Friday, December 31, 2010

Horrible United Airlines Experience

So another day, another repeated goof up by an airline.

Recently, while traveling to Aspen, my wife and I volunteered to give up our seats and stay in Denver overnight, and received $400 each in travel vouchers from United. So far so good.

Next, I try to redeem these for a flight. I was told that I could make the booking online, and then either drive to the airport or just mail these in to the Michigan booking center and my ticket will be issued. I figured, why drive? So I sent these in via mail. Big mistake!

I send these in to the michigan center and do not hear anything back for 10 days. Next, I call united to see whats going on. Here is what they tell me:

1. The booking online can be held only for 7 days

2. However it might take their processing center anywhere between 5 to 14 business days to process it

3. There is NO WAY for me to find out what the reservation center has done to my vouchers

The agent re-issued by reservation for 7 days, and hoped that the michigan center would take the vouchers and issue tickets till then. Surprise surprise - in 2 days, the trip is canceled again, and the Michigan center has done nothing. I call again, and of course, there is heavier than expected call volume and I should expect a long hold time. United Airlines, than you for a super aweful customer service experience.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ex-consultant going to a startup

I recently came across a Quora thread here that debated whether ex-consultants added any value to startups. The answers varied from 'Consulting is evil and a house of lies,' to the kind of skills that consultants develop and which of those might or might not be valuable to startups, specifically in the consumer internet sector.

I decided to take a different approach in analyzing this, by utilizing a framework I came across while reading Clayton M. Christensen's book Seeing What's Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change. The book's hypothesis is that the success of a startup management team can be maximized by ensuring that they have been attended a unique set of schools i.e., they have past experience in tacking some of challenges they are likely to come across in an uncertain environment of a startup. Here are the schools of thought that the book puts forward, along with my assessment of whether consulting experience can help in that particular skills.


  1. Operated in environments with high degrees of uncertainty: A consulting project is well structured at the outset, but changes continuously based on recent events, client demands etc. Being flexible and ready to adapt to change is necessary for success in consulting, as in startups. This is a definite plus for consulting.
  2. Developed plans to unearth seemingly unattainable knowledge: Neutral, since consultants seems to often find knowledge that the client sought unattainable, but they do so by leveraging the resources of the consulting firm, which are unlikely to be unavailable to a startup.
  3. Experimented and found unanticipated customers for a product or service: Neutral. One does come across market research projects, but this is not necessarily a feature of most products consultants work on.
  4. Placed bets based on theory and intuition, not necessarily detailed data: Neutral. Depends on the kind of project and your workstream. If you are working on a workstream as a market sizing, you will likely have access to a large stream of data, vs. if you are doing organizational design, in which case theory and intuition play a bigger role.
  5. Resourcefully solved problems without spending much money: Negative. Typically consultants have a not of resources, detailed reports etc which they can purchase.
  6. Built a management team from scratch - a team with skills matched to the task. Negative. You might get some experience at the Project/Engagement manager level, but before that, you are hardly ever building teams.
  7. Shown experience in fending off certain corporate processes and in harnessing or manipulating others, in order to get the right things done quickly: Positive. Being able to influence others and work through corporate processes is an essential consulting skill, which will help in startups.

So they you have it. What's my conclusion? Consulting is a valuable experience, but when interviewing people for startup roles, one must look at other aspects. Has the person worked at startups or technology companies in his/her career? Is there an industry expertise that the person brings? Has the person shown instances in his or her career where he/she succeeded with use of minimal resources?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

I am an introvert

OK, I said it. I am an introvert. There. It's done.

A recent article I read called 'Caring for your Introvert' clarifies a lot about what it means to be an introvert, and more importantly what it does not mean to be an introvert.

First things first, introvert is not equal to shy. An introvert likes periods of solitude; a shy person would like to be surrounded by people, but is hesitant of socializing. Thus the two are often confused. For example, I would not be the most outgoing, 'we are best friends at the first meeting' kind of person. However, I am not necessarily shy either; I can quite easily make friends with new people, revel in the company of people I know. However, I love periods of solitude, where I can disconnect from the rest of the world, and read a book/my blogs, sketch ideas, work on some assignment etc.

Second, if you are an introvert, it is best to acknowledge it in a positive light. And care for it. Schedule time to reflect on things, to do whatever you like to do alone. I love to get up early on Saturday or Sunday mornings, as this is my alone time. Everyone in the house (other than the cat) is still asleep, it is relatively quiet, and I get to spend time with my laptop, a book, and a and nothing else.

Third, understand that extroverts would have a hard time understanding you as an introvert. You can be mistaken for being aloof, arrogant, shy or any combination of the above. The best way to avoid this is to stretch yourself a bit, and speak up whenever you have something good to add. Other things including engaging in small talk, and using your listening skills to make conversation interesting.

One of the best thing the article says 'Introversion is not a lifestyle. It's an orientation.' So accept it, embrace it and use it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Financial Decisions Course team

I recently completed a course called Financial Decisions, which attempts to teach general managers how to make finance related decisions in a wide variety of scenarios, using the case based approach. The workload was very heavy; we had a net total of 16 cases in the course, which we needed to analyze and submit a write-up of once case before almost every class session.

I was particularly impressed by my team’s performance in this course; we managed to maintain our sanity despite the heavy workload, and did pretty well for most of the cases. Given that I also completed a course called ‘Leading and Managing Teams’ last quarter, I spent some time analyzing what made our team successful, using one of the frameworks from the class:

1. Motivation: We were very clear that we wanted to learn as much as possible from the course, and the only way to do that would be to do the cases to the best of our abilities. The final grade wasn’t very important to most of us. Having an awesome professor also inspired us to do our best in the course.

2. Coordination mechanism: Early into our first meeting, we created a spreadsheet which outlined what task each member was responsible was for each case. The main responsibilities for each case were to do the initial analysis/spreadsheet, to do the case write-up, and to review and submit the final write-up. This gave us a mechanism to track the performance of our peers and clearly outline roles and responsibilities for each of the cases. I personally took up the role of a coordinator; scheduling team meetings and keeping track of responsibilities for each case.

3. Knowledge and ability: Having a former investment banker certainly helped in this case! But besides that, we had all done the basic finance and strategy courses, and also proved our technical competence in applying previously learned concepts to this course. Another aspect was personal competency: we all knew each other to some extent, and understood each other’s working styles. This helped us bond together as a team quickly and work effectively towards the project.

4. Effective conflict management: We debated our points of view pretty effectively in the team, and kept the debates about tasks, processes and our point of view rather than about personality issues. Often having 4 or more people in the room helped; 2 people might be on opposite sides of an issue, but the other 2 helped everyone reach consensus and move forward. Over time this process improved; I started to recognize styles of my team members and adapting to them, trying to figure out how I could work more effectively with the different team members.

I loved working with this team, and hope that I get to work with more such teams in my courses over the next two quarters.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A look back at Kellogg Courses: Winter 2009

Here is the next edition of my look at Kellogg courses. I took the following courses in my winter quarter of my first year. One of my aims was to keep my workload relatively light, as I was recruiting for Consulting and High-Tech companies.

1. Finance I:
This was the basic finance course taught by Professor Tarhan. I enjoyed the course, although my experience has been that I really did not understand Finance concepts until I took advanced courses in the subject. For example, Fin II really helped me solidify my concepts of Finance I, and Financial Decisions helped my solidify concepts of Fin I and II.

2. MECN 430 (Microeconomic Analysis): Basic microeconomics course; I somewhat enjoyed it, but nothing to write home about. Not super interesting but very important for strategy; next quarter, I will be taking MECN 441 (Competitive Strategy and Industrial Structure) which applies MECN 430 concepts to competitive strategy.

3. Operations Management: I enjoyed the MMM version of Operations Management a lot more than I thought I would. The concepts are essential for any MBA, and Professor Iravani
was enthusiastic about teaching the course and did a great job in keeping us interested throughout the course. I will soon be taking the advanced version of the course, Operations Strategy (OPNS 454).

4. NuVention Web: This was by far my favorite course of this quarter. Since it was a two quarter course, I will write a full review in my next post about my spring quarter courses.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Empathy

Recently I was sick - with a cold, nothing major. Because of it, I needed to postpone or cancel several meetings. Most of the people I emailed said 'Get well soon. I can meet at a different time....' All, except one. One email was one line - it said 'I am next free at ....'


Now I am sure this was just a quick one liner typed on a phone, by a person stepped for time. However it stood out in the negative sense; stood out for a complete lack of empathy, for not even acknowledging the reason why I was changing the meeting. Now I know the person and know that he is nice in general; what if I did not know the person at all? Then what impression would I get of him? I guess it just goes to that we all need to express atleast a little empathy in daily life - no matter how pressed for time we are. Else we risk coming across as 'that person.'

Monday, November 22, 2010

A look back at Kellogg Courses: Fall 2009

The thanksgiving break gave me some time to reflect on the Kellogg courses that I have taken so far, and what I have learned from them. So I decided to do a rundown of the courses I took, specifically relevant to anyone applying to Kellogg or anyone at Kellogg deciding between courses. These are Fall 2009 courses; will analyze other quarters in subsequent blog posts.


Fall 2009

Leadership in Organizations (MORS-470): This is a compulsory, pre-term course that students take with their sections. The main lessons taught in the course are related to decision-making, persuading and motivating people, making change happen, culture and negotiation. This course discussed several topics from some of my favorite books on leadership. Since one does not get to choose the professor for the course, I was glad I got Professor Galinsky for the course. He has done extensive research on several topics taught on the course, and manages class dynamics very well to make for a very entertaining class environment.

The only problem with this course, and with other MORS courses in general is that it takes a while to change one's own habits to incorporate everything learned in the class. Some of the lessons can be applied immediately. As an example, I used some of the things I learned around how to structure where people sit to build the right kind of environment, in last year's MIT Sales competition.However the other lessons are still in the book/coursepack, waiting to be applied. If only changing habits was easy. Still, lot of Kellogg Alumni have told me that they remember and use lessons from MORS courses more so than any other course.

Business Strategy (MGMT-431): This course serves as an introductory course to Business Strategy, again compulsory for all Kellogg students. You take this course with your section; in my case, I took it with my MMM section. The format is one lecture and one case per week. The course teaches basics of Business Strategy, including competitive strategy, competitive advantage, industry analysis, horizontal and vertical integration, and game theory. In essence, it teaches one to apply basic strategy framework to solve problems.

One interesting part of the course was a final project in which we were allowed to choose any company interested in launching electric cars, and analyze and critique one part of their strategy. My team and I analyzed the launch of the Chevy Volt, and came up with several interesting hypothesis. In the event, we made the argument why Chevy Volt should not accept the initial suggestions we had; the professor was OK with that sort of positioning, as long as we defended it well.

Again, I got lucky in the fact that we got Professor Busse as our teacher. She was by far one of the most prepared and enthusiastic professors I have come across. Her slides and examples were amazing, and helped me tremendously in preparing for consulting interviews. I referred to the slide that I put together for the finals of this course often during the interview.

Marketing Management (MKTG-430): This course is an introduction to marketing concepts such as 4Cs, 3Ps, STP etc. One of the biggest misconceptions that people with a non-marketing background like me have that marketing was all about advertising and PR. Instead, the course teaches marketing from a strategic perspective; how do you determine which markets to enter based on your competitive advantages, how to segment and select the right targets for your products, how to price products etc.

My professor for the course was Professor Hennessy, who in my opinion, is one of the best marketing professors in the world. She combines years of experience as a senior marketing executive, practical experience in consulting with clients such as Microsoft and Target, and her awesome sense of humor to create a very engaging environment in the classroom. I hardly ever looked at the clock in her class; the hour and a half went by so fast. She also invests a lot in helping students; her last class is always a guide on how to market yourself in recruiting.

One of the questions that I often get is what course should a first year student take in the fall if he/she is recruiting for consulting - Marketing, or Finance? I strongly recommend Marketing; several cases tend to have a big marketing component, from New Market Entry, New Product Launch, Profitability analysis etc.


Accounting For Decision Making (ACCT-430-0): Accounting. You always need it. It's almost never fun. That being said, I did get a great teacher, Professor Sridharan. He is very patient and teaches the concepts several times, which is very helpful for someone coming from a non-accounting background like me. He is also very nice, and I felt bad if I was ever behind in class because of that!

I have not covered two half-credit courses that I took in the first quarter; Analytical Methods for Operations, and Design. Both of them are MMM specific and have changed substantially even in one year.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Business School Perceptions

Recently, I came across a link to a NPR show 'On Point' which hosted Dean Blount (Kellogg), Dean Noria (HBS) and Dean Lyons (Berkeley Haas). The show addressed questions such as what Business schools can do to help reboot the American economy.

The show was fascinating - the big question was why do 60% of students go into Finance or Consulting (myself included)? And are these students doing nothing but the same financial engineering, and over-priced consulting 'value add' that doesn't get the economy itself? I have some counter-arguments:

1. While you might not like finance and consulting, they are essential parts of the economy. Financial services are needed for smoothly functioning capital markets, access to capital for entrepreneurs, loans etc. Yes, there are a lot of people making loads of money for what seems like little value-add, but the simple answer is, these services are essential. Should compensation for bankers go down in the long run? Perhaps they should - or perhaps compensation for successfully building businesses should go up to match that. What about consulting? The fact is that it is an essential, and often, immensely valuable service for large companies. Consultants help these companies complement their existing talent pool, bring in expertise from outside the company, and a much needed outsider's perspective. Are there wasted projects? Of course there are. But there is waste everywhere - manufacturing, startups etc.

2. Second, one must look through not just where B School grads go immediately after school, but also, what they do later in life. So many ex-consultants and bankers end up as key executives in large companies, or as Entrepreneurs and investors in Startups. These professions are great in helping people 'polishing' several skills. Do they teach people how to launch and build companies? No, but they can complement existing skills that people come in with.


While the show itself was interesting, what was more interesting was the comments that people left on the website. Take a look at some of them.

"My impression of the kids coming out of business schools today is that the business they are taught is not how to make a good product, how to sell it, or provied good business service but instead are being taught how to weed every little percentile out of their customers which doesn’t provide good business.

No one is interested in manufacturing or making anything – just passing that piece of paper or bundle of mortgages and credit card debt around and around like magical chairs until the last person holding gets burnt.

"I don’t have much respect or confidence for our business school graduates today."


"Many of our finest insightful and innovative economists have commented that business education is more of a problem for our economy than an advantage. (ex:Tom Hudson,Nouriel Roubini, Ravi Batra) Ann’s remarks about financialization describe their critique well. Why are we wasting so many education dollars on business degrees that turn our talented students into brainwashed predators in service to oligarchic interests? People who needed some accounting and management training used to attend inexpensive business academies, and leave their ethics intact. I was dismayed recently when exposed to the financially and ponzi oriented business propoganda being spouted at, of all places, the YMCA. Father and sons slave-catchers was about the limit, I’d thought. The lottery mentality (as taught MBAs) is driving us all crazy and keeping us from desperately needed real work."

"So, 5% of HBS is “solving important problems” — but the other 95% are figuring out how to swindle America: Goldman Sachs et al Cabal (see Baseline Scenario and other blogs), A.C. Nielson on-line data “scrapers” and J&J, Merck and pharma-cons. C’mon, Tom, ask some pointed questions and force the HBS Dean and GS “education leader” to get off their talking points. This is not informative at all."

You get the point. But this made me think: is this what the 'rest' of America thinks of B Schools? Or is there a self-selection bias on who leaves comments on this blog? Ah, I wonder...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happiness: Flow

I recently started reading a pretty famous book called Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Even within the first 30 pages or so, the book has been very thought provoking, especially on one of the most complex topics in human psyche: happiness. Specifically, the book has made me think of the link between happiness and money.

Ever since I have been a student money has been tight - we have skimped on buying gadgets, going on more vacations, fancy dinners, clothes, gifts etc. But to be honest, I do not miss things as much. Even within these uses of discretionary money, there are certain things that bring more joy to me than others. Most of them being experiences; a vacation which allows me to relax and rejuvenate, a massage that fixes my back, a memorable dinner. 'Things' on the other hand bring much less joy - unless of course, the thing is a book, which is a different category altogether.

While money has been tight, learning and friends have been plentiful. Kellogg has just been an awesome place to meet new people, make friends and acquaintances, and at the same time, learn a lot from both peers and professors. I find it hard to find anything else that could replicate that experience.

So what will happen when I do go back to work? I definitely have a list of gadgets I want to buy - a kindle, an iPad , Apple/Google TV, a larger television. I am sure they will bring some element of happiness. But hopefully, I will keep this learning in mind and instead spend on other items: like on vacations, and on building a large savings balance so that I can at some point afford to start my own business. Hopefully I will not forget the lessons of the cash-crunch of student life.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

TED Talks Steven Johnson: Where good ideas come from

Ever feeling down and uninspired? Need something to energize you? For me, watching to a TED talk is often the way to re-energize me. Recently, I watched a TED talk by Steve Johnson, author of the book 'Where Good Ideas come from.' Here is a quick summary of the talk:

1. An idea is not a single item; its a network

2. Ideas are the combination of two or more 'plain old things'

3. Ideas come together in chaotic environments where people from diverse backgrounds come together. Thus your work place should be just a little chaotic, with people sitting close to each other

4. When people share their mistakes and thoughts with others (e.g., around a conference table), it is likely to generate a lot more ideas

5. While great ideas might seem to come in this one magical moment, they have long incubation periods. They have been there in your mind: you just realize it around that one moment you might think of as the 'Eureka' moment

6. Allow your hunches to connect with other people's hunches. The value of protecting Intellectual Property is overrated. We should spend more time sharing ideas than protecting them


Sunday, October 10, 2010

What makes a good teacher?

I am taking a Kellogg course called Financial Decisions, taught by Professor Artur Raviv. This course uses case studies to reinforce the fundamentals of Finance we learned through the basic finance courses. Professor Raviv is truly outstanding; I finally feel that I am understanding not just how to compute the numbers, but understand how to interpret them, and use them to make decisions.

So after one particularly great class, I started thinking about what have been the common traits of Professors that I have really learned from? A few things came to mind:

1. Entertaining: Two professors that come to mind in particular are Professor Hennessy and Professor Sawhney. Both have a knack of cracking timely jokes, and thus keep the class very engaged and energized.

2. Simplistic : Professor Raviv exemplifies this - he explains potentially complex financial concepts in a simplistic manner, helping one gauge the intuition behind the concept.

3. Enthusiastic: If you are going to try to get students interested in your subject, you better be enthusiastic yourself. Professor Busse was a prime example - she taught the Business Strategy class to my section, and I have been enthusiastic about the subject since.

4. Experts in their field: Professor Galinsky was quite the expert on organizational behavior and leadership. One typical way he used to begin sentences was "Research has shown that...."

5. Concerned about students: I remember Professor Sawhney's introductory remarks in the Technology Marketing Class. He asked "Why are you guys here for a Kellogg MBA?" We replied - to learn, to expand our way of thinking etc. He said, "You are here to get a better job, and start a better career. I don't measure how successful I am by how students rate me on evaluations. Instead, if you can tell me that you learned something here that helped you get a job, or do better in your job, I will be happy."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Television Sensitivity

Recently, I was watching a news feature on the Pakistan Floods on CNN. The report showed how much people were suffering from lack of adequate health care, and how these two brace doctors from the US had set up camp in an affected area, working practically round the clock to provide health care and help fight off chances of an epidemic.

Then the report ended. And a voice over - coming up, Lindsay Lohan gets caught again with some drugs/alcohol related stuff. Seriously? That is how you transition from such a sensitive subject to one that does not affect anyone? You had me, and possibly hundreds of thousands of viewers tuned into the Pakistan situation. How about three seconds to say, 'to donate to this cause, go to www....' (by the way, one link is here ).

Compare that to the Lifetime channel. My wife and I watch this one show every week - Project Runway. There - I embarrassed myself on my blog :) Coming back to the point - it was revealed last week that one of the contestants on the show, who actually won the last three challenges, was HIV positive. For the last ten years. And he had kept it a secret from everyone, including his parents. He finally revealed it on the show - and understandably, it was an emotional situation. The show ended with him talking about his story - but to Lifetime's credit, the bottom of the screen showed information about the AIDS Healthcare foundation, and a link to learn more and donate. I have no idea what the intention between putting that information there was - but it was the right thing to do.


CNN, time to learn from Lifetime!

P.S. I just noticed that Lifetime's website says 'Lifetime, the source for women's entertainment including games, movies, shows, full episodes, style, astrology, sweepstakes and more.' Now I am even more embarrassed :)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Kellogg Convocation for 2nd years

This Thursday, I attended Kellogg’s convocation event for 2nd years, hosted by the KSA and by the Dean’s office. The convocation was held to welcome students back to school for their 2nd year, and the event was followed by welcome reception, giving us a chance to catch up with our peers over friend chicken and brownies (that’s what I ate).

KSA president Zach Hollander kicked off the event with a welcome from the KSA, reminding us of our responsibilities as 2nd years, to help and guide the first years. I think that atleast 90% of Kellogg 2nd years would end up helping 1st years in some way or another. Why? Well, quite simply put, we received an amazing amount of help from our seniors. And we are going to give back. For me, that means leading the Public Speaking Club, helping with the High Tech Trek to the west coast, and helping students with case prep as part of the Consulting club. And helping in any other way that I can.

Zach’s speech was followed by the customary look back at the 1st year through a slide show of pictures with some irrelevant music playing in the background. One good think that they did this year was to crowd source the selection of pictures, by letting us upload pictures to a Google document. As a result, we did not end up with 50 pictures of the KSA leaders and 20 of their best friends. Well done KSA!

Dean Blount took the stage next, and updated us on all the work she has been doing since she joined Kellogg. It’s quite remarkable how much she seems to have achieved in a few months. Her key message to us was – take some time off the self-reflect. Some of the most successful people that she knows achieved the success because they took the time to listen to the voice inside, which was telling them what to do. She suggested that we spend 5 hours away from all phones, people, email, Facebook, twitter etc. – at which we all gasped. 5 hours? I mean if she had said 30 minutes, I might have been OK, but 5 hours? Such is the level of addiction with all these gadgets, social networks etc., that I am struggling to finish this bog post without checking email or updating my status to ‘writing a blog post.’

After a few more updates from Dean Roxanne Hori from the Career Management Center and Professor Michelle Buck, Kellogg’s director of Leadership Initiatives, we got some invaluable advice from Professor of the Year, David Besanko. He had a very simple and inspiring message, “Learning Hurts, Embrace the Pain.” He explained that he meant the following: We all have a tendency to self-select courses, teammates, situations that are within our comfort zone. It takes effort to step outside the comfort zone, and to do activities that will truly develop us. Professor Besanko said that his is most likely the last 9 months we would have dedicated to our learning, and to take full advantage of these, we should try to do the following:

  1. Take courses outside your comfort zone. So if you are a marketer uncomfortable with numbers (I am totally stereotyping here), take Financial Decisions. Or if you uncomfortable with speaking in public, take a course which will force you to voice your opinions, or join the Public Speaking Club (blatant advertising for my club, of course).
  2. Build teams from people you typically you do not work with. I noticed that several of my teams from 1st year largely consisted of Indian guys. Not that there is anything wrong with Indian guys, it’s just that we lose out on the variety of opinion that a more diverse team might bring. So this year I am consciously trying to team up with people who I have not worked within the past.
  3. Take a principled, fact-supported stance on issues being discussed in class. Debate, express your opinion, even if the majority is against you.
  4. Last, but not least, build some work product that you are proud of. This might be a case that you write with a professor, which gets used in subsequent Kellogg courses.

I left the convocation really excited for the 2nd year. One of the things I am really looking forward to this quarter is the Venture Lab course, through which I will be working with OCA Ventures as an intern. So here’s to the 2nd year, and beyond.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Is the Web Dead?

In one of the most fascinating articles about the Web I have read in the recent past, Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine and the author of the book/concept the Long Tail argues that the Web is Dead. The title of the article is quite catchy, but as the Web would say,"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."Instead, Chris explains how some essential characteristics of the web are changing:

1. There has been a considerable change in traffic on the internet; from FTP and web being the majority in 2000, to video and peer-to-peer dominating in 2010.

2. The larger websites have become the media giants of 2010. Look at Facebook, Apple iTunes and Youtube; in 2001 the top 10 websites accounted for 31 percent of pageviews in the US. Now, the top 10 websites account for 75% of page views. And these larger players are likely to encourage closed gardens to monetize to the maximum, rather than make it all open and completely accessible. A case in point is iTunes.

3. The way we access the web is changing; more and more content is being consumed through smarter, thick clients like apps, on smartphones and tablets vs. the browser. A large part of this is because these thick clients offer much better user-experience. As a result, the internet is being used as a dumb transport mechanism.

4. The big web properties are acting more like all-or-nothing media giants, vs. what Chris calls the 'come-one-come-all collective utopianism' of the Web. Chris compares this to the natural path of industrialization: invention, propagation, adoption, control. Very strong argument!

5. Other than search, the web has not proven to be a great mechanism for advertising. A case in point is banner ads; they have always suffered from low CTRs, and are generally ignored by users. However alternative advertising mechanisms presented outside the pure browser-page based ads could be pretty attractive. This could include advertising mechanisms like sponsored social goods, banners in social games, mobile app based ads, video ads etc. While all of these are available on the browser, they are increasingly being used outside the browser.


In some sense, I do agree with Chris; especially since tablets and mobile phone based apps often provide a very engaging user-experience, far better than a general purpose browser. But there are several reasons why the web is far from dead

1. The web remains the largest source of information, and the currency of exchange of information - web links - get more and more important as this information is spread across the web rather than concentrated at one place. Even large properties like Facebook and Twitter rely on the exchange of information through links. In fact, as soon as I complete this blog entry, I will post it on facebook and twitter, which is probably why you are reading it.

2. App traffic is growing because of video, but is traffic the right measure? It takes several times more bandwidth to consume an hour long video, than is needed when keeping the user engaged for an hour with a traditional web page. So the metric for comparing is not exactly fair.

3. There are several innovations in web browsers - particularly from Google Chrome - that might help bring back the browser.

4. The B2B web is likely to remain on the web as far as I can see - I mean how else could you write something that can easily be used within and outside an enterprise, than as a web application. In fact, enterprises are still in the midst of completing the transition to web-based applications, so the thought of moving from the web to this new app based web is hard to think of.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Networking

At the end of a recent MMM event, I found myself surrounded by 5 to 6 incoming students, all of which had tons of questions for me. What should we take in the first quarter - Turbo Finance, Finance I and II or Marketing? Who is a good professor for Marketing? How was recruiting last year? I was like - woah relax, so many questions! Why are you so anxious? And then I realized - they were exactly like I had been one year ago - eager, anxious, full of questions, and ready to take on the first year of MBA.

One topic really stood out. I told the first years that in order to do well in recruiting, it certainly helps if you network with the companies ahead of time. Which immediately created fear and apprehension, especially in some of the international students. What is networking? How do we network? What do we say to the recruiter? I assured them that Kellogg does a fine job of preparing you for networking via sessions, workshops etc. Which was of course, the wrong answer.

So what was the right answer? What the first years were doing right there and then, was in fact, networking. They had done their research about Kellogg beforehand. They were asking me intelligent questions. They were enthusiastic and interested in Kellogg. They could easily share what they did before Kellogg in a concise manner. There is nothing else that they really need to do with recruiters - in fact, trying to impress recruiters might be counter productive. Of course you need a pitch ready for the interview, and perhaps, also for the networking session. But in the first session, all the recruiter is likely to notice is whether you are like-able, interested in the company and job, and have done your homework.

I have found one book particularly useful when it comes to networking (and have mentioned it on this blog before). Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. It doesn't offer that many tips and tricks about networking - instead it gives a holistic view of networking, of looking at networking as something natural you do to build relationships and help others as much as to help yourself. It has certainly helped me relax at networking events and not be worried about trying to dazzle others at networking events (instead, i just underwhelm them :)). But seriously, the book is worth a ready for everyone. Just do it. And add your feedback to this post.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Kellogg might be #1 in marketing, but what about sales?

Kellogg is the best brand in Marketing education; few people will refute this claim. However, I am always surprised that not much is taught in terms of sales. As this
article pointed out, there is not much education in sales in most universities; I feel though that the gap is even bigger at the MBA level. Think how many people end up in sales related roles? Consulting, Banking, Marketing, Biz Dev to just name a few. Kellogg does offer some resources:

1. The Entrepreneurial Selling Class

2. The Sales Force Management class

3. In some sense, the Public Speaking and Entrepreneurship clubs

I think there needs to be a lot more done on sales education, not just at Kellogg but at other schools as well. I did some research on courses related to sales, and I could find atmost one or two courses at each of HBS, Stanford , Wharton and MIT Sloan. The school that probably puts the most emphasis on sales is MIT Sloan through the MIT Sloan sales club, MIT Sloan Sales conference and MIT Sloan sales competition, in which I participated last year (I am the guy with the glasses in the 2nd row trying to make sure that my face shows). Maybe Kellogg should start a sales club this year. Any other Kellogg students interested?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

McKinsey: team learning

One of the new things I was exposed to this week at McKinsey was the team learning session. This session is typically done at the start of every new project, and is meant for each team member to give an overview of the following:

1. A little bit about themselves, tenure at McKinsey, family, interests etc.

2. Professional priorities: where they are in their career, what skills and experiences they want to have to get to the next stage etc.

3. Personal priorities: What are their personal priorities like spending as much time with family as possible, keeping weekends free, taking time out for workouts etc.


4. Myers Brigg personality type, which might give an indication of what might it would be like to work with this person.


This sort of session helped us decide what roles each team member should take, how we should work together in terms of where we work from, the timings we work at, and how we should balance being at the client side, and being back in office. The discussion was very useful in establishing teamwork norms; in fact, I believe that it should become part of more organizations' work culture to have such discussions. Not only do these discussions help in learning your teammmates priorities and stating yours, it also help in getting to know a little bit more about your teammates. I had learned the importance of having such a conversation and creating a 'team contract' in our leadership in organizations course at Kellogg. However in this busy life, such conversations are often ignored to save time. My future teammates at Kellogg beware: here come some team learning discussions!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Career - a straight line, or a hyperbolic paraboloid?

I remember the early days of my career. I had joined Manhattan Associates, a supply chain software company, right out of undergraduate. Actually thats not true - I joined logistics.com, which got acquired by Manhattan Associates. Coming from New Delhi to New England was a big step for me.I had joined with three peers from the same school (IIT Delhi) and this was worrisome for me. But why worry? While my peers were great friends, I also worried about what if my performance at work was not as good as them? I mean they were three dedicated, passionate and super-brilliant people. One of them is still with MANH, but will go on to start a great company for sure. One of them returned to India to start a company called chakpak.com. And another is a rising star at Google. How could I ensure that I stay ahead of them, or at least along them?

But why am I remembering these facts now? Bumping into a friend from undergrad, who now happens to work in the same building as me in New York, reminded me of how I used to think of career as a straight line. As a race, where I was supposed to run the fastest, and beat everyone to it. But compare my friends career path to mine. He went from IIT to IIM, worked for McKinsey for three years in India, and now works for a premier private equity firm in India, currently on a rotation in the US. Me? I worked for seven years for MANH (yes, almost unheard of in this day and age, right?), changed jobs almost completely within the company (product development to sales), went to Business School later than most of my peers, and am now doing my summer at McKinsey, where most of my peers from undergrad, are already senior associates or engagement managers. And I knew that coming in - most of the people at my level are younger to me.

So why am I here? Quite simply, my hypothesis is that this step will help me get to where I want to go by:

1. Helping me learn essential skills, particularly skills of client interaction, presentation and problem solving

2. Giving me a great brand on my resume and helping me strengthen my network

3. Helping me pay off my Business School loans (And that is a LOT of loans).

So what will happen in the future? Will I end up At McKinsey or decide to take another route? Will my hypothesis become true? I will keep you updated for sure....

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Almost a month at McKinsey

It's almost been a month since I started at McKinsey as a Summer Associate. I thought this was an appropriate time to reflect (by blogging, of course). There have been quite a few surprises for me on joining the firm. But first, let's start at the items that went as expected:

1. My colleagues are very talented, motivated and overall outstanding individuals. Which is expected, given how much thought goes into evaluating each person in the hiring process. As someone suggested 'There are no hiring mistakes here.'

2. It's been fun! My summer class is a lot of fun, and we have a lot of get-togethers in NYC.


But then were were some surprises:

1. It is amazing to see how much thought goes into every consultant's development. A major reason reasons why consultants do tend to do a large variety of projects early on is to get a vast variety of experiences and build up one's consulting toolkit.projects assigned to me.

2. Contrary to popular opinion, most new hires are not necessarily MBAs. McKinsey hires from other masters and PhD programs, as well as hires several experienced people from the industry. There are a surprisingly high number of MDs in the firm, which is something I did not expect at all.

3. Working at McKinsey (or any top consulting firm) would give you a great brand on your resume and open several doors. But as several people have told me, its wrong to assume that it is a passport to any job you might want. In fact, you might get pigeonholed into strategy roles, and glamorous as that may seem, for several sectors, that is just a limited set of opportunities. It is often not easy to just move over the general management roles.

4. While McKinsey might help you learn several great skills, one thing will still be missing: you wouldn't learn how to manage 'normal' people. The theory behind this is that most people at the firm are very driven, and you do not have to motivate them to work hard and produce top quality results. This will not be true in most industry roles, hence that is something one should build through other experiences.

5. Management consulting is not just strategy consulting; in fact, the 'classic strategy projects' form a small part of revenue of most consulting firms. Instead there is a huge mix of projects, including sales and marketing, operations, innovation, growth, new market entry, cost-cutting etc.

6. As I meet different partners and directors, I notice the various qualities that might have helped them reach that position. And they all seem to be very different from each other; some are outgoing, friendly people who thrive on building relationships. Others are just pure intellect; well respect for their knowledge and thought process.


It's hard to believe that a month has already passed. Another six weeks to go, and I will be done - and back to Kellogg! What happens after that? Back at McKinsey, or go some other route? That still remains to be seen.....

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Nuvention Web: Adaptly featured

Nuvention Web is a two quarter course at Northwestern which I took during my first year at Kellogg. And I am so glad that I did the course.

The course is unique, because it gives participants a full experience of ideating, building and launching a web or mobile based startup, all in the space of six months. Our professors, Mike Marasco and Todd Warren, did an amazing job of guiding the teams through the process, in addition to bringing in great speakers from fields ranging from software development, technology marketing and venture capital, to discuss these various aspects of the business plan.

Ultimately, the course ended up being different things to different people; for some, it was a way of going through the experience of launching a startup; others are going a step further and continuing their ideas after the course. My startup, Adaptly, is part of a summer incubator program (location and name undisclosed for now :)

They say a picture says a thousand words - well how about a video? How about three videos? Here is a link to the course press release - go to it, or just view the videos below. Be sure to watch the last video - I am in it :)


http://www.mccormick.northwestern.edu/news/articles/710


The Course




Team PresentBee




Team Adaptly

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Improv and Public Speaking @ Kellogg

One of the biggest goals for me at Kellogg was to improve my communication skills. I have undertaken two key activities at Kellogg towards this goal: Improv, and Public Speaking.


The Improv Club at Kellogg runs these classes. These classes have made Improv my new passion; Its amazing how so many funny scenes come out during these classes; most of which are done by people who have had just a few hours of improv experience during the life.


Improv classes always begin with a fun, warm-up exercise. Over the ten classes I have attended, these have taken many forms:

1. The Zip, Zap, Zop game - This is a game that teaches one to listen, see, and plan the next move. All participants stand in a circle. The first person says zip, and 'throws' the zip to any other participant, by motioning with his or her hands. The participant that received the zip, throws the zap, and so the game goes on.

2. The listening game - As the name suggests, this game helps the participants exercise their listening muscles. The participants stand in a circle, but close their eyes. One person starts the count from one. The other participants listen, anticipate when no one else is going to say a number, and then say the next number. The objective is to reach till twenty, with random participants speaking the next word, without having a clash i.e. two participants speaking at the same time. If there is a clash, the group takes a deep breath, and starts again from one.

3. What are you doing? - The objective of this game is to help play out different kinds of actions. The game starts with everyone standing in a line. The first person goes to the 'stage,' and starts doing some sort of motion. For example, I might be combing my hair. The next person would come up and ask me 'What are you doing?' I might say 'Playing Basketball.' The next person gets on stage, starts playing basketball, and I leave.


Once the warm up is done, the real fun begins! Typically, people come up to the stage area two at a time, and do – well, improv! While improv is an art, it is also a science. There are some standard rules that really help people do better at improv. Some of these are:


  1. Yes, and – The ‘Yes, and’ rule states that you will not say no to anything to your partner. For example, if my partner said ‘ It’s a great day,’ I will react with ‘Yes, and the birds are chirping.’ If instead, I say ‘No it isn’t,’ I just killed the scene. Everyone doesn’t need to always begin with ‘Yes, and,’ they just need to respond positively.
  2. Have an opinion – It always helps to have an opinion in improv; an opinion about yourself, the surroundings, and most importantly, the person in the scene with you, and your relationship with the person. Some of the best scenes I have seen are between people who pretended they were old pals, or husband and wife, or mother and son; they knew each other, had an opinion about each other, and had strong feelings for each other – positive or negative.
  3. Give Gifts – to your partner. This rule means that you always add to the scene by giving gifts, in terms of new information, to your partner. For example, if I say something that adds to scene like, ‘Tom, you are you wearing a giant orange hat today!’ I just gave Tom a chance to talk all about his orange hat.
  4. Don’t ask questions – for similar reasons as above, give gifts rather than ask questions
  5. Don’t try to be funny – This counterintuitive rule works wonders. I found that whenever I was listening to my partner and playing the scene naturally, it came out to be much funnier if I tried too hard. The audience can detect when you are trying too hard, to be funny, so just don’t do it.



I am also working on reviving the Kellogg Public Speaking Club. My team recently kicked off our practice series, which gives everyone a chance to practice public speaking skills through prepared and impromptu speeches, in our recently kicked-off public speaking practice series. We also plan to organize speech contests like humorous speech contest, prepared speech contest and impromptu speech contest. I will keep you updated on how that goes.



















Sunday, May 2, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

7.5 years

I just came back from a two week vacation to my home in Delhi, India. My trip made me think of the following several times : how much had I 'Americanized?' How had the past seven and a half years that I have spent in the US, living in Boston, Atlanta and Chicago, changed me? Several key themes emerged:


1. Broad Minded: There is no doubt in my mind that I am more accepting of different lifestyle choices made by people. Exposure to people of different nationalities, values, races, professions etc. in the US has certainly made me realize that everyone does not think the same way that I do. I accept the fact.

But does this mean that I am unbiased? Certainly not. I stereotype, based on color, religion etc. Why? Because everyone does. Because it is human nature. The challenge is, how do you counteract and balance your biases to not judge too soon. I still struggle with that.

2. Notion of Patriotism: I made a trip to Wagah Border near Amritsar, Punjab. Wagah border is the only road border between India and Pakistan. Every evening, there is a retreat ceremony called 'lowering of the flags,' including a parade by soldiers from both sides, in which they shake hands and signify friendship between the two countries.

However, before the parade starts, there was a long ceremony in which people shouted slogans praising their respective country. It was almost competitive: the Indian crowd trying to outdo the Pakistani crowd, and vice versa. It was meant to awaken a feeling of patriotism in one. But it did not happen.

My notion of patriotism has certainly changed. I never feel patriotic towards India as I used to when we beat Pakistan in cricket, hockey etc. Instead, I feel patriotic when I learn about the entrepreneurs that have made their name in India and us, about freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Bhagat Singh, about the countless number of people dedicating their lives, working in NGOs in India. In short, India is great because it is great on its own, not because it is able to 'beat' Pakistan at something.

Why do I feel different now? I think it is largely governed by the friends I have made in the US, who are originally from Pakistan. For the longest time, I did not know they were from Pakistan; I might have never know. The life they had growing up was very similar to what I had in India. I do not subscribe to the India -Pakistan rivalry anymore, it is unproductive, dangerous and fueling negative sentiments.

3. Materialistism: I had several interesting conversations this time in Delhi with my friends, family members etc. about the amount of pomp in Delhi. Economic progress has transformed the lives of the upper and upper middle class the most, but it has lead to a rivalry in which everyone is trying to outspend each other - more expensive jewelry, bigger, more lavish parties etc. etc.

A prime example of this is the number of malls that have cropped up. The best example is a mall called Emporio which is one of the first luxury malls in India. An average shirt seemed to cost around $300 there, and it contained all the top brands in the world: Hugo Boss, Armani, Burberry etc.

Meanwhile, I have gotten much simpler in my lifestyle. I care much less about dressing nicely on a day to day basis; particularly, I don't care about what brand I wear at all. On more than one occasion, people have told me that I do not look like I am from Delhi, based on how plain and un-flashy I am..

4. Family vs Independence: This was bound to happen. Individual independence is so big in the US as compared to India. I am used to my independence, and not being questioned by family as I decide what to do. Is this good? Not necessarily. Family opinion adds a value.But it take more time to hear everyone, consider perspectives, take a decision and then explain to everyone why you took that decision. I just don't do that anymore.

5.Patience: I am much more impatient now: whether it is in expecting quick and good customer service from companies, or just how fast one comes to a decision. Imagine this nightmarish situation that happened in India, and how frustrated it made me.

My wife and I were supposed to travel via Air France from Delhi to Chicago. She fell sick on the day and was medically unfit to travel. I tried calling Air France to let them know of the situation. Guess what? Their office in Delhi closes at 5 PM and there is no number to call after that time. What time do ALL their flights depart? 1 AM or later! Can one imagine such a situation in the US? The only way to actually tell them is to go to the airport. However, this is completely acceptable to all their customers: apparently I was the only one who had a problem! I guess my notion of customer service is so different now...

Conclusion? I have definitely 'Americanized' in some ways. But in a lot of ways? Not so much...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Student Led Forum - Military Leadership

One of the best things about being at Kellogg is being surrounded by a group of extremely talented individuals. However, often we do not take full advantage of this diversity to learn from them, broaden our own perspectives. To this end, the Business Leadership Club at Kellogg started a new series called the Student Led Forum series.

The first in this batch was a panel called ‘Lessons in Military Leadership.’ The panel consisted of five people who served in the various branches of the armed forces - Army, Navy and Air Force, both in and outside US. And I have to say, after listening to the panel, I definitely left inspired.

The panel discussed the style of Leadership in the Armed Forces. Rank definitely plays a big part, and you are trained to listen to your superiors. However, what works even better is Servant Leadership. “Officers Eat Last” rings true in the armed forces. When food is served, soldiers go and eat first, and the officers eat what is left over.

Another key aspect of Leadership in the Armed Forces was leading by example, and aligning incentives. The only international army officer, Jeff (from the Israel Navy) gave us an example of this. He was faced with the task of motivating several soldiers who were nearing the end of their term of their time in the forces, and wanted to get back home as soon as possible. In order to inspire them, he first of all led by example, doing some of the ‘dirty work’ himself. Second, he laid out a plan such that once they did the initial setup, the soldiers could come in just once a week to maintain it, and as long as they did the work, they were free to spend the rest of the time at home.

The one thing that came up several times in the panel was how well most people in the armed forces perform under pressure. Whether it is coming under enemy fire, or a submarine flooding, people just put their heads down and get things done. A lot of this is to do with training of two kinds. First, repeated training of exactly the right steps to follow when faced with an emergency. For example, if there is a fire – run TOWARDS it. Who in their right mind would do that, unless being trained over and over again, to do so? The second type of training was on dealing with ambiguous situations, and making a decision and taking action, even with limited information.

Of course, no panel with the armed forces would be complete without some real war stories. On being asked about the scariest moments, one of the panelists said “Well, there was this one time in Iraq that a roadside bomb went off and blew away the front half of my truck, and I was left with my legs hanging out, luckily, completely unharmed. That was a bit scary. Compared to that, other emergencies, like interviews or assignment deadlines don’t seem that scary anymore.”

The panel left me extremely inspired, and feeling lucky to be surrounded by such an accomplished class. Next up – Student Led Forum - Leadership in Software Engineering!