Archive for the ‘MBA’ Category

I’m a One Year Old.

A little over a year ago I finished up my MBA at UVA, loaded up the few possessions we still had in Charlottesville and drove out to Boulder, CO to join my pregnant wife who had moved a month earlier. I arrived on a Sunday and started work at Gnip two days later.

One year ago last Friday, my daughter was born.

With a new baby, a new job, a new city and a new house, there hasn’t been much time for introspection. There still isn’t, so I’m just going with what I’ve got- what I’ve realized a year out from Darden:

    • I’m really glad went back to school. Not everyone needs an MBA; I did. As a forcing function for specific skills, it was right on. After college, a lot of our education is the ‘unschooling’ approach. We learn what we like, what interests us, what our job or situation demands. And that’s great, but it can be just as limiting as formal education. While there are downsides to set curriculum, it can be valuable to have  the time and expectation you’ll use that time to learn and pass a test on something like accounting (which I hated) and financial modeling (which I grew to love). Learning those skills led me to realize #2 –
    • Being a know-it-all sucks and I’m wrong a lot: This lesson is a continuing one 😉 – but one of the things I re-learned at school was that I’m not the smartest guy in the room, nor do I need to be. Far more valuable than being the smartest is being one who can: ask the right questions, admit being wrong, align different personalities, arrive at a clear decision and accept responsibility for the outcome. I don’t always get this right; it takes practice and it takes a culture that lets you practice. I’m lucky to be in a place that forgives occasional lapses.
    • No decision exists in a vacuum – and you never know all the inputs: One of the powerful things about school was a constant reiteration of the need to take a step back and consider a problem from various angles, to dive in and challenge assumptions, incorporate inputs from others, to make a decision and honestly asses that decision based on results, and then modify as necessary. For many people (me!) that model of thinking takes practice – practice that was evident in finance/stat courses, in ethics and leadership courses and in strategy and development courses. No course existed in a vacuum, because no decision does. And you never know all the inputs.
    • Engagement is good: I remember the first meeting at Gnip I was in – one week after I left school (and my first day at work). I made a point and immediately Rob Johnson asked “Why? Why do you think that? What data points prove it?” That type of engagement and challenge is powerful but it can be shocking to a system unused to it. School (in the case method) prepped me for defending my view and correcting it where wrong. But it requires practice to keep moving forward. And I can feel it when I’ve been solo on the road for a week and return to a meeting. After a week solo, I’m not used to input. But I’m always better off for receiving it.
    • Lastly, practice is an essential part of progress. Models always need refining. There are always flaws or poor assumptions; external factors are constantly changing; more valuable inputs are always available; more experience is always valuable. Whether you’re talking about an ethical framework you’ve developed and exercised, an actual financial model you’re testing, a marketing plan you’re building or a strategy you’re developing… challenging each model is practice that refines it and moves it forward.

What I’ve actually realized is that, like my daughter, I’m a one year old.

I’ve got some skills, I’ve learned to walk, but it’s messy sometimes. Luckily I have some good people holding my hand and I’m running forward as fast as I can, building step by step on what I previously learned. But there’s a lot of road ahead.

Advertisements

How will Darden help me at NewsGator?

So here I am in Colorado! Excited to be here…and to drum up a little jealousy, this is view from deck of the Boulder apartment I’ll be living at (thank you to my lovely [soon to be] in-laws!!).

I start my summer internship at NewsGator tomorrow – as I’ve mentioned a few times, NewsGator is a cool Denver company that creates social computing and collaboration solutions for businesses. Think of it like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr etc….for your company. Information can include user feeds (like twitter updates), collaborative docs, news stories, etc.

Note: I may be waaaaay off on my understanding of some things, which I’m sure they’ll tell me pretty quickly when I get there 🙂

What’s going to be most interesting is how I apply what I learned in my first year to the real world. B-school’s been great; I love my classes, professors, colleagues and friends. And I’ve learned a ton. But I’m intrigued to see how I actually apply any of it. The Darden case-study method hopefully gives a leg up over some MBA programs in ‘application’ of MBA concepts, but we’ll see. I’m excited look back at the end of the summer and see what I’ve used from different classes- marketing, operations, decision analysis (stats), finance, etc. If I have to build complex statistical models, I assure you my professors will be getting some heavy email traffic….

At the end of the summer I’ll post what I used, but I will definitely be depending on two truly valuable skills that Darden taught me- skills that are valuable no matter what the job:

  • Ask questions: Darden teaches you to question your own answers as well as others’ answers. If there’s one thing the case study method forces, it’s how to challenge a thought and drive down deeper until you understand (as well as how to respond to someone else’s challenge of you!). I truly believe that questioning is a learned skill and one that requires practice and dedication. We’re all reactive to what we hear and see; it takes practice to hold your own opinion up to the test when your gut reaction says “this way”.
  • Look at it from different perspectives: It’s funny how much of an expensive education comes down to the kindergarten maxim of “walking in someone else’s shoes,” but it’s a valuable perspective and one that was drilled into us in multiple courses. Looking at a decision or problem from multiple angles often sheds light on an issue- and surfaces assumptions that would otherwise go unnoticed. If you’re a finance whiz, try looking at a problem from an HR perspective. If you’re down in the weeds, try looking at it from a 50,000 ft view instead. Every person in every position makes assumptions; failure to step out of your perspective means greater risk of not identifying the possibly dangerous assumptions you’ve made.

So wish me luck! I’m looking forward to a great and amazing summer.



Rice Husk Power in India: Guest Blogger Samir Shah

Samir Shah, a classmate at Darden, guest blogs today on a visit our class had from Chip Ransler, co-founder of Husk Power Systems, which delivers power to over 50,000 rural Indians in a financially sustainable, scalable, environmentally friendly, and profitable manner. Samir’s post below:

****************************************

https://i0.wp.com/static.younoodle.com/pictures/27/7d/7c/49147853881fe0_64653245.jpg

What stinks?

Look around your immediate location.  Take a second to analyze what’s there, the purposes those things serve, and how they could be made better.  It might be a small issue like the ergonomics of your computer mouse, or something more significant, like the difficulty of keeping documents organized (As you might have guessed, I am looking around my own desk right now).  Take another second to think about how you would fix it, and what you would need to accomplish that fix.

So what stinks?  And how can you make it less stinky?  Chip Ransler, co – founder of Husk Power Systems recently discussed this idea with our Entrepreneurial Thinking class.  He felt that ‘what stunk’ was the fact that 350 million individuals in rural India lived lacking reliable electrical power.  What stunk even more is that these individuals could not be part of the economic revolution currently revitalizing and invigorating much of the country.  Rice, a large agricultural product, produces a waste product, rice husks, which were also being wasted.  That stunk too.

Now what do you do?  You found something that stinks, something that needs a solution.  Ransler and his partners found a way, through technology and the free market, to develop a power system that used rice husks to generate electricity for villages in rural India.  Facing obstacles like working with clients who are not easy to reach, ‘not in tune’ with paying for electricity (read: they usually steal it), a 40% payment default rate, and a corrupt government, Husk Power has grown to reach these rural Indians and provide power solutions to more and more people.

It has been largely successful, and the exact details of their growth story are made clearer on the company website. The story of Husk Power Systems is inspiring and compelling, and Ransler brought forth some key ideas in developing solutions for problems that stink.  So what ideas are relevant for aspiring entrepreneurs and creative thinkers?

  1. Get it done.  Put your feet to the fire and get your idea out there.  You need to have passion that borders on insanity and be willing to go to the mat for your idea and vision.  Be ready to sacrifice (Ransler, along with his partners, lived in rural India for months at a time to get the system running properly), adapt, and give up what is secure.  Finally, talk to people.  Then, talk to more people. After you finish talking to everyone, find some more people to talk to.  Communicate your idea so that you can find a way to put things together.
  2. Know your customer and frame your idea properly.  Husk Power wasn’t giving away electricity, but selling power units to a market that had a demand for energy.  They tailored their product to their market, and made sure it was a sustainable way to earn revenue, grow, and maintain the initial objective of fixing what stinks.
  3. Ransler talked about the concept of second and third right answers.  I probably need more time to digest this idea, but he noted that while developing a power solution was the first right answer, subsequent right answers came from adapting ideas to develop the target market – for HusK Power, this included selling smaller amounts of power, and having customers prepay for power, bringing the default rate from 40% to 0%.  These second and third right answers have helped Husk Power develop and grow, reaching more people in an ever expanding market, which has in turn helped them develop their technology and infrastructure and continue the cycle upward.

Ransler didn’t talk much about the effect of injecting this power system on rural Indians.  I can only imagine how the company has allowed thousands of people to expand their productivity.  He did give us one quote from a local resident, who noted that “We gained independence from England 60 years ago, but it feels like we just gained our independence today”.  I have to admit, this quote choked me up just a little bit – the image of rural Indians being empowered was an inflection point in the presentation being made – things didn’t stink as much for these folks anymore.

Having visited India, and having family who grew up in lower class areas of the country, I can empathize with this quote, and it made me stop thinking about the story of entrepreneurship and start thinking about the power of the free market to fix what stinks.  In what some might call the heart of human poverty, an idea and product have been developed to promote social good and economic development.

So what stinks?  What can you do to fix it?

Samir Shah

Guest Blogger: Kyle Hawke of Whinot on” Top 5 Questions that Kill Innovation”

Kyle Hawke, an MBA colleague at Darden, has just gone live with the platform for the company he founded – the very cool Whinot.com, which, “Provides a crowdsourcing process and web platform for SMB’s to identify and reward only realizable solutions to their operational and organizational issues. Whinot also provides a marketplace for freelance consultants to sell or share existing solutions and find consulting opportunities.”

It’s a very cool idea, and I’ve already put my profile on there- learn more and build your profile here.

To celebrate his launch, I’m republishing (with his permission), a well-thought out (and crowdsourced!) blog post Kyle had earlier this month on “The Top 5 Questions that Kill Innovation.” His blog post is the section between ***** below:

**********************************

Flowing from a recent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, “How to Kill Innovation: Keep Asking Questions”, I asked a question in a few LinkedIn groups to get a response to the following question:

What’s the #1 question that kills innovation?

This simple question generated about 30 responses in three communities: Whinot, Consultants Network, and Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing. This post is an attempt to pull out the themes and highlights from those discussions. In other words, this blog post is crowdsourced.

1) “Did you get management approval?” This came up a variety of ways, but the main point is that the organization itself (or the people leading it) can kill an innovation. One good example of this is organizations which (unintentionally or not) lead innovators to have a sense of fear of failure.

2) “How much does it cost?” or “Will it make money?” For even the best project managers, it is nearly impossible to accurately assign financial metrics such as ROI or NPV to an innovation. For some innovation, especially for breakthrough (rather than incremental) innovations, you have to ask yourself how heavily should these SWAGs should be weighted in the decision.

3) “How long will it take?” Certain industries and certain innovations require a long, laborious road to market. Industry certification or government regulation may slow down this process. For the innovation owner or other stakeholders involved, stalled progress or lack of momentum can be demotivating. Communication of regular status updates should be the norm during this period.

4) “Can I get it in writing?” Too often, putting something “in writing”, just makes it easier to “file away.” But when something is put in writing, it should be done with brevity and concision. It should fit on one page. A recent blog post on ReadWriteWeb.com reiterated this same point as it relates to business plans.

5) “Do we have the bandwidth?” There may be a variety of resource constraints (e.g. human, capital) preventing an organization from pursuing every opportunity that comes its way. That’s fine. But the key is to achieve a well-balanced portfolio of projects – some easy, some harder, some incremental, some breakthrough. If a must-have project comes along, consider alleviating the constraint by pursuing it in an open manner – through an external partnership, through acquisition rather than organic growth, or through the use of contract/freelance labor rather than full-time employees.

Throughout the discussions, I had my virtual hand slapped for thinking about this question with negative overtones (e.g. killing innovation rather than promoting it). These points are well-taken. And they lead to the final, most important point that was voiced by several people in the discussions:

No matter what the question, it is up to the innovation owner to be ready and able to answer them – clearly, concisely and effectively. Organizational change does not come easy and it does not come cheap. A strong and convincing owner is just as important as the innovation itself.

Thank you to all of those who helped crowdsource this blog post: Andrew Blair, Kevin Skislock, John Heun, Brian Waechter, David Albachten, Ann McLennan, Mike Buckley-Jones, Allan Edun, Ray Joseph, Sirisha Panchangam, Ed Kislauskis, Mark Liao, Randy Van Heusden, Patricia Duarte, Chris Hughbanks, Lars Dalen, John Michitson, Kevin Skislock, Lawrence Lau, Gary Oosta, Johan Oelofse, Koos Ris, Marc Hirsch, Detlef La Grand, and Karen Wong.

**************************************

Thanks for the post Kyle and good luck with Whinot! I’m looking forward to hopefully contributing as a freelance consultant!

Ride the Train, See the Culture (India Post #2)

Took me a week longer to get to this than I thought….and it didn’t help that I kept falling asleep at 9:30 every night…..

Last post I talked about the kaizen and later this week I’ll talk about entrepreneurship in the slum we visited, but today I’ll post a little about the cultural aspects of our visit . As we were in the plant all week working, our tourism was limited to the Sunday after we arrived and the Sat/Sun following the week of work (we flew out Sun night). Rather than give you the play-by-play, which would be boring, I thought I would pull out some of the more interesting highlights and cultural differences, in no particular order. To put it simply, though, India blew my mind.

I’ve posted all my pictures on Picasa- here’s the link if you’d like to look. I’ll also call out a few specific ones below.

Train Rides: On the suggestion of one of our group, we jumped on the train that went through Mumbai, and I’m glad we did- it was my favorite part of the that day. I took a pretty good video of it –  the train has fully open doors so you can lean out, which I do while filming, and then give a quick pan around the compartment. (see India Train Ride Below)

The woman who is patting the man’s head about 15 seconds in is a hijra– a “third gender”. This could encompass a hermaphrodite, a eunuch, a transvestite, and any variation of a number of themes that deal with a middle ground between traditional male and female. While everyone we met told us that Hijra are considered good luck omens, and it is unlucky to refuse them small change, or berate them (and you might get cursed in return), they are very low caste, and are not allowed to work “normal” jobs and are kept removed from “normal” culture in their own living groups. A few outside reports indicate systemic violence against hijra, but I don’t have enough information to speak accurately to that.

Colors & Energy: I’ll get more into the energy aspect of this tomorrow when I talk about entrepreneurship, but the general energy and bright colors of the city really drove the pace of life. Everything was always moving and changing. Traffic is a great example- it is the most insane thing I’ve ever seen, yet there were no accidents. People make turns across lanes of incoming traffic- no signal, just plunging in and hoping other cars stop. And they all know to stop! It’s a delicate and dangerous dance, but exhilarating to be in!Streets and buildings are draped in colors of everyday life- laundry hanging off balconies, revamped American advertising pasted up and changed to reflect India.

Race: One of the more shocking moments was seeing a Benetton store and realizing that most of the models for India Benetton are white!  I’ll let anthropologists discuss the ramifications of color identity in a post-colonial society- for now I’ll just say that there are a lot of TV ads (for products like Oil of Olay) focused on “turning skin fairer.”  This attention to “fair” skin became very clear to the members of my group who were blond. While I myself was not subject to to the rapt attention of the masses, the “blonder” contingents of our procession were. The tall, blond male in our group was called “Brad Pitt” several times, and at the Gateway to India, people would come up to take pictures with him. Many people also tried to sneak in photos with the two girls in our group- they would stand next to them, then raise their camera phone and try to get a quick picture of them standing next to the girls. No one wanted a photo with me though. Our tour guide asked if I was an “americanized” Indian. I’m not. Nor am I Harman Baweja, no matter what one blind hotel concierge thought…..

Hospitality: While the hotel we stayed at was obviously very hospitable (nice job ITC Maratha– great buffet, gorgeous place, great service), everyone we encountered outside the hotel was welcoming as well.

While occasionally beggars and street vendors could really cling to you, and one of our party had to knock a few hands away from his wallet, for the most part we were made to feel very welcome. Everyone speaks a little English, and most people speak very good English, so you are able to get around. People ask where you’re from, and want to tell their experiences with other Americans (if any) and seem genuinely happy to see you visiting their country. I only felt unsafe once, in a somewhat “iffy” section of a large market section of town, and even then, I felt safer than I do sometimes in D.C. Everyone really wanted to engage in conversation they wanted to ask questions, they wanted to hear what we thought, they wanted to warn us not to eat the street food….everyone was extraordinarily welcoming.

Poverty: What was most striking about Mumbai- which kinda reminded us of L.A., given the crazy freeway and the spread-out nature of the city (and a few palm trees here and there)- was the close proximity of wealth and poverty. While I’m sure there are “nicer” sections of the city and “poorer” sections of the city, the two are integrated quite often. There’s an enormous amount of construction, and new buildings seem to spring up in the middle of desolation. Million-dollar rowhouses on the beach are next to shanty-towns slums; shopping centers have security guards checking everyone who enters….and I believe, stopping beggars from entering. The city is moving at such a pace that these two populations are thrown into contact again and again, until growth draws it’s breath once more and sends them hurtling apart till the next conflict zone.

It is the hardest thing in the world to look a child in the eyes and refuse to give money you know you can spare, but we were warned time and time again not to, as most of that money goes to “bosses” who run the beggars, and also leaves you vulnerable to another hundred beggars who suddenly appear as your money comes out. That reasoning doesn’t make it easier though…..

It was definitely a fantastic experience, and I don’t think I’ve really thought and worked through it all yet. So I apologize if these seem to be random and unconnected mumblings. I enjoyed my time in Mumbai- although I was ready to go home, I was also sad to leave. There is a passion and energy and drive there that I connected very strongly with- I’ll speak to that more in my next post, when I talk about the businesses in the slums we visited.

Why Have a Blog?

This recent blog post from Fred Wilson really captured the main reason I’m trying so hard to make this blog a sustainable success. His post is about owning your online brand, and a few of the main reasons to do that:

  • You don’t control the internet. Unless Google is reading this. In which case, I’m sorry. For most of us, others are going to write things and post pictures of us. Our image, whether good or bad, is portrayed in a context that is out of our control at certain points. Yes, we can ask friends to take a Facebook photo down ( ibanking and consulting-track MBA students do that all the time during recruiting), but some things are out of our control. By owning a blog, or twitter, or creating specific themes in our social media profiles, we can offset those portrayals and tilt them towards the image we prefer.
  • Blog as Resume: When you don’t have a background in a specific area, or even when you do, and when you want to highlight that experience, a blog allows you the chance to showcase your thoughts, what you’re learning, and really drive home your dedication to certain areas. By the time I graduate with an MBA, I want to be able to point back to my blog and say- “I’ve been writing about tech, innovation, and start-ups for two years; here is how I think.” Fred has a nice quote:- “We have hired all of our junior investment professionals largely on the basis of their blogs, not their resumes or linkedin profiles. You can learn so much more about a person by reading their blog.”

I’ve talked to other students at Darden about blogging- there are two main reasons they don’t blog. The first is time, which I understand. If it isn’t a priority for you, you won’t write, and the blog will die. So yeah, time is hard, especially if it isn’t really important to you.

The second reason is a bit stranger though- a lot of people say they’re worried that they’ll be punished for what’s on their blog. Punished in the sense that a future employer might not respect what what they’ve written, or might disagree with them. Punished in the sense that they may seem ignorant in what they write, and that  might count against them.

I hope they’re not right, but I don’t know. What do you think?

Tech RoundUp: NewsGator, Gist, Jasmere

Long time no blog. Lotta work this past week, then went out to Denver to meet with the company I’ll be interning with this summer, NewsGator.

Which brings us to the trifecta of topics for today- 3x the fun in a post of one. Topics of the day: Work, Network, Shop. Or, more specifically, three awesome companies/apps/things.

  • NewsGator: I’m psyched to be working for these guys this summer. The company was great, everyone seemed cool, and the product/services are interesting. The work I’ll be doing should be fun and challenging, and my boss is really great (I get extra credit for saying that, right Walker?). Working in Denver will be a blast, and my in-laws place in Boulder (where I’ll be staying) is amazing. Looking like a great summer already. If you use the iPhone, download NewsGator’s “netnewswire” app (yes, it’s free!). If you’re looking for a good desktop RSS reader that can integrate with your Google reader and subscriptions, check out FeedDemon:

  • Gist: Enough about work. Walker showed me a program called Gist and it’s pretty cool. The premise is simple: Know More About Who You Know. The program pulls contacts from Outlook, Gmail, LinkedIn- or even a list you create in Exel- and then builds a contact info database for you to use. Not only does it search the web for information on them (news stories, etc.), but also pulls feeds from social networking sites (Twitter, Facebook, etc.). When you click on a contact’s name, you can see all public news, social media feeds, previous email correspondence, calendar appointments you have with them, etc. I’m still figuring out the setup, but I can already see how useful this could be. Due to the heavy amount of data it’s pulling, it can sometimes be a little slow-that’s my only complaint.
  • Jasmere: A friend put me in contact with a cool DC entrepreneur last week, just for a fun discussion. He’s created a website that uses economies of scale to help consumers purchase goods at a lower cost. They identify quality vendors that don’t have the budget to advertise, and negotiate a discount with those vendors. You go to their site, and see what that day’s offering is, and how long you have left to get in on the deal. Once you sign-up for the deal, your credit card is NOT charged yet, but you have committed to the purchase. Then, the more people that purchase, the lower the price goes! So if you sign up when the price is at $14, that’ s the most you would pay, but if 10 other people sign up and the price drops to $10, you pay $10, not $14. Very cool site, very cool guy with a lot of great experience.