Aliona Margulis has always had a passion for marketing and entrepreneurship. She also has a drive to receive a world-class education. It’s what compelled her to attain a bachelor’s degree in international relations and affairs from National Research University Higher School of Economics in her native country Russia.
Following that, Aliona dove head-first into the marketing profession, working as a marketing specialist at OTI Holding, then event marketing manager at KPMG and then on to a product marketing manager role at Emerging Travel Group.
She currently holds the product marketing manager title at Satisfi Labs in New York. The pathway to help her attain this distinguished position? Applying for and being accepted into our Berkeley Haas Global Access Program (BHGAP).
“I was very excited about living in California, especially in the Bay Area, because I expected to get some entrepreneurial experience, to network with founders, and to get the vibe that people are trying to launch interesting businesses,” Aliona recalls. “I was searching for programs at business schools where I could feel that vibe and get some education from one of the best universities in the United States.”
She already knew that the Berkeley Haas School of Business is one of the best business schools in the country. After more research, she discovered BHGAP, opting to study for one year so she could take full advantage of unparalleled access to the school’s top-notch faculty, courses and networks.
“At that moment,” Aliona enthuses, “I decided that this is the program I want to be in.”
Welcome to Berkeley
“The education system in Russia is 100-percent different from that in Berkeley,” Aliona explains. “One difference is the level of freedom in choosing courses. At the National Research University Higher School of Economics, I didn't have an opportunity to choose my classes and my schedule was designed for me, so from the very beginning, I knew that I was going to have this amount of classes for the first year and another amount of classes for the second year. The only two decisions I could make about my curriculum was my second language—I chose Spanish—and my thesis topic to earn my diploma.
“Another difference is that we didn't have a lot of international students,” she continues. “All my classmates were from Russia. At BHGAP, I had the great opportunity to meet classmates from all over the world, and I really enjoyed the diversity here in Berkeley.”
During her time in the program, Aliona took challenging courses and invested a lot of time getting to know founders and entrepreneurs. Those classes included Introduction to Entrepreneurship and various marketing classes such as High-Technology Marketing Management and International Marketing. Rounding out her class schedule were Equitable and Inclusive Leadership, Opportunity Recognition and Macroeconomics.
She also loved visiting Silicon Valley’s Founders Village, the largest active community of founders, investors and engineers in the Bay Area. “Everyone was very open, helpful and kind, and it’s really easy to find your group of interest. If you have an idea, it's so easy to find a companion because everyone is interested in new ideas. You feel you are at the right place.”
From Classroom to the Workforce
In addition to the subject-specific coursework, Aliona also took advantage of the exclusive career-coaching opportunities as part of the Thriving at Haas and Beyond course. “I really liked it,” Aliona recalls. “Jennifer Davis explained how our CV should look, what to put in there and what we cannot.
“After finishing BHGAP, I reached out to her when I was trying to find a job for my Optional Practical Training. I asked her whether we could have a one-on-one meeting so I could ask some questions. She met with me and was really helpful and open. Her coaching helped me build up my confidence at that time. I am very grateful.”
Success soon followed as Aliona secured OPT at her current workplace, Satisfi Labs.
Satisfi Labs is a conversational AI platform that helps businesses in the fields of sports, entertainment and tourism have two-way chats with their customers on web and mobile devices. “I am responsible for a big piece of the marketing, such as driving product positioning, creating product messaging, managing product launches, et cetera,” Aliona says. “The courses I took fit perfectly with my current job in the startup.
“The company is moving very fast from one stage to the next. To be an effective product marketing manager, it’s very important for me to understand how to do market research, how to perform customer interviews, how to find the perfect product-market fit, how to launch the product, how startup-funding stages work. All of the concepts and practices in the Entrepreneurship class and Marketing Management classes prepared me for all of these responsibilities. Now I have a much better understanding of how a startup works.
“Moreover, all the case studies from the International Marketing class are helping me every day. Thanks to those discussions, I understand how things can be done in different industries and I can take some ideas and use them in my current role.”
A Startup Mindset
In addition to meeting budding entrepreneurs and business-savvy students within the program, Aliona also stretched her networking skills with the Founders Village—both while in the program and afterward.
“I loved going there, seeing new people, meeting founders and asking them about their experience, what they're building and why they think it’s unique,” Aliona says. “Some of my BHGAP classmates were very interested after I told them about this organization and we went together several times.
“Now I have made a lot of friends from different startup companies in San Francisco and in New York. Sometimes we meet and share what we're doing. Some of them may become business partners in the future.”
Berkeley Stays in Her Heart
Giving back to the community, in October 2022, Aliona was a guest speaker in Professor Wasim Azhar’s International Marketing class and presented to current BHGAP students her years of hands-on marketing experience at Emerging Travel Group and Satisfi Labs. Aliona was also a speaker at the Product Marketing Alliance, a world-famous marketing alliance.
With Berkeley always on her mind, she has these wise words of wisdom for anyone starting their BHGAP journey:
“I recommend reaching out to people of your interests. If you want to learn more about startups, you should reach out to the founders.
“Find a local community that speaks your language. It’s highly possible that you will find people from different industries in that community. Speaking the same language will make it easier for you to connect with them.
“Take challenging classes. It’s such a great opportunity to be a visiting student at Berkeley, so take the chance to learn something new.
“Travel around the Bay Area and California. There are a lot of great places to see, such as Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and so on.
“Finally, just enjoy your life. Be as proactive as you can. If you already have 200 connections on LinkedIn, make it 500 at least. One year here can change your life if you want it to happen, so just take your chance.”