Thursday, April 28, 2005

Chicago, we need a Community ?

[file under: Views From The Inside]

In the latest edition of ChiBus, the GSB newsletter, is a very interesting essay by Andrew Sharpe. Opining in his regular column, Thunder From Down Under, he writes about the sense, or a certain lack thereof, of community at the school. Reproduced Below.

Show Some Spirit
- By Andrew Sharpe.

I never thought I would have to write this article. I guess I was wrong.

Our school has a reputation for brilliant, well-schooled minds ready to face the trials and tribulations of real world corporate cut and thrust. We also have a reputation for lacking social etiquette and the ability to hold a conversation.

Up until recently, I thought that the second statement was not a reflection of the students at all. Now, unfortunately, I am beginning to see why this reputation might have come about.

Let me go on the record as saying that the literal meaning of that perception is incorrect: I know a couple of people who do enough talking for all of us. However, the wider meaning of the statement, that is, commenting on our ability to be part of a community, may be a fair characterization of the student body at this school.

The vast majority of students here are focused solely on improving themselves. There is nothing wrong with this. It is the way each of us go about this where the problem lies. Frankly, too many of us focus on our own education and job search without using and building the Chicago GSB community.

I believe that we have created an inverse 80/20 rule: 20% of the students provide 80% of the community and spirit of the school. From committing to or even helping out with editing our school paper, to committing to practice for any sporting club here, I have noticed somewhat of a lack of 'esprit de corps.' From every time a team performs wearing the GSB's logo to every publication that is the banner of the student body, the wider community forms an opinion of the GSB.

Why does Kellogg continually outrank us in the rankings? They talk about the community. I am not asking us to go around hugging each other, but I am asking that we take pride in our school and do our thing to make every one of us proud that we are here: from sporting competitions to Wall Street jobs, from campus life to investment competitions.

There was some serious spirit shown during the last Admit Weekend. Unfortunately, this was not the typical fare. If everyone at this school channeled an extra couple of hours per week towards activities that embody that passion, we could build a community that any business school would be proud of.

Yes, we are all busy. Yes, we all have commitments.

Are three lousy hours a week going to affect you that much? That's two rugby training practices. That's three articles for ChiBus (you can even write to tell me I am wrong and a dumb Aussie that should go home). That's whatever you want it to be to show your pride, and more importantly, involvement, in this community.

Every one of us gains something from this community. This is part of your education and part of the process of improving yourself. Each one of us will benefit from a stronger community. If you don't agree with this, we will end up with 1,100 ego-driven students only worried about themselves.

That's one extreme...think about what the other is and what we can do to get close to it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

So, here's an idea.

[file under: Patting One's Own Back]

I've been meaning to post for a while about how relevant I think the MBA pedagogy is to what I want to do when I grow up, and things along that line. But, I've been alternately busy and lazy. That post will come soon, but in the meanwhile I had an epiphany today. Well, it's not like I really know when I have one, but humor me here.

One of the things that I have been at least thinking actively about is starting/working on a new venture when I am at the GSB. Mainly as a way to mesh the classroom teaching of proven theories with the rapidly evolving wild west of what's being referred to as Web 2.0. I would like to explore areas that interest me, and are not really stuff that schools care to touch, such as the Long Tail, Corporate blogging vis-a-vis developing relationships with customers, printing-on-demand technologies, Wikis, etcetera while also trying to build a business from scratch. If it doesn't make sense, no worries. It doesn't too much to me right now, either.

Anywho, there's been a question that's been nagging me. I'm an engineer by training (and a darned good one, if my recommenders are to be believed :-), and I have a natural tendency to think about implementation details. But, I won't have the time to sit down and write the code for what I have planned. And, I shouldn't either. (gotta keep reminding myself that I'm entering the dreaded manager-land). So, how then do I assemble a team to do this for me ? I've got no money to pay them, and this might end up being more of an academic venture than a real business. And what do Chicago peeps know about anything besides banking, anways :-). So, How ?

This morning, I was considering writing the Alumni affairs chap at my alma mater back in India about possibly giving a talk to the student body when I'm in the country in a few months. I went to a small college in kinda rural India (it's unknown enoughtto not be listed on any b-school apps in the education section) and I remember us being very eager to listen to the experiences of the rare alum who showed up. I was proposing to give a 'from XYZ to the GSB' kind of talk. yeah, i know, hubris doth affect us all.

That brought back some very nostalgic memories, of both the camaraderie developed at the tight-knit community of ours, as well as our struggles being relative unknows. One particularly stood out. As part of our curriculum, we were required to do a senior year industry project. All engineering departments except Computer Science had their students interning at firms for this. We didn't because we couldn't - no one would give us projects. Not that we weren't good (did i say darned good already?), but it was a young department with no visibility. I remember our team paying numerous visits to the offices of India's space program, all come to naught. It was rough. We ended up creating a training manual to be used for a continuing ed program the department was starting. A let down for the budding programmers in us, for sure.

So, back to this AM. Epiphany time. I thought - how about I offer this to one of the current senior teams as their project ? It could be a perfect win-win. They need to do this, and I need to get this done. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense at so many levels. I will, in addition to getting my project off the ground, be playing the role of a responsible alum. And, while I get to hands-on guide an offshore team, they get to work the reverse (good prep for jobs in Bangalore !) in an entrepreneurial setting, and if this should lead to something more tangible, more power to all of us. Most importantly, it's not going to cost a bunch, if at all. Bootstrapping, I think they call it.

I'm sorta stoked. It's the little highs like these that keep reminding me why I don't want to follow the consulting/banking/corporate paths. I've paid my dues the past five years being part of a big company, learnt from some amazing people, was part of a team that grew from a few people to a lot, helped recruit almost everyone I've worked with including two of my managers, made some great friends, and been part of the evolution of an idea to a product, through its entire lifecycle.

I feel like it's slowly getting to be my time now.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Break Out of the Loop

[file under: Doin' It Chicago Style]

I just got the latest edition of Adventure magazine in the mail and there is a nice piece about Chicago in their City Escape section. As an aside, Adventure is one of my favorite magazines and I highly recommend a subscription to anyone who longs for the great outdoors.

I found this particular article interesting because I wasn't aware of the variety of things to do around what will be home for the next two years. If you thought ChiTown was all about the sleekest clubs, coldest winters, hippest fashions, quant jock GSBers and touchy feely Kelloggians, think Summer. Then, go back to thinking about the other stuff again.

Summer in Chicago kicks off with Bike the Drive. On May 29, most of Lake Shore Drive is closed off for traffic to accomodate a 15- or 30-mile "non-competitive tour" bike ride. Over the rest of the summer, one can cycle on the bike path that stretches for 18 miles along the shore of Lake Michigan.

If your cocaine is paddling rather than pedaling, the Chicago river is open for business. Kayak Chicago offers instruction, rentals and architectural tours in single or tandem kayaks. Boston is a completely different city when viewed from a kayak on the Charles, so I'm interested to find out what Chicago looks like.

Apparently, there is something someplace called the Lake Michigan Seawall. Intrepid Chicagoland climbers have begun to boulder at that spot, but the mag says that they are often greeted by the police. So, they get their fix 200 miles away at Devil's Lake State Park in Wisconsin. MBA types may be interested in climbing Cookie Cutter, Earnings Summary, Hard Sell, Microwave Dinner, Self Mutilation, and, as one's loyalties may lie - Special K or Chicago ! A few months into the program, though, I suspect one might seek out Orgasm, or the more desirably named, yet harder to climb, Orgasm Direct :-)

Back on land, ever wanted to zip around town in a Segway ? City Segway Tours has 3-hour Segway trips to (in their words:) landmarks such as Buckingham Fountain and Museum Campus. I think this is real cool.

Finally, if scuba is your thing, Lake Michigan is to dive for. Turns out there are shipwrecks on the lake floor, like the 240-feet Material Service that sunk in 1936. Who would've thunk !N'Pursuit Adventure Charters is a company that leads, for 75 bucks, two-tank dives of the wreck.

Of course, this post might just be an exercise in futility since I won't be in Chicago during the summer :-(

Friday, April 15, 2005

London Ding Feedback

[file under: It's You, Not Me]

I received a letter in the mail today titled 'Feedback to Unsuccessful MBA 2007 Candidates'. Turns out it was a generic letter, throwing no light on my application. I think, though, that it is quite instructive to future candidates with regard to how LBS reviews applications and interviews, and the basis on which they make their decisions. Of special, and I must say somewhat surprising, mention is their take on GMAT scores - given that I've been told over and over again by schools that the 80% GMAT *range* is what one should be looking at to decide if they will be competitive at a school.

Here are the relevant paragraphs.
Due to the high volume of applications we receive, we regret we cannot give individual feedback. However, we hope that these general comments will be helpful to you.

Why are people not short-listed for interview?
Our initial review process of each application checks that candidates have met our basic admissions criteria. We are also looking for appropriate experience, well written essays, evidence of a lively, enquiring, reflective mind, leadership potential, team working skills, and supportive references. An international outlook and language abilities are very important factors. GMAT scores below the average score of the last class, 685, can make an application less competitive.

Why are applications unsuccessful after interview?
Interviews are an opportunity for us to understand you better. We use them to further understand the qualities described above and of course to also access your impact and verbal communication and presentation skills. We also look for evidence of an appropriate 'fit' with London Business School.

In order to reach their decisions, members of the MBA Admissions Committee carefully review the information from the application and interview.

I am indeed grateful to the good people at LBS for sending me this note so I can try to better post-mortem my ding. But, it has left me with more questions than answers. I was invited to interview, which means that I've met all their basic criteria and possibly shown promise in one or more of the additional attributes they are looking for. I had a great conversation for my interview, but was not asked anything regarding goals, my career, and interestingly, was not asked to make a presentation which is de rigeur for all applicants. I don't understand how my interviewer could have made a recommendation that covered so many required bases from a 20-minute mostly general conversation.

Ah well, what's done is done. I guess the Adcom anticipated such reactions to their feedback and prefaced the above with "no appeals can be considered, and we are unable to enter into individual feedback'.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Phone Tag, parts Tres y Cuatro

[file under: Catch Me If You Can]

I think it's time to look into Britchick's comment of a few weeks ago to get my phone surgically attached. My adventures with missed calls from Chicago and London are, unfortunately, not isolated incidents. I seem to have a thing for walking away from my phone just as someone is about to call. And am repayed in kind when I call back.

A case in point is my family. There's more voice mail than actual talking. In the last week have missed a couple of calls from my sister, had to dish out an extra 100-odd bucks on air tickets 'coz my bro was voicemailing me to confirm an itinerary and the prices kept going up, and if someone woke up my dad in the middle of the night the first words he might utter are 'this is your dad calling'. I suspect my parents are at the point of getting on a plane and showing up here to check on what I'm really upto.

If they did, they might find me engaged in a game of - no prizes for guessing - phone tag ;-) Two weeks ago, I met a most fascinating woman, and we hoped to meet up sometime to talk some more about her research[, among other things :)] Anyone care to venture a guess what's transpired since ? I caller her, voicemail. Had guests at home later that week, was away from the phone for 30 mins, and she had called. Call back, voicemail. Next day, had to stop by a friend's for a bit before a bunch of us headed out to dinner, and left the phone in my car for the duration and ... Called back, voicemail. Arrggh.

Next time I call, I'm going to leave my email address and ask to be emailed back :-)

PS: The one call I DID get yesterday was from some salesman wanting to manage my money. They serve high-net-worth individuals, he said. I had to restrain myself from asking him if he would be interested in serving a high-negative-net-worth individual. :-)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Homesick ?

[file under: Bangalore Blues]

So, here I am all rico suave in my friday best ready to paint the town my particular shade of red. The friend calls me saying she's already at a bar on Newbury Street.

Hail a cab, and: "Brigade Road please".

The cabbie was confused, and so was I. Don't know where that came from, but I'm guessing it means i've been away from homebase too long ! But that should change, though not soon enough. Come July and i should be trading Tangierino for Hypnos. I can hardly wait !

Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Shot downed around the world.

[file under: Graduate School & Booziness]

Tonight is Worldwide GSB Night. 'On one night worldwide, the GSB community will celebrate' says the website. Celebratory get-togethers are on in 60 cities tonight(local times ofcourse) with venues ranging from an Irish Pub in Barcelona to a Brazilian Churrascaria in Hartford. Our friends in Tokyo are downing them shots at the aptly named 'Drunk Bears'.

Talking of drunk, someone manning the website seems to have gotten in early on the action. I just checked the RSVP list and there's a note announcing : "Unfortunately, due to a technical problem, all registrations prior to March 21, 2005 were lost". hmm, technical problem ;-)

The Boston event runs from 6:30-9:00 at Saint, 90 Exeter Street. I had signed up, but I must be one of those whose registration was lost, and my name's not on the RSVP list. I guess I'll just have to crash the party.

Skål !

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

where do we blog from here?

[file under: Random Thoughts]

a few years ago, people started talking (because they were actually talking to each other at that time) about this thing called the world wide web. a few early adopters started to play around, stuff like browsers were developed, and 'addresses' that started with www started to pop up. after a little while, the mainstream industry noticed, created websites galore, and soon machines in china were printing URL's on packaging for everything from condoms to chyna dolls. That a consumer would probably not have the time or inclination to notice the said URL's in either case seems not to matter. Everyone's doing it so we have to do it.

more recently, people started IM-ing/email-ing(because actually talking was passé by this time) about this thing called blogging. a few early adopters took it up, stuff like RSS was developed, and addresses that ended with started to pop up. now, it is slowly starting to creep into the mainstream. it is only a matter of time, I believe, that blogging becomes pervasive.

last week, i followed a link to a new book called Freakonomics. while it isn't news anymore that a book has a website, what intrigued me was to see a link to its Author's Blog. (not sure how effective posting only 3 posts since inception march 20 is, though). seems like it has become de rigeur for startups (see JotSpot) to add a 'blog' link along with 'about us' and 'contact' on their homepages. Google has had one for a while, and of course, so does Blogger. the biggies, as usual, are slow to embrace this, with Sun being a notable exception.

this is blogging being increasingly used, if not as a marketing tool in the traditional sense, as a connecting-with-customers tool. nothing wrong with that, except every corporation is looking for ways to form these connections. my impression is that their sloth in identifying trends is matched only by the speed with which they get on the bandwagon. i reckon it's the same with blogging - all it's going to take is a few success stories. say, for example, Subway had a blog and it featured the travails of a blogger eating healthy on his way to losing weight a la jared - and this blog had X million subscribers translated somehow to Y billion dollars in sales. or a mom-and-pop blog as they try to fend off Wal-Mart and succeed due to their community reading about it and deciding to shop at their store.

i wont be surprised to see an orange XML button on every website in the near future. or the next piece of software i install automatically adding a blogfeed to my reader. or the next version of Windows having a built-in reader with a gazillion pointless feeds pre-programmed. or every third post on a popular blog pushing a product similar to advertising on TV. or spammers automatically subscribing me to their feeds. or promotions being pushed using blogs.

i do, however, think that using blogging as a marketing tool is a dangerous pursuit that needs to be handled carefully. i say dangerous because a blog is ultimately someone's voice. and people are going to read it only if it is believable. i am willing to bet that if a company has several bloggers, the successful ones aren't going to be the ones repeating the marketing mantras, but rather those who are its most passionate employees/ambassadors. the evangelists.

i look to jonathan schwartz as the perfect example. his blog unabashedly pushes Sun's message, but it's so believable because he sounds like he really means it. there's real passion there. heck, i'd go work for the guy.

a different sort of example is JotSpot. On their blog their CEO talks about them wanting to be an open company with emphasis on developing relationships with customers and having 'real conversations' with the market. having worked for a big corporation, i have come to view these types of statements by CEO-types with a healthy dose of scepticism. imagine my surprise when i get an email message the week i signed up for a beta [yay whartonTech, they didn't keep me waiting :-)] asking me if I wanted to participate in an informational survery (by phone, with a - gasp! - real person) to let them know my impressions of the 'out of box' experience with JotSpot and suggestions for improvement. when Vele over at Wharton was facing delays getting an account, he got a personal note from Joe Kraus. he writes : " Joe Kraus, it's CEO, sent me a direct email reach out, apologizing for the delays and promising a beta soon. Now, that's balls! ". my takeaway is that if you are going to have someone like the CEO blogging, you better make sure there's follow up on what he claims on his blog. this is most easily done when what he's saying is closely aligned with what the company stands for and how it operates. pre-packaged marketing messages aren't going to work.

hmm, where do i go from here? it's 2 am and i can't think anymore. so, i'm off to get some sleep. would love to hear what others think about this topic, if it's made any sense at all.

Edit: Uncanny sense of timing ! i just went over to Steve Shu's and he has not one, but two posts somewhat related to what I was rambling about. One of them's an example of a sponsored marketing blog , and the other a study by Wharton professors on blogging. check it out.

Monday, April 04, 2005

GMAT for Free

Got an email from GMAC today that might be of interest to first-time test takers. They are offering a limited free test during the summer for candidates that satisfy certain criteria. Seems like this is a test run of the new vendor, Pearson VUE, who will administer the test starting this fall. If anyone is planning to test between Jul 15 & Aug 15, take a look.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Venture Capital: Some preliminary research.

My workload has taken off this week, and promises to stay up there through the summer, because I've started to work on an internal startup project in the firm. For one, I won't feel guilty of being in a lame duck kinda role, and for another it'll be fun working in a really small team bootstrapped with limited resources. In fact, tuesday was an all-nighter - my first non-essay related one in a while. A few months of this, and I'll be prime for the b-school workload :-)

So, the other thing I've been doing for a bit every other evening as a little side project is rudimentary data gathering about VC's. You know, basic stuff about partners/associates in a firm, their educational backgrounds/experience/MBAs etc. Started out as curiosity, but it's gotten very interesting. I guess I could find this information all collected someplace, but compiling it myself has been quite an eye-opener. There are things I would not have noticed just by looking at a spreadsheet. For anyone interested, here are my preliminary impressions.

I started with the list of Top 100 VC firms as compiled by . Hop over to the websites, check out the Teams/People/Partners sections and put stuff into an excel spreadsheet. Simple as that. Laughable, maybe, but whatever. Over the next month or so, I'd like to get to the whole list. The data I've collected so far covers 12 firms: Accel Partners, Kleiner Perkins, Bessemer, Redpoint, Walden, Mobius, Battery, Draper Fisher Jurveston, Mayfield, Bay Partners, Alloy Ventures, and Sequoia. I know, it's a pretty small data set, so these are nothing more than first impressions. Read on if you find this kind of thing interesting.

The first question I searched an answer for was if an MBA is a requirement for a top-drawer VC job. The raw numbers suggest that the answer is a 'Not necessarily'. From my data set,

VCs with an MBA : 62%
VCs with no MBA : 38%

But, to put these numbers in context, the pool of MBA's in the workplace is a smaller set of people when compared to 'everyone else'. Does seem to me that an MBA is definitely an advantage.

The next question, then, is if where one gets an MBA matters?

Dude, this blows my mind. I've always been told that Harvard and Stanford are the best schools for a career in VC. Guess what? As far as the principals of these 12 firms are concerned, they are not just the best schools, they are THE schools. Consider this. Among those with MBA's, here is where they graduated(from a total of 13 schools):

Harvard : 39%
Stanford : 36%
Wharton : 4%
Next 10 : 21%

75% of these guys went to either Harvard or Stanford ! It is actually quite fascinating to read bios of partner after partner at a firm and find that he (oh, it is a he. this industry is still predominantly male) went to one of these schools. As an interesting aside, among the 'next 10', U.of.Santa Clara MBA's share top honors with Columbia, Sloan, Anderson and Haas with 3 each ! And Chicago GSB ? Zero.

Sticking with the MBA grads, the next question I was looking for an answer was the career paths these guys took to get from b-school to big-money-vc-land.

This is interesting stuff. I broke down the most recent pre-VC experience to three main categories: Entrepreneurship, VC/IB, and Operations. Ent is the set of people who started a company, or in cases were actively involved in a startup company. The VC/IB is a broad bracket comprising, among other things, VC, PE, IB(predominantly M&A), Hedge funds etc. I've used Operations as a catch-all for industry experience.

Ent.VC /IBOps
Harvard10.5 %39.5 %50 %
Stanford42.9 %28.6 %28.6 %
All MBAs23.7 %38.1 %38.1 %
Non-MBAs41.7 %18.3 %40.0 %
While this does not accurately account for people's varied experiences, it does seem like there is no one dominant path to get there. Among the general MBA population, a financial or operations career can equally get one to Sand Hill Road (or its equivalents). However, among those without MBA's a finance career seems not to be that much of a feeder. I think this can be accounted for by the fact that MBAs are predominant in that industry to begin with. While on this topic, another number that is very interesting is the number of people with Management Consulting backgrounds. 35% of those with MBA's and an even higher 43% of those without had a stint at the McK, Bain, and BAH's of the world.

What I find interesting is the distribution among HBS and Stanford grads. The numbers speak for themselves in this case. (as a bracketed aside, US news just ranked HBS #4 for entrepreneurship & Stanford #6. hmm.)

Numbers are definitely fun to look at. Question: Which of the three career paths would you expect a Haas graduate to follow to get to a VC role? How about an Anderson grad? Seems like all 3 Anderson grads went straight to a VC job after b-school ! And all 3 Haas grads were in finance-related jobs before their current gigs !

There are a few non-quantitative observations I made that I think are much more interesting than any of the above. VC firms are all not the same. Not even close. They are so different in their composition of people that I think one needs to take a closer look before they approach these firms, be it for a job or funding.

Accel Partners' Silicon Valley office, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Draper Fisher Jurveston are EXCLUSIVELY Harvard/Stanford shops. In fact, the only people who don't have MBA's at these firms are the likes of Bill Joy and Ray Lane. I'm guessing if you don't have one of these degrees, it's probably going to be a slog to have a shot at these firms. Then there is a firm like Walden VC that has principals who graduated from a diversity of schools as well as those without MBA's. On the other end of the spectrum is Sequoia Capital that has many more principals without MBA's than with.

Looking at work experience, Redpoint Ventures seems to be made up exclusively of principals with prior VC experience, whereas Bessemer's NYC office seems to have a liking for those with PE background. Accel's London office is all about folks with senior level industy experience, while Battery Ventures seems to have a much more diverse career background collection.

And, if one wants to go the entrepreneur route to VC, it might help to consider that 38% of these folks started companies that were funded by the VC's that they ended up becoming partners at ! A question that must come to mind is if there are differences in VC firms when it comes to such hiring - and the answer seems like a qualified Yes. The numbers suggest that Sequoia Capital is by far the best place for that.

Again, a disclaimer that this is a completely non-scientific dabbling-in-my-spare-time kinda deal. Please don't take BW-boards-style offense to any mention of your school (or lack thereof) :-)

Finally, you know how everyone tells you that grades don't matter at b-school. Well, if you are considering a career in VC, you may want to pay no heed to that. The top 5% of the graduating class at HBS is bestowed the Baker Scholar tag, and the top 10% at Stanford the Arjay Miller Scholar. But, in my list, 13% of all HBS grads were Baker Scholars, and 23% of all Stanford's Arjay Miller Scholars !