Posts Tagged ‘advice’

Do I Ask Too Many Questions?

I work with a lot of smart, committed, enthusiastic people. That simple fact makes it hard NOT to solicit feedback wherever possible.

(As a side note, they’re also fun, funny and charming people, which means I definitely talk too much in general because I enjoy my conversations with them. But that’s a separate post about how I need to start looking to see if people are wearing earbuds before talking to them…).

In regards to ‘questions’ however, it’s more difficult, because we all sit together, everyone is willing to help most times and they have incredibly valuable thoughts to contribute to any decision. But there’s a point of diminishing return that is challenging to measure, because efficiency requires decisions to be made – and sometimes made solo, quickly.

As things now stand, I solicit a lot of discussion and feedback. Which helps me a great deal, but potentially helps my colleagues less. I’m looking for approaches to help walk that line if anyone has some. For now, I think I’m going to only ask one question of a person a day. Basically, force prioritization on myself.

If I can only have someone’s full attention for one minute, what would I need to have answered?

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:

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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

“Don’t work in VC” – (cont’d advice from VCs)

So this piece of advice is one specifically from the venture capitalists I spoke with and it’s pretty straightforward:

DON’T GO WORK FOR A VENTURE CAPITAL FIRM RIGHT OUT OF SCHOOL.

Sounds kinda harsh – but remember, this isn’t my advice, it’s advice from VCs. Every single GP or MD I spoke with said this- some kindly, others more bluntly, but the same points. The first reason isn’t a philosophical one, but several of the others are:

  1. There are no entry-level jobs in VC right now. I participated in a three-day “VC Bootcamp” that Darden put on over winter break, where a group of Darden students met with Virginia and D.C. venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, and angels (huge thanks to Cooley Godward for office space and John May and Tim Meyers for setting this up with the EVC Darden Club and the Batten Institute- amazing experience). A lot of VCs talked about trouble with investment exits right now, and how the pipeline they have that is doing well are sucking up their cash, leaving them without money to make a lot of new investments. That’s compounded by the fact that they don’t want to cut loose companies that are doing well, but IPOs aren’t an option and M&A isn’t blowing up either. So they’re not hiring- they’re keeping expenses. Continue reading

Advice from VCs & Start-Ups

To kick-start the blog, I thought I’d start with something I know to be smart and interesting- advice from other people! As time goes on, I’d like to talk about cool inventions I’m using (quick preview: Prezi and XMind), discuss change and social innovation (Causeworld for example), and update on my experiences with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists here at Darden.

For this first post though, I want to pass on what I learned over the past few months, when I was lucky enough to speak with a wide array of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. This was a personal project from this summer- since I was interested in working in the VC or start-up world, but had no experience in it, I started reaching out to anyone I could find that did, and asked for advice. All I asked for was time and honesty, and the response I had was overwhelming. I spoke with VCs and private equity folk from New York, DC, Virginia, Portland, and Colorado, start-ups from Charlottesville, Boulder, Palo Alto and Ireland; professors and inventors from all over.

What I learned helped to shape my view of business school and what I can/should learn while ; it helped me to come to an honest assessment of what I want my life and career to include; and it taught me a lot about what a true community considers its responsibilities…namely, to help the new and uninitiated to find their way as they’re starting out. So I wanted to start this blog by passing on some of their advice in the same spirit they offered it to me- I’ll spread it out over this week, but below you’ll find the first item that always came up- EVERYONE I spoke with gave this piece of advice first.

Talk to people. Talk to a lot of people. Find people to talk to everyday- meet someone you don’t know and find out about them, their ideas, what they do and know.  Sounds simple right? But most people fail to make the time to really do this- until they’re in a situation where they’re asking for something. And there’s the rub- networking is most valuable when it’s just meeting, not asking. Now is the time to do this- start reaching out, tell people you’re in business school (1st year) and just want to hear about their experiences- I got turned down less than 5% since this summer. It works- but we just don’t do it enough. I saw an article with some quotes from an old boss, Allyn Horne, and Upwardly Mobile, the career mgmt services company he works for now, that really drove this point home.

  • Job seekers talk/email an average of 8 people outside their current company on a monthly basis
  • Less than 38% of job seekers have asked for an introduction in the past month
  • On av, job seekers have a network of just 29 colleagues (definition: peers they interacted with last 18-24 months)

So starting small….talk to people. I’ll post a few of the other pieces of advice later this week- some of the bigger ones include: look for situations that are sink/swim, what a “timeframe for success” looks like, why the right boss is better than the right job, etc. Let me know what you think!

Seth