Posts Tagged ‘MBA’

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.

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Growing the Soil

My “Corporate Innovation & Design” class is one I’m pretty excited about (taught by Professor Jeanne Liedtka) and in our first week’s reading, a quote jumped out that blew me away. It was from a VP of Innovation at a big pharma company who said:

“It’s not just about the seed, but it’s about the soil…You know, it’s not just about having the idea or the project or the initiative, but it’s also about the conditions in the organization that enable that idea to actually flourish and get to market successfully.”

As I thought through that idea, I realized- that’s why I came to business school! That’s why I like entrepreneurship! That’s why I want to work in technology! Throughout my life and career, and in my first year at Darden, I have never worried about the ‘idea.’ I’ve never sat there and said, I really need to think of something killer- of the right idea. I’m not saying that’s not important (it obviously is)- it’s just that the idea has never been as interesting to me as what you do with it. The jobs I’ve loved, the clubs I’ve had fun in, the friends I have- these are all grown from the enjoyment I have in the soil. I like the growth, I like the development, I like the J-curve.

What is most interesting to me, and most inspiring, is how that idea becomes a thing. How that idea grows and succeeds (or fails!).

Luckily for me, I’ve always been able to find an ‘idea’ that’s interesting enough that I can jump in and try to do what I love more- build something with that idea.

What I need to learn is how to be the best at fertilizing the soil- that’s why I’m here. I couldn’t think of any awesome metaphor, but basically, I need to know finance, decision analysis, marketing, strategy, leadership, ethics, innovation, operations. I need to be even better at the soil; I’ll find a seed to grow somewhere.

UPDATE***It’s not an awesome metaphor, but I did think of a way to express it- it’s the South Park Gnome episode! I’m in school to get better at Phase 2. The underpants I care less about.

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.



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.

MBA Mondays (from Fred Wilson)

Fred Wilson is a very well known VC and blogger. A few weeks ago he started a blog series called MBA Mondays, during which he explains a topic he learned in business school- and does so in a simple way that allows anyone to quickly catch-on. It’s a great series (I actually use it to supplement the MBA Finance class I’m currently taking!) and he’s covered some important subjects. Links to his first three Monday posts below:

  1. Net Present Value (NPV): A way of evaluating future money (say, future money you earn) according to the value that future money has now. So if someone said “sell me the next 10 years of your salary,” what would that money be worth now? It’s linked to the second topic.
  2. Time Value of Money: Fred admits he should have blogged about this before NPV, but better late then never. As he puts it, time value of money is the idea that “money today is generally worth more than money tomorrow.” Determining that time value of money allows the determination of the NPV.
  3. Compounding Interest: a form of interest that (simply put), adds the interest being earned to the principal, so that it compounds as it earns. He explains all this much better….

It’s a very cool series- check it out every Monday and enjoy!

Seth