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


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.'