Thursday, June 17, 2004

Tuck Essay 3

I was rejected from Tuck with no offer of feedback. I think my weakest points there were the Why MBA essay and my interview. So, I would rate this essay anywhere between 'passable' and 'sucks'.

This was also the first essay I wrote for any application. So, I assume it's quite rough around the edges.

What is the most significant non-academic disappointment you have experienced?
How did you handle the situation, and what have you learned from it?

Bunny’s beautiful.
Bunny’s a good teacher.
Bunny’s the name of a classic climb in the Shawangunk Mountains of New York.

Near the end of the first pitch is a roof. One can either skirt it or go over it. As I felt my hands give way for the fourth time attempting it, the temptation to take the easier route grew stronger, but I was on the rock that day to climb the roof. I rested and tried again. And again. Three tries later, I ran out of strength.

I had just experienced what climber and author Jim Collins terms fallure. Not failure. There is a subtle difference between the two that distinguishes how far you are willing to push yourself towards your goals in the face of adversity and fear of consequences.

In fallure, you try until you fall. In failure, you let go.

Three years ago I was following the evolution of a company called TellMe Networks. Their technology, which enabled voice based access to the Internet over the telephone, was fascinating. In mid-2000 they released TellMe Studio, a toolkit that allowed developers to build applications to run on their infrastructure. I started writing small programs to test their service. This dalliance soon led to serious contemplation about potential uses of the technology. I was in graduate school at the time in an environment that encouraged dreaming big.

Dream big I did. I wanted to utilize this technology to enable information access over the telephone in India, in local Indian languages. At the time, Internet access in India was in its relative infancy. I believed this was a genuine opportunity and starting making plans to capitalize on it.

Realizing very soon that this endeavor was much bigger than I was, I worked on building a team and recruited seven people – three in the US and four in India. These were friends - PhDs and MBA students and professionals - who were excited by the possibilities and were willing to work part-time. Over the next few months, we worked on our technology prototype, refined our business plan, and finally started getting face time with venture capitalists (VCs), both in Silicon Valley and Mumbai.

Then we started running into walls. VCs wanted more reliable estimates of revenue. Potential angel investors wanted a well-defined path to profitability. And, crucially, a key piece of voice recognition technology we needed was banned from export to India due to fears of dual-use in the wake of India’s nuclear tests. As our chances of getting the technology we needed, and along with it seed funding, faded, we faced a tough question. Do we continue to push along, or was it time to call it quits?

The decision was especially hard for me. It meant the end of a dream I had pursued for the better part of a year. On the other hand, I was about to graduate with a well-paying job waiting for me. After much deliberation, I decided that the challenges were too daunting and voted to stop. The rest of the team reached a similar decision.

This venture failed for many reasons, but in part, because I let go. I lacked the confidence to carry on. The significance of the experience lies in what I learned from its failure. I did not have the skills required to alter our strategy, and thus secure funding and succeed through an alternate route. A lack of preparation caused me to let go.

In the years since, I have come to realize that we routinely face similar choices in our professional and personal lives. How we get to that moment of choice determines our actions and our outcome.

This event has had a very big influence on my decision to pursue an MBA. As I reach for my goals, I do not want to fall short again. I want to be prepared with a business education that will equip me with the skills and confidence needed to overcome the big obstacles that surely lie ahead.

I want to be in a position where I may fall. But I will not fail.


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