Michigan Ross BBA Sophomores Partner with Microsoft to Develop Key Recommendations for How to Increase GroupMe App Users During Strategy Course
All 629 sophomores at the Ross School of Business had the opportunity to collaborate with Microsoft as part of unique action-based learning projects during the core strategy course of the Michigan Ross BBA Program this year.
Each year, sophomores in the Strategy 290: Business Strategy course work on projects to create recommendations for companies. This year’s project was particularly impactful because students had the chance to directly work with Microsoft on a project related to one of its consumer messaging apps, GroupMe, and then present their project findings to members of the Microsoft and GroupMe team.
The Michigan Ross alumni connection
The idea for the collaborative project between Michigan Ross BBAs and the tech company came from Zoe Hawtof, BBA ’18, who is a product marketing manager at Microsoft. In her role, she works closely with the GroupMe team. College students are a key target market for GroupMe. During her time at Michigan Ross, Hawtof remembered that real companies would partner with the school to garner insights from students. So she decided to reach out to her former professor, Anu Nagarajan, Michigan Ross lecturer of strategy and Strategy 290 core course coordinator, to see if there would be a possibility of partnering with students in her class.
Nagarajan loved Hawtof’s proposal and brought the idea to the other course instructors — Joan Penner-Hahn, David Hyuck Chung, Jusang Lee, and Pablo Sanz — who also signed on. Likewise, Hawtof’s team at Microsoft was also interested in the collaboration with Michigan Ross students.
“Microsoft and Groupme were excited to partner with the Ross School of Business because Michigan Ross is a top-tier business school. Ross students are talented and we wanted to tap into their creativity,” explained Hawtof. “The University of Michigan is also a big public school with a strong market of GroupMe users.”
About the BBA sophomores’ GroupMe project
For the project with Microsoft, Michigan Ross sophomores in all eight sections of Strategy 290: Business Strategy were divided into 96 teams and tasked with developing a differentiation strategy for GroupMe to help retain the app’s current customer base and attract new customers. Additionally, teams were asked to look for insights into desirable features college students would like to see in the app.
Hawtof described the project as a “real team effort.” On the Microsoft side, either Hawtof or members of the GroupMe product and support team attended each virtual class session to introduce the project to students. Two members of the Microsoft team also attended the final presentations to provide direct feedback and ask questions.
At Michigan Ross, the Office of Undergraduate Programs supported the initiative by providing additional funding to have senior BBAs tutor and guide sophomores on the project, and Kresge librarians helped compile a comprehensive page of resources and databases to assist students.
Brooke Wrobel, BBA ’23, shared that her biggest takeaway from working on the Microsoft project was the importance of conducting primary research.
“In addition to a survey, my team and I conducted a focus group to ‘see inside’ other college students' minds in regard to messaging platforms like GroupMe,” explained Wrobel. “In the end, the information we gathered from this focus group was our most valuable data because it revealed true consumer beliefs and desires.”
Michigan Ross Professor Nagarajan said she and all of the Strategy 290 faculty were thrilled with the GroupMe project, as it provided students the opportunity to engage in action-based learning, and with the results of the students’ work.
“This project was the first of its kind, as students got to directly work with Microsoft and GroupMe,” she said. “I was very impressed with the lengths that students went to conduct primary research, as students were resourceful and creative.”
Positive takeaways for Michigan Ross students and Microsoft
After watching all 96 team presentations, Microsoft and GroupMe said they were very excited by the students’ findings and plan to use their insights to further grow the messaging app.
“The project with Ross was a great experience for the GroupMe team. We learned a lot of invaluable information about how students at Michigan are using the product, and heard great ideas about how we can improve,” said Mark Davis, principal engineering manager at Microsoft. “It was an inspiring experience working with the students, and hopefully we can make some of their visions into reality.”
In addition, many Michigan Ross students in Strategy 290 said that they enjoyed working on the project with Microsoft, as it opened up their eyes to the world of tech and consulting.
Hawtof also said that a number of students have reached out to her about career opportunities in tech as a result of the projects.
James P. Walsh, chair of the strategy department, said he hoped students were able to grow as business leaders from their experience in Strategy 290 this year.
“Remembering some of my insecurity as a college sophomore, I hope that the experience of developing and sharing ideas directly with members of the Microsoft team and importantly, have them engage those ideas as they did, will develop their self-confidence,” he said. “I am hoping that our students will stand just a little bit taller because of this experience.”