Welcoming the first cartoonist of the Stern Opportunity, we have co-founders Wilson Keng (MBA Class of 2020 and Stern BS ‘13) and Patrick Lee (Stern BS ‘13) sitting with us for an exclusive interview on Stern Ink.
Anthony Russ: How did you two meet?
Wilson Keng: We met each other during orientation of freshman year. We were actually in the same cohort (Go Midtown!). During a required cohort community service event, we were assigned to paint the same bench in Central Park.
I made a side pun about the NYU Dormitory mascot Housey, a purple-house shaped character, saying “I guess this guy will make us feel at home!” Patrick was the only one who laughed. Everyone else walked away. We knew then that, somehow, we would need to use our humor to make bad puns and generally make our classmates feel uncomfortable.
AR: Tell us what gave you the inspiration and whose idea was it?
WK: One day during lunch, I was chatting with a student from Tisch who said he had a great idea for a business (who knew Wilson had friends outside of Stern?). Naturally, I was curious, and asked what the business was. The Tisch [student] said, “Sorry, I can’t tell you. We haven’t gone public yet.”
The next day, I told a few friends the story and Patrick mentioned it would make a great comic strip. Seeing a potentially profitable venture, I exhibited core Stern leadership values by delegating all of the creative work to Patrick with a reasonable one-hour deadline. Patrick overdelivered and came up with both the name of the comic and drew the first strip.
Thus, Stern Ink was born in under 90 minutes and the first stick figure came to life. Over time, the rest of the team was assembled to draft, distribute, and market the comic strip.
Stern Ink was founded because the team believed that life at business school was often unnecessarily serious with recruiting, the infamous Stern Curve, and the general craziness of being a college student. Our goal was to bring humor into the everyday lives of our fellow Sternies by satirizing Stern culture and global current events.
AR: How were the comics initially received on campus?
WK: Over its two-year run, Stern Ink gained traction across the university, with nearly 700 students on the email list at its peak. It was featured in the inaugural Stern undergraduate newspaper, the Gould Standard, and the broader university blog, NYU Local. In fact, the Stern Ink team was even interviewed for the NYU television channel.
Stern Link took about a month to formalize. We had to decide on a cadence of the comic, build a backlog of ideas, and finalize the different characters (including Stern Guy, College of Arts & Science girl, and our mascot — Bear Stern á la Bear Stearns Investment Bank).
AR: How has the Stern Ink experience helped you in and out of school?
WK: Stern Ink was sort of a miniature venture that we had the chance to experiment with. I learned of the hundreds of small decisions related to running an organization that isn’t typically covered in business school. For example, how does one go viral? Do you offer the chance to take submissions and how do you delegate management of a shared email inbox? How do you negotiate whose comic gets featured next?
All of these different questions helped me to appreciate the details of setting up a new initiative, particularly the difficulties of having to constantly produce creative content.
My personal philosophy is always to be open to new experiences and opportunities. Stern Ink is one example of a fun, low-stakes endeavor that I can look back on with pride, that my team and I created something that made people happy. It has also been a great conversation piece and my go-to for the “one interesting fact about yourself question.” Maybe that was actually the main reason…
PL: Other classmates started to have high expectations on my drawing abilities and students actually approached me to work on other comic projects at NYU. (I like to joke my name is Patrick Lee, not Stan Lee). It was great to see, for the first time, my classmates come up with their own creative ideas. We would chat in class and in the hallways about funny conversations we overheard and how those could be made into comic strips.
On a more serious note, I think Stern Ink helped me think differently to develop my improvisational skills to come up with humor on the fly, which has helped me deal with friends, family, and clients at work.
AR: Wilson, you’re back at Stern for your MBA. What specifically drew you back to get an MBA? What are your goals afterwards?
WK: I decided to pursue an MBA as sort of an option, to have a degree that could help further my career and at the same time, give me a chance to explore other career opportunities.
I was formerly a consultant aligned to M&A and am now looking to go into more general management consulting (but am also open to interesting corporate or technology company roles). Additionally, having some work experience really helped guide me towards classes on areas I wanted to know more about.
AR: Has your first semester given you more creative ideas?
WK: The first semester has been very busy between balancing all the different classes, recruiting, clubs, remembering people’s names, asking for coffee chats, doing coffee chats, and repeating this list every week.
Over time, I’m starting to understand some of the very “MBA” aspects of the culture, which I think would make great comics in the future. For example, the whole coffee chat registration process, networking circles and Amity Hall would all make great Stern MBA jokes.
Of course, some aspects are timeless, particularly recruiting and generally living in the Stern buildings (and pizza at all the club meetings! Seriously, Joe’s Pizza should just rename themselves “Stern Pizza”).
AR: Stern Ink took off in your undergrad years. Since then, how have you been able to balance content creation while working a full-time job and now, while pursuing an MBA?
WK: At the end of my undergrad, the team and I tried to recruit new Sternies to take over the comic and continue the strip. Though we were able to find a few guest artists to contribute, it was a struggle to find a team who would be willing to take on the responsibility.
Additionally, we tried to create a network of comic strips at other business schools through their school papers (i.e. distributing to those school papers or finding contributing artists), but it appeared our supply of jokes exceeded demand and that avenue didn’t pick up traction. Lastly, we had talked about creating a new post-college comic strip to satirize work life, but ultimately decided against it (our strategic analysis of the market concluded that Dilbert has the market covered pretty well already).
At the end, my friends and I decided to end creating official new comics and just share jokes among ourselves. We did, however, decide to keep our social media accounts active for people to visit some of our older work and hopefully keep people laughing in the years since graduation.
At the Stern Opportunity, we admire your commitment to Stern Ink. Building continuity and keeping the passion alive are difficult when faced with reality — work and the school life! Keep up the great work and we hope to see original content develop through this medium.