research and that helped a lot. A lot of the objective test was really random such as Econ and other business topics, definitely not just marketing. Another thing that helped was taking the different tests, like every single test we possible could find online. A lot of the questions you would find are recycled, like around 40% or 50% of the objective test. Taking the test and studying the answers will definitely be helpful because you will see these questions again.

DT: For the ordinary person competing in this event, how do you think members can become better at pitching, I feel like that would be a very difficult to learn.

DZ: Doing the role play you need to be able to think fast. You have 20 minutes to prepare and you are not speaking with a script, you are speaking directly to the judges and they will be asking you tough questions on loopholes they can find on whatever prompt you have. A lot of it comes with practice, it also comes with researching on your own about marketing. For me and Raj we both had unique experience in the marketing industry like having an internship and working at a sales position in a company. That helped a lot and it was something not a lot of students had in FBLA. It is also important to know the rubric really thoroughly, don’t just look at it right before you’re doing it. Make sure that when you are studying for the objective test you are already looking at the rubric for the role play and memorizing exactly what’s on the rubric, and the specific points they want to hear. You can speak really well, talk really pretty, but you might not have all the points they want to hear which is detrimental to the performance of your roleplay. At Nationals last year, I don’t think our speaking was top performance. After we did it, we thought we lost but we hit every single point the judge wanted to hear. There are 8 different competencies you have to hit in the roleplay and we practiced beforehand memorizing 4 different competencies each. Everytime we practiced our role play, I did my 4 competencies and Raj did his 4. We were extremely well versed in our separate 4 subjects so we were not wasting time thinking about it when we were doing the role play. It worked very well for us, I think we ended up getting 96 out of 100 in the roleplay at Nationals. We probably got some points deducted for the nervousness but you can’t really help it. Just having all the points memorizing down in your head really helps.  A great way to get practice is approaching someone in the marketing industry and doing practice pitches with them, there’s a lot of pitch examples on different websites, we personally used a lot of DECA prompts for practice pitches. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of perseverance, and it comes a lot from the background of what you generally already know.

DT: Those are some great ideas! My last question is had this event changed you in anyway, I know you were already pretty knowledgeable in Marketing, but did you pick up any new skills or expertise that you didn't possess before?

DZ: It helped me get a bit more confidence within FBLA, like going to States, going to Nationals, competing in Marketing, it really helped me learn a lot more and develop a better work ethic towards it and also the experience of speaking with the judges was a milestone this being my first roleplay event. It was really different giving a pitch to the judges and overcoming my nerves, this really helped me getting of my feet in my speaking and fast-thinking abilities. It contributed to building my character as it gave me the confidence to start a few of my other initiatives outside of FBLA.

Ninad Kulkarni Interview

Ninad Kulkarni is currently an FBLA Social Media Ambassador and the Chapter President at Pinnacle High School in Arizona. He has competed in the 2017-18 E-Business Event and placed 1st at Nationals with his teammates Bader Alrifai and Hayden Paoletti. He shares his wisdom of the process of creating and presenting a business website, all it’s nuts and bolts and headaches.

DT: When did you start working on your E-biz project?

NK: I think we started in October, we didn’t really work in the winter break because of Junior year, but the best time to start is winter break

DT: You previously said how you had no coding experience when you started the project is that right?

NK: Yes that is absolutely right, we started learning CSS, HTML, JavaScript and then we made the website

DT: What sources did you use to learn all this coding?

NK: The best source would be W3schools it's a free website that teaches you anything from HTML 3 to HTML5 and youtube video tutorials we also very helpful and you can also look up specific problems on stagnant websites

DT: Is most of the focus on the aesthetic appeal of the website?

NK: HTML does the structure of the website, like there's a text there’s a button, but CSS styles it, this button will look green and have this texture, but what JavaScript does is add interactions to your websites for example our website has unique click functions that can access a drop down. I suggest to make a flashy website that actually works. We have an auto cart you can incorporate by doing the math and implementing code.

DT: Ok, alright so after you learned coding what was the next step that you took?

NK:We were graphic designers so first we followed the design process.

But first you should research your competition guidelines, in our topic we were supposed to make a home delivery service.

We looked up last year’s topics to see what they did and we also looked up like the industry standard if you will. Then we did prototyping and brainstorming of how we can make our website look like the standard.

DT: What made you choose the theme of “Paoletti’s Kitchen”?

NK: The theme had to be home delivery service but for the name we brainstormed ideas and one of our team members was Hayden Paoletti and it sounded nice to have Paoletti’s kitchen. It had a home cooked feel to it.

DT: How well did you cooperate with your team and what method did you use to delegate tasks?

NK: So we kind of knew each other before we started so there was cohesion between us since we began, but the best way to organize and delegate work is to basically keep track of what everyone's doing. We had 3 members so I would do CSS and HTML the other person can do JavaScript and the third person could do the design process and coming up with ideas. So we kind of divided the work and it was all the same amount of workload that we were doing .

I would say I learned a bit, I did a few test websites just to sharpen my skills and for regionals and states we did not do many features. For example, our website did not work on the phone. There was kind of progression: as we learned more skills we applied more skill to the website.

DT: That makes sense, how many hours a week did u put in every since you started in October?

NK: Oh it's actually funny because we really procrastinated a lot. And we basically finished right at the the deadline. We had to code the whole day, it was not fun. It was due right after we came back from winter break but after that we learned our lesson and for nationals we paced ourselves. Pacing is extremely important for this event.

DT: How much preparation have you done for the business part of it of presenting your website, explaining it, and answering questions?

NK: Here’s the thing, we joined FBLA through our graphic design class so we didn't really know how the business side works, so we kind of had to figure it out ourselves. The way we thought about it was that we were making a website for a preexisting company who would buy our product and integrate it into theirs. So we prepared a pitch for that and then reverse engineered it to sound as if we were the company explaining our product through the website.

NK: They throw curveballs at you. They’ll ask you how many employees do you have, and we said “Oh 100”. You can use absurd number if you justify it. If you are not business oriented you should work really hard on being able to answer these type of questions.

DT: Is there any last advice you would like to give to people that are competing in this event?

NK: My advice would be not to make the same mistake that we did which is not pacing ourselves. You also have to keep in mind what your competition is. For example this years prompt is very vague so you get a lot more flexibility with your topic. Still keep in mind the business you’re doing, keep up with the industries standards. Make sure to keep in mind that this is E-business, as much as coding matters, business matters too, you have to keep a balance between both.