Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Wharton Feedback

Finally, closure.

Today I got my feedback from Wharton about my application. And I feel much better. Alex Brown definitely did a Bill Clinton - he's got me raring to go off and spend the next few months working on sending PowerYogi to Wharton ;-)

The session lasted 12 minutes and it was very informative and to-the-point. Alex started with some stats. Wharton received around 6000 applications last year, about 15-20% below historical numbers, same as other schools. But, the quality of applicants was top-notch as usual. The average GPA of admitted students was 3.55, average GMAT was 715 and average work experience between 5 1/2 - 6 years.

The first comment he had was that my numbers were outstanding relative to the above figures. The biggest drawback was applying in the third round. At that stage of the process, they are looking for something very substantial that stands way out of the ordinary. And my application did not have that. I did not distinguish myself adequately for the competition in round 3.

That said, he said that they felt it was a strong application. They saw good things, and my essays were pretty good too. I asked about essay 1 and he said that the goals were fine, and the Why MBA, Why Wharton were well answered. My recommendations were strong, and my interview assessment was in line with the rest of the application, a good thing according to Alex. The interviewer also noticed some strenghts with relation to my volunteer work and goals.

He asked me what I'm doing at work, and why I applied R3. Then, we talked about reapplication. He advised me to reapply Round 1 unless there was a drastic situation like a change of job. He said I should be able to put together a strong application with updates from the past six months or so at work, showing growth and leadership. About the goals, he said that I could have a more definite path from W to my entrepreneurial ambitions. Also to focus more on pure entrepreneurship in the re-application. (I don't recall why I took down 'pure' entrepreneurship in my notes !). I also have a note that says to talk more about entrepreneurial experiences. I asked feedback on the 3 other essays and thoughts on which they think I could re-address. He said that they didn't have a specific recommendation, but that I should pick the topic that best fits in with the theme and context of the re-application.

Finally, I asked if they saw any specific weaknesses in my application itself, or the picture it potrayed of me, and the answer was negative. There were no explicit weaknesses, but they were really looking for something that distinguished my R3 application - a real hook to separate it from the rest, and that wasn't entirely evident.  

As I got off the phone, there were two insights he offered that stood out. First, he said that they did not have any specific areas of improvement they identified. But, that it was probably a good thing because if there were indeed specific things to do, then it means I would have some work to do to get to the point of being a strong applicant. That is an interesting thought. Secondly, I mentioned that I have started to help an ex-boss with his startup venture. His take on it was to talk about it in the reapplication. What it shows is that despite being denied an admission, I have taken steps to pursue my goals - this is a testament to the integrity of my stated goals. Hmm, it does sound pretty impressive when put that way !

I feel good. I obviously knew the rate of acceptance in the 3rd round before I applied. It was due to my own mismanagement of the application process and it is entirely my fault. Responsibility taken. And, lessons learned.

So, we move onwards and upwards. I am glad that my goals, and reasons for an MBA, are in the right place. I think it would be disingenuous to put a different spin on those just so I could make it to b-school. What I do need to do is refine and concretize them, and explain more eloquently how I plan to get there from after W. I will take this feedback, talk to people for their insights, and start putting together my next set of essays.

"silent gratitude isn't much use to anyone", said Gladys Browyn Stern.

So, before I go off and think about next year, I would like to extend my sincere thanks to Wharton's admissions staff and students. These folks are, in my experience, the most professional, open, and genuine team out there. They set a standard for the admissions process that no other school even comes close to. I see it as respect for the efforts that prospective students put into crafting applications. From start to finish, there is someone to answer the most inane of questions on the s2s boards. A call to their offices has always gotten me the information I was seeking. There is easy access to students and alumni to help understand the school. And who are more often than not willing to help with essays etc. Finally, their offer of feedback to almost any applicant who wants it is extremely generous. I don't understand certain schools' indifference to offering feedback, others' offering it to select candidates, and yet others' shying away from it stating resource constraints. C'mon people, if Wharton can do it, you can too. If you cared enough to want to, that is.
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Monday, July 26, 2004


A year ago this time, I was into the last days of my preparation for the GMAT. It's that time of the year again and a whole new set of applicants are getting ready to spend a couple of hours under the watchful gaze of security cameras, staring at a monitor trying to crack them multiple choice questions. If y'all get a sudden urge to contemplate the bigger meaning of life and why you are in a dark cubicle in a strange room, rest assured it's a normal reaction. Jokes apart, it can be a pretty nerve-wracking experience. Good luck to every one making the trip to the testing center. Stay calm, go prepared, and hope you get the scores you want.

I followed some links recently from Dave's blog to GMAT forums. They seem very useful, but I am glad I didn't spent time on those when I was studying for my test. Nothing against these excellent resources, but I was quite intimidated when I read thru them last week. Every third question posted seems to have someone replying that they got it in 5 seconds using a particular method. And there are replies that need 10 more posts for clarification of what was being done. I would probably be going around in circles trying to figure out all the information.

Absent these sources, my strategy was pretty low-tech, especially for quant. GMAT questions can be bunched into categories - ratios, permutations, trigonometry, etc. All problems of a kind can be solved similarly. Once I found a way to answer a particular type of question, I worked on a bunch of related questions using the same technique. For e.g., I would convert percentage problems into real numbers using 100 as the base. This is not the most elegant or time saving way to solve these problems, but it was one I was comfortable with. So, anytime I saw a problem of this type, I knew what I was going to do. That settled, the next thing I worked on was speed. Doing problems over and over made me faster. I think that if I had tried to master every new technique of solving a problem that I came across, I would not have been that effective. Essentially, I took out the 'how' of solving a problem from the exam and concentrated on doing it quickly, giving myself time to check my answers and finish in time. Obviously, there are the surprises, and those were the tough ones for me.

Of course, each person has a different way of approaching the exam, and this was mine.
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Friday, July 23, 2004

Entrepreneurship and MBA

I heard something very strange today, which actually made me step back and think about my applications. My goal in going to b-school is to be an entrepreneur. I was talking with a friend about this and she asked if I had been an entrepreneur before - she thinks schools will most likely not accept you if you haven't but profess an inclination to do so in the future.

Is there any truth to this ? Does one have to have had entrepreneurial experience to demonstate that s/he can be one in the future ? Can someone enlighten me if this is a valid argument ?

I, for one, don't think this should be the case (if indeed it is). There are tons of non-consultants who want to be consultants, and non-bankers who want to be bankers. Why should entrepreneurs be any different ? Of course, the candidate should prove that they have the aptitude and the smarts for risk-taking, working in an unstructured environment, building an organization etc. But, I suppose aspects of these can be demonstrated from working in the biggest of corporations.

While on the subject, I am increasingly intrigued by Columbia. This is obviously not a school that one (I, to be specific) would associate with entrepreneurship at first glance, but they do seem to have one of the most solidly structured programs for it. Add to that the resources of the Lang Center, a b-plan contest (which every school seems to have), clubs, access to labs/research at the various schools at Columbia etc. Additionally, there are quirky extras like an outrageous b-plan contest, and the chance to actually put yourself in a VC's shoes and judge other b-plans. The school also funds promising ideas and takes an equity stake in the startup. I need to try and get in touch with students/alums to talk some more.

In thinking about C, another intriguing thought occured to me. If you had to go to b-school with a goal to starting your own shop in the future, what kind of network would you like to build ? I would argue that a network of like-minded free spirits is a great-to-have, but probably not that useful when compared to, say, a huge network of money wo/men. From my experience, there is a certain method to the madness that is starting a company. The people who start it are typically small groups that have worked together and know each other well. The company I work for, for instance, has had several employees leave and start on their own. The glue that holds them together is good chemistry and suitability for the initial roles of the venture. There are too many variable at play to expect one to get together with a bunch of classmates a few years out and start something. I would, of course, be remiss if I did not mention the mentorship/guidance that entrepreneurial alumni can provide. On the other hand, every venture needs two critical things to move forward - funding and customers for the product/s they are hawking. This is where I can see the networks come into play. Alumni/classmates in the financial world can be a great asset when it comes to raising capital. Am I off base here ?

For my money's worth (pardon the pun), traditionally strong finance schools with good entrepreneurship programs are a better choice than, say, Sloan. Wharton, LBS, and now Columbia, come to mind. Someone had a comment a while back about checking out Chicago. Their website is not the best to find info on e-ship, or maybe I'm not looking hard enough. I'll look harder.

2:56 AM. Another long day is coming to an end. Or should I say another long day has just begun. Either ways, sleep beckons.
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Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Branding: What's in a name ?

Plenty. Often times, it can make or break a business or product. If you MBA wannabees want to test your creative branding skills, i have a fun link for y'all. It's a contest at Inc magazine's website. Their editors have come up with five fictitious businesses that need a name. All you need to do is pick a name for one of them. 
I fancy myself as being a pretty creative type when it comes to names. I make up names for projects, either at work or those I do outside and usually it's a lot of fun. I put some effort into it, because I think a name you choose has to somehow relate to what you are doing, yet be creative enough to make you smile. Tech companies that release multiple versions of products usually have names for each release. Since there are so many products being developed, oftentimes these names are picked just because they are needed. So, you end up with mountains, rivers, trees, animals etc. Boring. Yet, once in a while along come the wickedly cool ones. Like the place my friend works at where their codenames are named for train stops on the Red Line subway in Boston.
A few years ago, when the yahoo's of the world were making their portals more customizable, I was writing a business plan with a bunch of folks for a class. Our idea was to create a network of portals for university students that would link to class notes, schedules, discussion groups, happenings around their college towns etc.  And we had to choose a name. The key to our idea was customization - you could remake your portal your way with information that was relevant to you. As we toyed around with options that would be relevant to our customers across a wide range of schools, I came up with something I thought was simple yet elegant.  Each school would have a website that replaced the U in their school moniker with YOU. So, at Michigan State, for instance, the portal would be called MSyou.com. Michigan would be youMich.com, you get the drift. A customizable portal for each one of you.
We had a mid-term presentation and it was a hit. The professor loved it, and so did the rest of the class. The students connected with the name. A few days later, we see flyers around campus for a new website called - you guessed it ! Someone in the class decided to plagarize our name. We made two cardinal mistakes - we didn't have the foresight to spend (at that time) 50-odd bucks to register the website, though we did check that it was available and that there were no copyright issues. Our professor also chided us for not making the class sign an NDA before we made our presentation.  I was mildly shocked at this input - this was just a class presentation, wasn't an NDA an overkill ? But, I did learn the important lesson that business is brutal, and people will take any opportunity they are given. We also realized how important a good name is for a business - stripped of our original name, we struggled to find a replacement, and never did find one that had the impact of the first one.
So, be warned. The next time you are casual about letting people know about a great name/idea/whatever, bad things can happen.
I think the coolest name I've come up with was for the little startup venture I described in the Tuck essay I posted earlier. It was a project to create a voice-based interface to the internet over the telephone in local Indian languages. We saw a huge population hungry for the information that the Net had to offer, but lacking the means to get that, because of the low penetration, and expense, of internet access at that time.
Our codename : The Sanjaya Project. The what-the, you ask ? Well, in the Indian epic Mahabharata, there is a colossal battle between good and evil. Turns out the principal characters are sons and relatives of a blind king. As the battles started, he was anxious to get information about what was going on, but he lacked the means to watch the proceedings himself. Enter Sanjaya, a charioteer who was blessed with clairvoyant powers. He was the conduit who relayed the battle scenarios and answered the king's questions. I thought it was a relevant yet interesting name for what we were trying to do.
It was yet another time when I saw the impact of a good name. More than once, the people who we talked with were intrigued by the name and our rationale for choosing it, and gave us face time. Of course, an interesting name is just the first step. Ultimately, you better have a solid product to back it up to be successful.
So, if you are in the mood to get them creative juices flowing, check out the link for the contest. the deadline for entries is july 30. go play. 
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Monday, July 19, 2004

Of geraniums and apple trees

this morning, i was having coffee on the porch and noticed the geraniums that i bought a few weeks ago and summarily starved to near-death due to neglect. But, they were rescued at the last minute by my roommate and re-planted and watered. the last time i looked at them, it seemed like they were going to just wilt away. but today, among the stooped branches were a bunch of buds. they are going to flower again. yoo-hoo !
walked into work and there was one of them spam-type emails from a friend, about meaning of life etc. but when i read it, it seemed like he deliberately sent it to me today :
Take a look at an apple tree. There might be five hundred apples on the tree, each with ten seeds. That's a lot of seeds. We might ask, "Why would you need so many seeds to grow just a few more trees ?"
Nature has something to teach us here. It's telling us: "Most seeds never grow. So if you really want to make something happen, you had better try more than once.
This might mean:
You'll contact ten prospects to get one order.
You'll attend twenty interviews to get one job.
You'll interview forty people to find one good employee.
You'll talk to fifty people to sell one house, car, vacuum cleaner, insurance policy, or idea.
And you might meet a hundred acquaintances to find one special friend.
When we understand the "Law of the Seed", we don't get so disappointed.  We stop feeling like victims. Laws of Nature are not things to take personally. We just need to understand them - and work with them.
Successful people fail more often. They plant more seeds. 
IN A NUTSHELL - It's not what happens to you that determines your happiness.It's how many opportunities you create for winning and how you think about what happens to you that does !
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my apologies for the long absence. the latest news from LBS is that there is no new news. the next waitlist review will be held on the 26th. i think this is the end of this quest. at this stage of the WL, the only way to get off it is for someone who has accepted a place at LBS backing out of the commitment. a slim chance, and something I couldn't wish upon anyone.

i have been dealing with a lot of work related issues the past couple of weeks. it seems like i may have to look for a new job, either within the company, if possible, or outside. so, this has kept me occupied for the most part. i must admit that the 'what-if' thoughts have crossed my mind almost every day. it would have been perfect if i had an admit, this is just about the perfect time to quit my job. but no worries, i'll probably move on to better things.

i have also been doing some serious thinking about reapplication. an interesting scenario is developing where someone I know is most likely going back to Bangalore to start the Indian operations of a US-based startup. He has asked if I would like to move back to India also and be one of the first employees. It is an extremely enticing plan of action to consider, since my goal is to be an entrepreneur. And this could be a great learning experience in the right direction.

I have thought about this a lot and put this in perspective of what I really want to do longer-term. I want to start and run companies. My current skill sets will make it almost impossible for me to venture outside of a small niche domain in technology. So, if I wanted to start a chain of coffee-stores or a theme-park, for instance, it's going to be a really uphill climb. I really think an MBA is the best move for me right now. (why ? why now ? - it's 3 AM, i've just driven back from new york, and i've written way too many of those essays to even attempt to answer that right now :)

So, the decision has been made. If the miracle from LBS does not materialize, it will be back to essay writing for me pretty soon. This time though, my top schools will receive my applications Round 1, my recommenders will get ample time to draft their recos, and I will NOT, absolutely NOT, wait until the looming deadline to finish up my essays. No Siree Bob. The Yogi will be in his element. (that's actually pretty funny 'coz I drive an Element, so technically i am in my Element everyday :-), but I digress. wait ... can I digress from inside parantheses ? hmm.)

Now, for the schools. I have given some serious thought to that too. Reflecting back on the past six or so months, I realize that my goals for what I want out of an MBA program have been, for lack of a better term, refined. Consequently, I now realize that some of the choices I made weren't really the best ones for me.

Tuck, for one, is out.
I'm no superstar, so I don't think I'll waste my energies on applying to HBS again.
Sloan is funny. I was told that it was my best chance, that it would fit me very well, etc, but the lack of even an interview invite makes me think again. Almost every indian and chinese engineer is presumably given similar advice, and the competition is probably hardest for these demographics at Sloan. I thought I did a good job on my app too. well, some more thinking required there.
Kellogg - haven't given this any thought yet.
Wharton/LBS - YES !

I'm pretty sure that I am going to apply to Haas. The one other school that I have been researching a lot and am very pleasantly surprised by what it has to offer is Columbia. The MBA Entrepreneurship program, and the resources of the Lang Center are very interesting. I should talk to some Columbia students/alums and will probably visit the school once they start their class-visit type program. I also met yesterday with a current Insead student and his friend who's going to Darden this fall. Should talk with them to get more info. I considered and then dropped Insead mainly because it is extremely difficult to land jobs in the US, especially in industry, which my friend also re-iterated. Darden - quite honestly, I know very little about the school.

Finally, my sincere thanks to everyone who reads my blog, has left comments of support, and sent me emails. The application process can get quite lonely at times, and it is great to be plugged into a community that's going through something similar. I have read and re-read what you've had to say on the days I needed them. It has been a pleasure to follow the stories of all the fellow (as used in reference to the application process, not the end-result :) class of 2006 bloggers. My best wishes to all of you as you head to pre-terms and orientations.

So, is this the end of this blog ?

I think not. Much as it hurts to change the blog from an MBA application blog to an MBA re-application blog, I'm going to do it. A post someday in January announcing my admittance should wipe out all the bad memories ;-)

And, I just checked and my first entry on my blog was on Oct 19th, 2003. wow - 9 months to the date ! time does fly. and talking of time, it is 4:21 AM. I should really get to bed. Monday morning is right around the corner.

Buenas Noches.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2004


Wow, it's been a long long time since I blogged. Didn't realize time flew by this fast. Basically, I've been dealing with work-related issues and doing some thinking about where I go from here. More on that in a next post.

When I was preparing for my GMAT, one of the fun things I used to do was GoogleWhack. For those unfamiliar with it, a googlewhack is a combination of two valid words, which when used to perform a search on google, returns exactly one result. Oh, and it's only a googlewhack if it's verified by the website. And oh oh, it can't be a word list kinda page.

I've started at it again for some fun, and my goal is to get six googlewhacks a day, without reusing any words. Spent the last half hour on this :-) and here's my list for the day - verified and added to the daily tally at the site.

* photogenic papabote
* coptic bocheru
* unwavering shumac
* parsing yokin
* chiropractic susurrus
* methodical tchotchke

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