Alumni Q&A Spotlight: Alan Donovan of Oat Shop

November 13, 2017

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Alan Donovan

Alum Alan Donovan (M.S. in Commerce ’14) decided to follow his true calling.

Raised near Boston, Donovan earned his economics B.A. from the College of Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. After internships in the financial world with John Hancock and Boston Partners as an undergrad, Donovan continued on a straight path while completing his studies at McIntire. Upon graduation, he sought employment in an established corporate environment. And though he was initially unwilling to pursue his newfound passion for entrepreneurship and start-ups that he had cultivated during his M.S. in Commerce studies, his interest eventually took hold of his imagination.

In January 2016, Donovan decided to leave his role as a Financial Analyst with Freddie Mac in Washington, D.C., in favor of working on a new café concept. The project requires an unfamiliar skill set that he currently finds himself developing on a daily basis. We recently spoke with Donovan about his breakfast-centric shop and how his McIntire education has given him the push he needed to explore new avenues in his career.

What can you tell us about Oat Shop? What makes it special?
Oat Shop serves a variety of unique sweet and savory oatmeal bowls, as well as coffee, tea, and house-made baked goods focusing on healthier options. We opened the shop in a brick and mortar space in Somerville, Mass, in January 2017, after operating a pop-up cafe out of another cafe space in summer 2016. It’s something totally new to the area. There are a few similar types of cafés in New York and abroad, but nothing near Boston.

What do you find most challenging about your work, and what about this venture brings you the most satisfaction?
I didn't have any food background, so it has been a crazy learning experience! The most challenging aspect is balancing the different roles within the organization. With a small business with a handful of employees, I spend a lot of time working in the shop, serving customers, but I’m also responsible for management, budgeting, marketing, and accounting. It’s a challenge to maintain a good balance, making sure I’m not spending all my time working in the shop or just on the business.

What experiences during your time at McIntire stay with you?
Two memorable classes come to mind: “Strategy and Systems” and “Marketing.” Much of the start-up aspects of my business came from mapping out the business strategies and putting together a business plan. These steps not only helped solidify the foundation of the business and define our vision and values, but they were also essential tools when pitching to our landlord so he would agree to lease us the space.

Marketing also comes to mind, as a huge part of our business is spreading the word and building our brand. I took away many other important lessons from McIntire, many of them related to communication and organizational behavior. I didn’t have experience managing people, so it was helpful to recall some of the lessons we learned at McIntire concerning managing employees. 

In what other ways has your time at McIntire helped you with your career?
Along with many essential business skills, McIntire has provided me with a great network of friends who have also been an integral part of starting my business. I constantly asked for feedback and thoughts from my M.S. in Commerce classmates. A business is a collaborative effort, and many McIntire folks helped me to make it a reality.

What advice would you give to current students?
Take a wide variety of classes. At McIntire, I still thought I would eventually work in finance, so I valued my finance classes the most. While they were definitely important, I wish that I gave more attention to other classes like "Organizational Behavior" or "Marketing," which both ended up being essential parts of my day-to-day. I would also advise students to keep an open mind about their career; they should try to find the career path that is the right fit for them, even if it may be different from many of their classmates.