Pulkit Agarwal, MBA ’20
“The deferral is like extending your Stanford time. As soon as you are a deferred admit, you are essentially a Stanford student.”
“The deferral period was almost more impactful to me than my time at Stanford,” says the co-founder of Strive Math, a Singapore-based education technology company.
MBA, Stanford Graduate School of Business (2020)
BS, Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology (2015)
Co-Founder, Strive Math
Deployment Strategist, Palantir
“One of the hardest things about graduating from undergrad is losing your social network,” Agarwal says. “I didn’t experience that because I went to San Francisco and reached out to 50 deferred admits, and they became my friends.” We asked Agarwal to reflect on the benefits of his deferral period, and how it impacted his life and career path.
How did you use the time after receiving your BS in 2015 and starting at Stanford?
I was able to experiment and takes risks like never before. I worked in four different jobs during that time, as a consulting associate at PWC, then at a restaurant loyalty software start-up called Punchh, then as a deployment strategist at Palantir, and then I started a recruiting agency in the crypto space.
Why did you decide to go for an MBA through a deferred enrollment program?
In an invention program at Georgia Tech, I created this gadget, like a trash compactor. The judges asked me for my business model. That stumped me. I was so focused on the engineering that I hadn’t even thought about a business model. I realized I needed to develop those skills. Luckily, I spoke to someone that summer who told me about the deferred enrollment program. I spent that summer preparing for the GMAT.
Would you have done anything differently during your deferral years?
I’m actually very happy with how it went. The deferral is like extending your Stanford time. As soon as you are a deferred admit, you are essentially a Stanford student. You have access to Stanford email, Stanford resources, and Stanford alumni and events. I went to all of the alumni events, and I spent a lot of time and effort meeting up with people who also deferred but were working at the time. Those connections were so powerful for me. The ideas and intellectual rigor and thirst of this community rubs off on you.
At any point did you reconsider going to business school?
I wanted to start a cryptocurrency hedge fund, and the other two people who wanted to start it with me were trying to steal me away from business school. Some people get swayed, but I knew where I wanted to be.
How’d you get your business started?
In my last quarter at business school, I was living in Singapore because of COVID. I decided to teach an SAT course online, one hour a day for 30 days, for free. I sent a message out on WhatsApp saying “Stanford alum teaches SAT for free for 30 days.” For Asian parents that was pure click-bait. It went viral across Singapore in the international school community, and we had 150 parents register in three hours. What I learned in those 30 days is that I woke up so excited every day. I just loved it. Had I known earlier I would have done the MBA/MA Education joint degree.
What did you learn during your deferral years that shaped the way you pursued the business?
I realized I don’t enjoy solo entrepreneurship. I started a blockchain recruiting company alone, and I was struggling and realized I needed a co-founder to do it. I also realized that I enjoy being an entrepreneur so much more than doing a job. Having had three jobs in that period and also doing a start-up, I just felt so much more alive in that start-up.
Did your career goals change once you got to business school?
Drastically. Business school, especially Stanford, helps you discover yourself and have those deep meaningful conversations. It also gives you the confidence that you’ll never go hungry in your life, and always be employable. So you’re able to ask the questions: What do I really want to do? What is my passion? I found education to be the answer, and Singapore to be the answer.
Any influential classes during your Stanford MBA experience?
The most impactful class was Touchy Feely (Interpersonal Dynamics). As an engineering undergraduate, I wasn’t very socially adept. Communication was not my thing. That class put the ugly truth in front of me. Stanford did a study and found that 33% of startups fail because of co-founder infighting. I thought if I could develop the ability to have conversations with people, I can de-risk my start-up by 33%. Which is huge. My cofounder and I have fought, but we’ve always done it productively because of those frameworks. Had I not done this class we definitely would have split up.
Any advice for others contemplating deferred enrollment?
It’s a 100% must to apply, because you’re buying “optionality” for zero risk. You take the GMAT and send in the application. Once you get in you can decide whether you want to attend or not. Applying is a must.