Friday, December 30, 2011

Amazon and Customer Delight

I define Customer Delight as exceeding customer expectations. There have been two recent instances where Amazon did a remarkable job.

One was when I ordered the Roku box from Amazon. I spent an hour with Roku trying to troubleshoot the problem with Roku customer service - which was awful! The guy kept trying to make me reset the box, but the picture was still unclear on my TV. Now I don't have the latest 3D 1080p 240 Hz HDTV, but my TV isn't bad! It's HD enabled (aka 720p) and other players work well with it! Finally, when I gave up on Roku, I contacted Amazon.

Thats where things went uphill. Rather than call a 1800 number and wait for several minutes, they have a form on their website, where they call me! In 5 minutes, I was connected to a human being, and best of all, I spent no time waiting. They exchanged the Roku box for a new one, sent overnight. When that did not work too, I returned it - which meant clicking a link they sent me, printing the UPS label and dropping off to the UPS box.

The second instance was returning a $9.99 pair of sleep pajamas. Unfortunately the sizing on the website did not match what arrived in the email. I clicked on the return button, and it asked me for the reason code. When I entered it, that's it - the return was complete, I was refunded, and got a message 'For being a loyal customer, you don't even need to send back the item.'

It makes sense; the cost of having the item shipped back, processed for return, and then resent to someone else probably did not cover the profit Amazon.com will expect to make from the item. Additionally, they gained loyalty from me, by not making me go through the hassle of shipping the item back.

Now I am not sure if everyone will not get the same level of treatment. I order a fair amount from Amazon, and also am a prime members. Their low prices and great customer service has made me a loyal customer; I pretty much look to order almost everything from them. They must be deploying fairly sophisticated segmentation techniques to determine who they give the premium treatment to. Whatever it is, it seems to be working - I am delighted, and this instance made me an even more loyal Amazon.com customer.

Fab.com's incredible year

Monday, December 5, 2011

The age of distraction

One of the biggest struggles I have is maintaining focus. I can safely assume that majority of the readers of this blog suffer from the same problem. We live in age of distraction.

First there is the email. And not just one email - work email, personal email, personal junk email.

And then there is twitter - constant, non-stop updates from your friends, from people that you admire.

And then there is facebook. What is your social circle up to?

Not to mention blogs, TV, the news etc.

So why is it that these distractions have such a powerful hold on us? The book 'Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction' downloadable for free here, gives several reasons why this is the case:

1. Immediate gratification: getting an email brings with it immediate gratification. Someone remembered you! You are part of a social group! And resisting the urge for immediate gratification takes a fair amount of mental energy.

2. FOMO: or fear of missing out. What would happen if you got left behind your blogs? Next time you meet you your friends, would they make fun of you? Or would you not be able to contribute to conversations as much because you did not catch up on your blogs/news?

3. Addiction: once you do something enough, it becomes a habit; an addition

The book suggests a few steps to achieve focus despite the distractions:

1. Set some ground rules:
For example, email checks once an hour, on the hour. These ground rules should be setup based on your situation. For example, if your boss expects you to check email frequently, either communicate to him/her that you will check email less often to increase your productivity, or expect to get a lot of crap! Recognize when you break rules, but do not get disheartened. These things take time; often, a lot of time!

2. Shut off notifications: In words of a great philosopher (not sure who) "The human race progresses by making more and more behaviors automatic." We all have a limited amount of willpower, and it is a reservoir of energy that gets spent every time we use it. So shut off email notifications, twitter notifications, the red light on your blackberry (if you live in the 19th century like I do). Also, some softwares help a lot. For example, with TrayIT is a piece of software that lets you minimize windows to the System tray rather than the Taskbar is super helpful. Also, 'Rescue Time' is a software that runs in the background and monitors your computer behavior, rewarding you for productive applications and taking points away for negative behavior. And you can see what your time sink is (for me, its become Amazon.com shopping for Holiday deals!)

3. Be energized: sleep well, exercise, eat well etc. etc. The more energy you have, the more willpower you will have and will less likely be distracted.

4. Clear things: off your desk, desktop. Only have things you need to work: this includes internet applications. Do just the minimum

5. Slow down: slow down and take your time with every task. This will likely help you concentrate, and the work will get done faster.

Hope this was useful. For more details, read the book mentioned above. It truly is amazing, and its free to download the pdf (how awesome is that!)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Web Innovator group demo companies

The Web Innovators Group started by David Beisel been one of my favorite Boston startup events for several years. I last went to one in 2008, and one event in which PunchBowl presented. Now having moved back to Boston, I found myself at the Web Inno 32 meeting.

The event maintains the same format: there are 3 main dishes: startups that present on the main stage, and several side dishes that have demo tables available to them. Selections are made by David, I assume.

The event has grown massively in size since 2008, reflecting the enthusiasm for startups in the Boston area. The caliber of the entrepreneurs presenting also seems to be much higher. Here are my reviews of the main dishes:

1. Best Vendor helps people discover business applications for tasks ranging from marketing to accounting; from note taking to personal productivity. Sign up is simple; you mention your 3 favorite apps, log in via LinkedIn, and you get application recommendations. The more you add applications and fill in your profile, the better your recommendations become.

The platform solves a legitimate problem; for businesses, it is not easy to find the best applications for a given category; for the companies making these applications, the cost of customer acquisition is pretty high. While the revenue model for Best Vendor is a little unclear, presumably they will likely depend on fees from the application providers in return for cheaper customer acquisition.

The one thing that was a bit lacking was the demo itself; I love demos that tell a story and present the application in Clayon Christensen's 'Job to be done' format. The idea is simple, but profound. Every product is hired to do a job. Present what job your product is doing, and then demo how it is doing that. Demo done. Instead, the demo featured on a bunch of features and moved haphazardly through different screens.

2. Kibits Labs was probably the coolest of the bunch; it is a IPhone application that enables rich group messaging. You really need to either see the demo or download and use it to experience it. The demo itself was presented very well; the CEO Matt Cutler discussed some real life use cases;he is a very successful serial entrepreneur and mentor at Techstars, and it is obvious that he has done this before. In particular the Thanksgiving case appealed to me. Let's say you have extended family, all of which cannot get together to celebrate. Instead, you invite everyone to a Kibits group, and its easy to share pictures, videos and keep it separate from all your other texting/email junk. The application shows updates, shifts between items effortlessly. With the coolness factor. Kibits won the Audience Choice award by a narrow margin.

3. My favorite was restaurant reviews site Tasted Menu. It solves a legitimate problem; how often have you asked a friend, or the server at the restaurant 'What is good here?' Well, hello Tasted Menu. It is very easy to find restaurants on the site, and look up top rated menu items. They are coming up with a mobile app soon as well. Currently they are based in Boston, but will expand to other cities shortly.

I find the team to be pretty impressive; a pretty young HBS grad as CEO, a UI designer from TripAdvisor, a Ranking and Reputation engineer from Google and a Food Anthropologist (yes, those exist) managing the food taxonomy. They have been around since 2009, and are likely to do very well.

















So here is to the next batch of Kick Ass Webb Inno companies!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Real Work

I am always questioning myself - how can I do better work in a better manner? A TED talk by Jason Fried of 37 signals and author of Rework, talks about why work doesn't get done at the office. The first premise is that work is like sleep; when you go to sleep, you actually go to sleep in different phases till you actually hit deep sleep. The same is true of work, especially creative work. It is very hard to do high quality work when you are being constantly interrupted by managers and colleagues.

So what's the solution? The first step is to recognize that its these involuntary interruptions that are often more of a problem than voluntary interruptions like Facebook and Twitter. Jason rightly points out that no one would stop you from taking a 15 minute cigarette break. Why should companies stop you from taking a 15 minute Facebook break.

The next step: solve the problem by:

1. Encouraging uninterrupted work periods by using more passive methods of communication like email and IM rather than tapping someone on the shoulder and interrupting them. Doing so requires two aspects: using these methods, and also not being interrupted by these methods all the time. If you are someone like me who is constantly checking email (and trying to get rid of the habit), then an email interruption is as bad as someone tapping me on the shoulder

2. Set expectations: emails will not be answered instantly. As a manager, don't hold a grudge against an employee who did not drop everything and respond to your email. If there is something truly urgent, call the person.

3. Hold less meetings. Invite fewer people to meetings. Think of how much time is wasted in meetings. Schedule meetings at a more appropriate time e.g., early mornings might be a better for people to get their work done, so schedule it later in the day.

For more, see the video below...










Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sports

Now I admit it, I am not the biggest sports fan. Monday night football - what football? Baseball? Check once a month - I am all set. But my mind went back to one instant my life where sports - specifically, the game I love most, Cricket - taught me several things.

I was in the 11th grade. Or maybe 12th. I was part of the cricket team of my section vs. other sections. We played in a cricket field between the junior and senior school buildings. The ground was relatively small, so batsmen enjoyed hitting bowlers - especially fast bowlers - for lots of runs. Lots and lots of runs.

I was probably the shortest of the medium pace to fast bowlers. I didn't have the swing or the pace to trouble batsmen on that pitch, and my peers were being hit left, right and center for lots of runs. That is when I decided to take a different strategy.

Rather than run in and bull with full pace, I ran in slowly, bowled at a slow pace and kept a good line and length. The ball would typically stay low, and batsmen found it harder to hit than the other fast bowlers.

My team did pretty well, and my performance as a bowler was pretty steady throughout the season. Our captain trusted me, and the umpire - who also happened to be our class teacher - came and complemented me on my work. Until the crunch time.

In the last match of the season, we were playing against the odd-on favorites. They were close to a victory and needed a few runs off the last over of the day. Our captain trusted - ME! I was delighted at this opportunity and ran into bowl, confident that I could contain and even bowl out the other team. The first ball I bowled was - well, it was wide. That's when I began to lose my cool. The second ball was - again, wide! The next two were rather easy to strike and the opposition team hit a couple of boundaries to win the match.

It was a rather embarrassing moment for me - after a season of doing well, I had failed when it mattered most. But now that I look back at that episode, I realize several things:

1. It is hard to decide whether a particular event is good or bad. On the surface, this was a terrible outcome - my team lost, and I was to blame. But if we hadn't lost, I don't think I would remember this instant some 13 years later, and I certainly wouldn't have learned much. They say failure is a great teacher. I agree

2. Second, I remember the incident as great not because of the outcome, but because of the process. In that season, I gave it my all. In general, I came up with a pretty good performance, but also failed. What matters to me at the end of the day is the process I went through - deciding a different strategy than other bowlers, being consistent and persistent - rather than the outcome. And so I am happy - and follow the philosophy of investing in the process, not the outcome to this day

Monday, October 24, 2011

Procrastination

Somehow the subject of procrastination has interested me a lot these days. I just have happened to come across books that address the issue in one way or another:

1. The Now Habit, which gives a system a reduce procrastination

2. Linchpin - by Seth Godin, which also talks about the procrastination involved in creative work, and the discipline of 'shipping' as the key differentiating factor between average and outstanding producers.


There are two aspects of procrastination that fascinate me:

1. The more creative and risky the work you do, the more the likelihood that you will procrastinate. We don't procrastinate because we are lazy; we largely do so to protect us from the risk involved in the work i.e., the risk of failing, the risk of being judged by others for work that did not meet their expectation, and sometimes, even the risk of getting more difficult work when you complete the current work

2. Sometimes we procrastinate unpleasant tasks which turn out to be not so unpleasant after all. As an example, I have to cancel a credit card for a while for which I have no use (and of course there is an annual fee involved). I postponed the task 5 times, thought about it a few times and I am sure wasted some mental energy thinking about it. Why? Well, there is a the unpleasant task of talking to the credit card "retention" rep to explain why I am not using the card, listen to their sales tactics and still say no. This morning, I had 5 minutes break so I just called. Guess what? It took 3 minutes. That's it. Just 3 minutes. Some of the credit goes to Chase for not employing high pressure tactics (trust me, that makes me much more likely to bank with the firm in the future). So what was I procrastinating for?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Happiness equation

Happiness = wanting what you have(gratitude)/having what you want (gratification)

Think about it

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

Yes, as you might have guessed, this post is about Steve Jobs. I was deeply saddened at the passing way of this legend. And at a young age of 56.

Bloomberg Businessweek has a special issue dedicated completely to Steve Jobs; his life from childhood to his passing. Did you know that

  • Steve smoked pot and hash as a high schooler, and reminded employees and reporters over the years, dropped LSD.
  • He stuck around Reed college for one and a half years after he dropped out, sleeping on friends' floors, depositing bottles and living off the money from that.
  • He was fascinated with Buddhism and traveled to India with his friend from Reed College

The more I read, the more I realized - the Apple commercial below is all about Steve - the crazy one.






Oh. One more thing. I also saw the TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert - the author of "Eat, Pray, Love." Her message is that none of us is a genius. We should instead think that we "have" a genius within us. But Why?

Being creative carries an inherent problem - there is a high risk of failure. A high chance that no one would care for your work. And even if you succeed, what happens after that? Is your biggest success behind you? Are you never going to be as successful as you were before?

This is a great burden to carry for anyone. That is why she advocates believing in a that you have something within you that 'creates' the creativity; something you can not completely control. And it is not your burden to be creative, but joint responsibility with the genius within you.












I am not sure if Steve believed in this philosophy. But I believe that he probably did. This is why he had all the success that he did, one after another. And this is why when he passed away, it was not because of anything to do with his creativity. So cheers to the genius within all of us.

P.S. Some of this blog post might be cryptic unless you see both videos

Friday, September 9, 2011

Why we procrastinate

I started reading a book on procrastination. Unfortunately I kept putting reading more off :)

Now that I finally read more, we procrastinate -

  • Not because we are lazy
  • Because we might fear failure
  • Because completing the task might lead to more work
  • Because we feel that we are being forced to do the work - we talk to ourselves as if its not our choice
  • Focus on the end of the project - which is especially overwhelming if the project is large
  • We are perfectionists and are not willing to accept anything less than perfect - which raises the bar and makes us procrastinate

I wanted to write more, but I am feeling lazy,...

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The future of this blog

Over the past 2 years, I have written a lot of blog posts about Kellogg. Now that my Kellogg journey is over and I am about to join McKinsey, my blog post writing would become rather limited. I can only write certain things about my experience because of client confidentiality reasons. Most of the posts would be limited to my reflections on life, and technology and entrepreneurship - unrelated to my work at McKinsey. So look to hear from me, but on a more infrequent basis. Till then...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Words of caution: Lean startup methodology

I am a big fan of the Lean Startup methodology, and related concepts such as customer development and minimum viable product. The Lean Statup Machine weekend was super helpful for me in learning and practicing the methodology more, and learning from an awesome set of mentors. As I learn this methodology more and more, there are some words of caution for newbies:

1. There is a big learning curve as far as practicing the methodology is concerned. Several pieces of it are science, and can be learned quickly, while others are more art than science. Take for example customer interviews. One has to learn how to structure customer interviews for maximum learning, from being flexible to focusing more on customer problems and not your solution. As you do more and more interviews, you do get better at them.

2. It is imperative that you select your interviewees carefully. What exactly is your target market? Often, one can build a solution for the general population, but identifying a particular target which might have the largest need for the solution is imperative. And one can stumble across this target by interviewing several potential targets. How do you determine best prospects? In words of Paul Graham, that is a function of "How much of a problem they have, and how quickly they come to a decision"

3. Asking if a prospect has a problem is also a tricky process. Let's face it, we hate problems. We do whatever we can to deal with them - come up with a solution, or rationalize them/fail to recognize that they exist. Let's take the example of buying an airline ticket. If you asked someone if they have a problem doing this twenty years ago, the answer would be no! I call up my travel agent or visit him/her, and in no time, I have my ticket. But then again, how easy is it to buy tickets online? If we cannot see a solution, we will likely rationalize problems. They key is not to have the whole population admit that there is a problem. They key is to find a few people who think that it is a big problem, and are willing to be your first customers, and to find a lot of other people who are willing to admit to it being somewhat of a problem, who will jump to the solution if it is really good.

4. Experts are often wrong. As the mentors at LSM NYC said, their opinion is also just one data point. They can probably give you the best advice on how to practice the methodology, but their advice is less useful on a particular concept.

5. It is great if you can have someone review your iterations - hopefully someone who knows about this methodology, but even someone who is just willing to be logical is good enough.


More to be added as I think of them....

Friday, August 5, 2011

I got my back!

How often does one have life changing experiences? I had one recently.

First, a bit of history. I have had back, shoulder and neck pain for a few years now. I have seen chiropractors, physiotherapists, massage therapists. I have changed mattresses, seating positions, tried exercises, breathing routines etc. Nothing helped. The pain could be triggered by anything - sleeping, sitting, walking, weight exercises etc. I gave up weight training, tennis, running etc.

This is the story of how it changed.

I have been living at my mother-in-law's place in Long Island for the past month. There, I discovered a book called 'Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection.' The book is written by Dr. John E. Sarno, who has extensive experience in treating pack pain.

The basic premise of the book is this: the neck and back pain so common in the world now, is caused by any physiological condition in most people; in other words, there is nothing wrong with your back! The condition is called TMS (Tension Mytostis Syndrome). As you might have guessed, that has to do with tension. But how could tension cause back pain?

I always understood that tension played a major role in my back pain. But I did not understand how tension could cause back pain. Was I tensing muscles too much? Maybe that is why my back, neck and head always hurt in stressful situations like giving major presentations?

It turns out that it isn't so. With all the advances in medical technology, we do not understand a major part of the body very well: the mind. According to the book, the mind actually plays a trick with us. Rather than making us face unpleasant emotions like anger and anxiousness, it distracts us by causing back pain through mild oxygen deprivation in the back muscles.

So how does one go about and fix this problem? One simple way is to get rid of the tension! Of course, if that was required to be done, the doctor would achieve success in less than 1% of the patients. Tension, stress, anxiety and anger are part and parcel of emotions one feels. So then what?

The answer is - just call the bluff! Talk to your brain. Tell it that its trick will not work. That you know the true cause, and will not be fooled. Remind yourself of this every day. And when the pain starts to get better, start all physical exercise you gave up, again!

When I first read this, I thought - well this is utter crap! Its more like science fiction than anything else. Talk to my brain? Do you think I am crazy?

I had nothing to lose, so I tried it anyway. I read the book three times. Reviewed these reminders every day. I believed I was going to get rid of my back pain. Things started improving, and I started to run on the treadmill, started doing weights.

It's been about four weeks now. I am not completely pain free yet, but the pain is almost un-noticeable; almost 80% less than before. I still get bouts of pain. Recently, an event caused me lot of worry, and I immediately felt intense back pain. But I reminded myself that the pain was because of the anxiousness. By the evening, the pain was completely gone.

This experience has changed my life. I was worried about how the back pain would affect my upcoming job and travel at McKinsey. My mind is much at ease now, and I am optimistic that I can keep the pain at bay through the trials and tribulations of a consulting job.

Wish me luck!

P.S. I noticed one cool thing. If you google 'McKinsey Summer Associate,' my blog entry
comes in
as result #5, right after McKinsey's website and glassdoor.com. Awesome!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The power of black and white

Most things in life are grey. As human beings we are susceptible to making wrong decisions when things are grey. For example, I should only have a small piece of the brownie. Yeah, this looks like a small piece. But come on, one more piece wouldn't hurt me right. It's been 30 minutes since the last piece - surely I can have one more small piece, right?

The power of black and white is enormous. If we set up rules which make an action clearly right, or clearly wrong, we are much more likely to choose the right path. For example, I am following a diet called the Four Hour Body Diet. On 6 out of 7 days, I am allowed to have no carbs - essentially, no bread, pita, rice, ice cream, brownie etc. Just proteins and fat. The first 2 days of the diet are hard - damn I want that pizza now! But now it becomes clear what I can and cannot do - and I hardly ever go wrong. For six days a week, I have no pizza. Or creme brulee. It's as simple as creating the rule. That's the power of black and white.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Lean Startup Machine New York

This past weekend I participated in the Lean Startup Machine New York event. The event is dedicated to learning various practices of Lean Startups, particularly customer development.

On Thursday evening, we had a networking event to help form teams, and an introduction to the weekend. David Tisch, director of Techstars NY was a guest speaker. We continued the networking and team formation on friday evening, by when teams were solidified and teams started customer development.

I used the weekend to build on the Class Guru concept. I was lucky to be part of a team, which consisted of Vidar Brekki, CEO and founder of Social Intent, Seni Thomas, CEO and Foudner of Audience Amplify, and Paul Infield-Harm, Director of Product Development at Cyrus Innovation.

We started with discussions on the various directions that Class Guru could go in, and what problems people face in taking classes. While we had different perspectives on problems in taking classes, we were able to reach a consensus for a hypothesis by Saturday morning. From then on we conducted several iterations, each of which consisted of setting a hypothesis of the customer problem and the solution that we would provide, supporting assumptions and designing experiments on how to validate or invalidate the hypothesis. While we did do some facebook ads and landing page tests. By Sunday, we completed three iterations and presented our findings to the judges in a presentation.

The judges decided the winners based on how effectively they applied the customer development process. The teams that won this competition seemed to have learned the most; in most cases, they started with one idea, invalidated it through customer interactions and pivoted to another idea based on customer feedback.

I feel that I learned a lot about the customer development process; in particular how much can be achieved even during a single weekend. I have done customer development before, but it was the first time that I actually walked on the streets, stopping and interviewing random people. Excellent experience!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Think Neutral

I remember this workshop from the 2008 NetIP conference called - the Laughing Club. It was led by a Boston based Entrepreneur Sushil Bhatia. I remember one of the things he emphasized - called 'Think Neutral.'

The reason that I remembered that was because of a book that I am reading called 'Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful - No Matter What' by Srikumar Rao, who teaches the Personal Mastery course at Columbia Business School. Dr. Rao first talks about the pitfalls of conventional wisdom i.e. positive thinking. We are always taught that we must think positive, and then the positive things will happen to us. But this pressure to think positive adds stress to our lives. Every time we have to force ourselves to look at a negative thing with a positive perspective, which is stressful, and uses our mental energy.

Dr. Rao presents an alternative - just stop using the label bad and good, or positive and negative. It is actually very hard to judge whether something is positive or negative until much further in the future. For example, let's say you are an entrepreneur and an investor decided not to fund your startup. It could be negative, because you don't have the funds you want. But it might be positive for several reasons; one it might give you a chance to fix the reasons why you are not getting funded. Or this investor wasn't the right one for your startup. Or you figure out how to make things work for now and three months later get funded at a much higher valuation.

The point is, we don't really know if its positive or negative. So let's stop using these labels, and instead, think neutral.Observe what happens to you but do not get emotionally swayed. Don't lose your sense of peace. Harder said than done, but let's atleast try.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Decision making

"Mistakes can usually be corrected later; the time that is lost in not making a decision can never be retrieved." -Jan Carlson

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Photos for $9.95 a piece

One of the best ways to make money is to target a market that you could hold captive; a market that has no alternative. Pricing decisions then don't take into account competition, but instead, take into account alternatives. In fact, if you come across a product that is priced much higher than what you would expect, then it is likelihood a captive market. I recently came across several interesting examples of these:

1. Textbooks - how useful are most of the textbooks prescribed in courses? Not that much. Most of the knowledge can be gained through coursepacks, class discussions etc. Then why are they priced that high? Because they can, because the instructor decides the textbook often without consideration of the price, as the students have to bear the price.

2. Graduation pictures - I recently graduated from Kellogg, and an official photographer took 3 pictures of me - a close up, a ceremony potrait and a handshake with the dean. These are the only pictures that exist of this crucial moment of my life. So guess what the photographer can charge me for the pictures? A LOT. one 5 x 7 photo is for $9.95. Yes, the same picture that can be printed at CVS for 50 cents is for $9.95. Gross margin? Don't even ask. And this is the lowest priced product - most others are $100 plus.

3. Cinema popcorn and soda - what $4 for a soda that costs the movie theater 10 cents to make? Yes, captive market indeed.

Monday, July 4, 2011

An open offer

I am working on a startup idea and currently building a beta version of the site to test the concept. Rails is such a great platform to code on, yet it has taking me a lot more time than I expected. I need help, and I have an offer. I know several readers of this blog are applying to Business School, and have a technology background. So here is my proposal.

You are a B School applicant with a technology background, and are proficient in ruby on rails coding. You can me in building my site by taking on responsibility of some of the coding, and help me with my code when I get stuck.

I am a Kellogg graduate, and have substantial experience in both applying to B School and reviewing applications of other candidates. I will help you with your application, without doing anything unethical. What does that means? I will help you build a strategy for your application, review your essays and offer my comments, and help you present your skills and experiences positively. What I will not do: tell you what to write, create a story for you, tell you what I wrote in my applications, or anything that will give you an unfair advantage.


So we both are able to use our talents, and help each other. Interested? Email me at shobhitchugh at gmail dot com.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

So much has changed

So much has changed since I last wrote a blog post. Here are some quick updates - more to come about each of these

1. I graduated from Kellogg! Woohoo

2. I went to London and Paris for a holiday with my family. It was amazing fun!

3. Now I am back and getting ready to move to Boston, start a new job etc.

4. I got an iPad - as a gift from my family for graduation. Woohoo!

So stay tunes for thoughts on each of these in the next few weeks! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kellogg Class Gift 2011

I am working on the Kellogg Class Gift team for the class of the 2011. The class Gift is a pledge that the graduating class makes for monetary contribution. The actual payments are made over a period of two years.

Why am I working for this cause? There are several reasons:

1. I hate the fact that I am graduating. I would rather stay in school for another 2 years. But given the fact that I am going to become an alum, I would rather take the first step in giving back and contribute towards the class gift.

2. I feel passionately about Kellogg - it has blessed me with great friendships, awesome knowledge, and helped me develop personally and professionally.

3. The class gift makes it easy to give back. One can decide the payment schedule, so I am giving a minimal amount this year, and more next year, when I will actually have money

4. I benefited greatly from alumni who have contributed in the past, and I feel that it is my responsibility to give back to the incoming classes.


So dear classmates, please do make your pledge now. We are counting on you.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Nota Bene II

Kellogg is hosting the Nota Bene series for graduating second years.Last week we had the second event in the series called 'Nota Bene II: Applying MBA Lessons to Your Life.' It featured some amazing Kellogg professors, Professors Tim Calkins, Daniel Diermeier, Kathleen Hagerty, Victoria Medvec, Derek Rucker and Florian Zettelmeyer. The panel was moderated by Professor Adam Galinsky. The event was amazing; particularly for some comments from Professors that I cannot post on this blog. However there were some great quotations that I noted down. All quotations have to do with failures that professors have experienced in their lives:

"Sometimes you have to fail on purpose, in order to progress further." - Derek Rucker, on having a terrible meeting with his colleagues on his way to establishing a center for marketing practice at Kellogg

"Over time, the things that you regret most are your inactions. You hardly ever regret your failures" - Victoria Medvec, on not negotiating enough when it counted, even though she loves to negotiate always (e.g., at the grocery store)

"Go back to the basics. Even negotiations professors fail at negotiations when they mess up the basics" - Adam Galinsky, on messing up a negotiation for his twin brother (an example he mentioned in class as well)

"Management by analogy is dangerous. Extract commonalities, but remember to understand what's different in the situation" - Florian Zettelmeyer, on overestimating market potential, when he ignored the fact that people, after a certain age, tend to die with increasing probability

"In your first post-MBA job, stay till you get promoted. This way, no one looking at your resume will be in doubt that you were fired" - Tim Calkins

"I like the professor, but not as much as the professor likes himself" - quote from TCEs that Professor Galinsky got from the class of 2011. He realized he talked a lot about his successes, and not much about his failures.

"First, I want to be as nice as possible. Second, I like to be straight with whoever I am negotiating with " - Kathleen Hagerty, on hiring some of Kellogg's brightest faculty as Associate Dean

"I love talking about depressing things." - Daniel Diermeier

"I love Stata" - Florian Zettelmeyer, on Stata

"You will be fine at McKinsey" - Florian Zettelmeyer
"I am not going to McKinsey" - 2nd year student
"Oh crap (not said, but implied)" - Florian Zettelmeyer

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why you should register for bone marrow donation

Look at the video below - I am registered as a marrow donor, and it literally takes 1 minute to fill out a form, and a cheek swab.This is especially important for minorities as the match is largely based on a genetic match.

If you are matched, you save a life. And they don't cut you up! It is similar to stem cell donation; just like donating some blood! If you are @ Kellogg, do checkout the facebook page here

Friday, May 13, 2011

The reuse phenomena

I am a big fan of internet startups that help us improve our efficiency. Now efficiency is a pretty broad term, and people typically associate efficiency with time efficiency. Thus an application like Toodledo, designed to help manage tasks, falls into that category. Others, like Kayak, Yelp and The Class Guru, help people find the right things faster.

Another form of efficiency that interests me is 'material' or 'stuff' efficiency. There are so many things that we buy, which we use for a limited amount of time, but then, they just lie, gathering dust. What if we could reuse them for someone else's good, and perhaps make some money in the process? Following are some of the recent web startups that are working in this field:

1. Plurent.com - run by a friend of mine, this startup provides a peer to peer video game rental service. Video games gathering dust on your shelves? Rent them out. Or get new video games title for a price much lower than what you would pay for buying them new or used.

2. Thredup.com is an online exchange for children's clothes, works on a simple premise. Children grow up. Clothes don't. So rather than throwing away clothes, why not sell them to someone for a minimal fee?

As I look at these different examples, several critical success factors emerged:

1. Usability is at the top of the list. There is not much money to be earned by renting video games or selling old clothes, so using the site must be effortless.

2. The effortless piece extends to logistics; the sites provide pre-paid and printed shipping envelopes/packages, so that there is not much effort on part of the user.

3. Targeting of a product that loses use after some, but is useful to someone else. Old movies, video games, clothes work well. However, there are some behavioral issues that one must take into account. Let's consider video games; typically video games have several levels to conquer, and in most cases, video gamers love to go up to the advanced level, which could take several weeks. If that were the case, would it really be cheaper to rent the game vs. buying it? The answer is unclear.

4. Low shipping costs, which might eliminate books

5. Ability to transfer ownership of the product, which eliminates e-books.

6. A fraud proof system, which includes storing the credit card number of people renting the goods, in case they do not return it

7. Probably the toughest part comes from network effects. Growing the business initially is really hard, as you need parties from both sides of the platform to make the network a success. Sellers have no utility without buyers, and buyers have no utility without sellers. Businesses need to use some strategy to kick-start the network. Let's take the example of Thredup. I am not sure what the owners used, but one strategy would be to convince 50 to 100 of their closest friends and families to create clothes packages online; even give them incentive to do so. An excellent paper about two-sided markets can be found here (purchase required, but just google the title - there are a lot of free downloadable PDFs available online).

Good luck to these businesses!

The most important thing you should know before B School

Recently I was talking to some of my classmates about one of the most important concepts everyone should know before coming to B-School. To my surprise they did not. If you are going to B-School, are at B-School or a B-School alum, you must watch this clip. It explains what you need to know about the fundamentals of business. Cause if anyone knows business, the Gnomes know business.



Saturday, May 7, 2011

6th on Clear Admit Student Bloggers!

I was number 6 - super happy!!

Congratulations to the winners. Here is the list of the top 10 student bloggers, 4 of which were from Kellogg (AWESOME!), including #1 and #2. Full post is here

Top Student Bloggers
1. Orlando http://www.kelloggmbaclassof2011.com/
2. Jeremy http://www.jeremycwilson.com/
3. Miltary to Business http://militarytobusiness.blogspot.com/
4. Rocky http://babsonmba2012.com/
5. Praz http://columbiambaclassof2012.blogspot.com/
6. Shobhit http://shobhitchugh.blogspot.com/
7. D.G. http://blog.dinogane.com/
8. Darden Poet http://dardenpoet.wordpress.com/
9. Paul http://mitlgo.tumblr.com/
10. Nistha http://nisthaonweb.com/blog/

Sources of Inspiration

What are your sources of inspiration? What do you do keep yourself from giving up, from continuing to work on that business, or that business school application, or that next big presentation?

I believe that working on the tasks and visualizing achieving the end goal is a powerful motivator to keep going. However, I try to practice regular routines to keep myself inspired.

1. Every 3 days or so, I watch a TED talk. I try to go and find an inspiring talk that is not necessarily related to anything I am working on.

2. I blog. Blogging requires one to reflect on one's life, and reflection often highlights to me all the great things I am blessed with. This inspires me to keep going.

3. I read. My reading list normally consists of business books with an inspirational flair. Currently, I am reading Onward by Howard Schultz and Do More Faster by Brad Feld and David Cohen.

4. I spend time with family and friends. This is a great energizer and inspires me tremendously. I am a pretty friendly guy in general, but its those few close relationships that I cherish the most.


What inspires you?

Punchtab

One of the best ways to be innovative is take something that works in one field and apply it to another. Punchtab aims to do just that; it provides a loyaly program for websites similar to hotels or airlines.

I was able to sign up and setup a reward for my blog in seconds. I was also able to setup rewards very soon e.g., 10000 points = $10 gift card for amazon. What I was able to figure out is how to setup feedback for actions e.g., if someone leaves a comment, how do I make sure that they get points? The only points that get automatically setup are for Facebook shares and likes. Then when I went back to the site, I wasn't able to log in. In summary, seems like an excellent idea, but not executed well so far.

The 3 A's of Awesome

It is pretty awesome!



Thursday, May 5, 2011

Launching the Startup Leadership Program in Chicago

In 2008, I graduated from the Startup Leadership Program , a program aimed at grooming the next generation of startup CEOs. The training, mentorship and network that the program provided has been instrumental in my career in several ways, including getting into Kellogg, working on startups and determining post-Kellogg career path. You can read about the program through my original blog post here.

The program began in Boston in 2007, and we have expanded to six cities now. Right now, I am involved in an effort to get the program started in Chicago, and we have one outstanding program lead and some outstanding mentors interested. If you are/know of outstanding mentors or potential program leaders based in Chicago, please do let me know!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Action Classes

For web entrepreneurs: do checkout the page 'http://www.livestream.com/actionclass/folder.' This is a collection of great classes, completely free on topics ranging from Positioning, Social Marketing, Startup metrics, Landing page design etc. It is amazing how generous each of the teachers on the courses have been with their time. They include Neil Patel, Hiten Shah, Pete Koomen and Bob Walsh. Thanks you guys, people like me really appreciate it!

Public Speaking topic

Dear Readers,


I need to do a persuasive speech on a controversial topic this Monday. I need some suggestions on what topic I could do the speech on. Any ideas? Please do leave comments.

Thanks
Shobhit

Monday, May 2, 2011

Excellent report on Social Media Industry 2011

2011 Social Media Industry Report

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Another productivity hack: write things down

Presenting my productivity hack #2: write things down. This applies to everything: a thought that you have that you want to explore later, a task that needs to be done at some point, something that is bothering you or some new idea you have. Writing it down helps you 'download' the thought onto paper, and stop thinking about it, enabling you to focus your mind and energy on the task at hand.

I use this hack constantly - there is always a pen/pencil and sheet of paper next to my computer. For this purpose, I prefer paper over note taking applications like Evernote, which I use for almost everything else. Paper and pencil also lets me physically scratch things out when they are done, giving additional satisfaction on a small task accomplished or idea executed.

Next up: how to eat unlimited ice cream and gain no weight.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A simple productivity hack

I have learned a simple productivity hack that is working very well for me. Here it is:

1. Choose one task

2. Set your phone timer for 20 minutes

3. For that 20 minutes just focus on that one task. No email, phone calls, texts, facebook wall posting, tweets allowed

4. Once you are done, take a 5 minute break for all the distractions

5. Repeat


I often get more done in these 20 minute sprints than in one hour of distracting work. How did it work for you?

Once again considered for Clear Admit Best blogger award

http://blog.clearadmit.com/2011/04/best-of-blogging-nominees-2010-2011/

Glad to be in the company of Dino, Jeremy and Orlando!


Monday, April 25, 2011

My new Resume site + great marketing

Thanks to the folks at snappages.com, I have a new resume site here. Snappages offers users the ability to create a free site with the use of their LinkedIn profile. It gives the user something of value, and also engages the user, moving them from the interest phase to the evaluation phase in the marketing funnel. Great marketing!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Great marketing example

Hilton just showed Kellogg a brilliant piece of marketing. All graduating students get free five years of Gold status for Hilton Honors. 40% of Kellogg students end up in consulting => lot of high paying customers. Extremely good targeting Hilton!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Another great Kellogg video

Wondering if you should come to Kellogg? A current student explains why he chose the school, and why you should too.

Music video produced for DAK 2011 (Day at Kellogg)
Written and performed by John DiGiovanni
Directed and edited by Chris Reynolds
Audio mixed by Ben Estes

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Quote of the day

"We human beings are like porcupine. We want to get close to stay warm in winters, but get too close and we risk injuring each other"

- adapted from Freud

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Innovation

Matt Scheinker, VP of consumer experience at AOL gave a Keynote speech at the Kellogg Tech Conference 2011. His topic was innovation, and his message, in the most simple terms was "Don't Innovate; just solve problems. He gave several fine examples of how some of the best innovations come from people recognizing and solving problems. The twitter feed from the speech can be viewed at http://twitter.com/#!/search?q=%23kelloggtechaol

However sometimes the needs and problems are not obvious. An example I was jut reading in the book 'The Riddle' by Kellogg professor Andrew Razeghi suggests looking at needs/problems/opportunities in terms of what cannot be done in a particular context. This is because needs are not always obvious to people.

An example he gives is as follows: If you ask soldiers hiding in foxholes what they need, they would likely come up with sources of food, water, blankets etc. However if think of what they cannot do, then things change. They cannot execute orders at night, because they cannot read the orders, because they cannot light a light, because if they do, they will get shot by the enemy. So they need a way to read in the dark;

This is how "Ecriture Nocturne" (night writing) code was invented, which ultimately evolved into the Braille code.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The get an iPad for $24 business model

Recently, there has been a number of companies that advertise things such as an iPad for $24, a vacation to Hawaii for $300 etc. etc. Quibids and OffAndAway are some of them. But behind these offers lies an amazing business model. Let's look at an example:

A site starts with an iPad being sold at $0.01. Every time that someone bids on the iPad, they get charged $1 for the bid, and it adds $0.01 to the price of the iPad, and adds 10 seconds on the clock.

Typically, once the site has enough users, there are a lot of people waiting for those last 10 seconds and a chance to win the iPad for like 95% off. So lets assume that happens. iPad sold for $25. The site loses a lot of money, right?

Consider how much money the site gets for the bid. To raise the price from $0.01, to $25, there had to be 2499 bids! That means people spent $2499. So the site gets $2499 plus $24.99. What is the gross margin on this thing? Even if the iPad was $500, the gross margin was 80%!

But what about the downside? What if people do not bid much? There is a significant downside, but the point is that the site can monitor this closely and start closing out items that do not sell.

So the key question is, how long does it take to people to figure out the problem with the business model, and that their chances for winning the iPad are slim? Time will tell.

Monday, April 4, 2011

It's just data

One of the struggles in a startup is conflicting advice. Several experienced mentors might give you the exact opposite advice.

Do More Faster gives a unique perspective on this problem. Very simply, consider each piece of advice as just another data point; just one person's perspective. Then rely on your own judgement, make a decision and move on.

It's just data

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Yelp platform success

"The key to Yelp's success is that it is a reliable, user-friendly local information service that reflects the passion of its users."(from this BBC article)

Platforms are a tough business. Above all, they suffer from a chicken and egg problem. Let's take a video game console as a platform that connects gamers and game developers. If you do not have enough gamers which have the console, why would the game developers put in time, effort and money into developing games for that platform. And if you do not have enough games available, why would anyone buy the console.

They key to success in platforms is getting pricing right i.e., figuring out which side to subsidize, and how. This is why Microsoft and Sony sell their consoles lower than the cost to manufacture and distribute these systems, and then make up profit on fees from developers.

Yelp.com, and other social platforms face a similar but different challenge. Initially there were prices. Both businesses and reviewers are online for free. But what use would a review site be without reviews? Yelp solved this problem by building social mechanisms for good work. A key part of this is the user profile page that highlights the behaviors that Yelp is trying to encourage. A related post can be found here.

Why the sudden interest in Yelp? I am working on a platform business idea, and so was looking for inspiration. Wish me luck!


Friday, April 1, 2011

Well played KSA. Well played

IBM buys Yelp. Feefighters raises $41MM. Etc. Etc. The internet has been full of April 1st jokes. I thought nothing would faze me. And then it did.

This afternoon Kellogg Student Association president Brian Van Wagener sent out an email - that TG (which stands for thank goodness its Friday) will be moved to Mondays (71.2% of students voted for that apparently). Also, because its a class day, no alcohol will be served.

Now those of you who don't know about TG - all you need to do is to read this post by Orlando. The very thought of this tradition being scrapped in favor of a monday morning coffee get together was absurd. I was puzzled and angry at the same time. Apparently so were 150 other Kellogg students who replied to Brian within an hour. And then, just before TG began, Brian sent out an email clarifying the intent of the KSA joke.

Wow, well played guys. Well played.

All types of creativity are not equal

Just started reading 'The Riddle' by Andrew Razeghi, a renowned Kellogg Professor. Already came across two key insights:

1. There are three kinds of creativity: artistic creativity, scientific creativity and conceptual creativity. They are very different from each other.

2. Conceptual creativity is the creativity we associate with solving problems and with business creativity. Prof. Razeghi's definition of conceptual creativity is what makes a dog paddle; once the barking stops, the swimming begins. When we have to figure things out, we do.


So far, the book is exceedingly interesting and useful at the same time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do More Faster

If you are an entrepreneur or a wantrepreneur (want to be entrepreneur), please read the book 'Do More Faster.' Especially if you want to do a web startup. I have ready 1/10th of it and I am already so inspired by it, and have learned so many great lessons, its amazing. One of the best books I have read ever, by far.

Speaking of Entrepreneurship, I am learning Ruby on Rails right now, and might code and launch an application soon to test an idea. What, learning coding in B School? Yes. Life has a way of going around in circles.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Business school lingo

I am working on a video on Business School lingo. It is spring break, so I am lazy and so it is taking forever. Till then, enjoy this related video I found on youtube

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Feedback and Rypple

A few days ago, I was talking to some of my Kellogg friends, and we were discussing good ways to give feedback to each other. Kellogg does have a standard survey that any student can send out to his/her group mates for that quarter, but the rates of people filling out the survey are dismal; I have tried sending it out for two quarters, and have gotten a grand total of two responses.

My Leading and Managing Teams class taught my Professor Apfelbaum was a completely different experience. Professor A mandated that each member of the team think of five positive and five negative pieces of feedback for each team member, type them up in a template that he provided in a font that he specified, and then tear each section apart and put in the person's envelop, thus making the feedback anonymous. The feedback I got from this exercise was invaluable. Thinking of ten pieces of feedback for each member of the team wasn't fun, but it was a very valuable exercise in the end.

So back to what I was thinking - I thought why isn't there a way to give anonymous, constructive feedback in companies? Why cannot people recognize each other for a job well done? After all, aren't we giving each other feedback in some way via Facebook likes, Twitter retweets etc?

Enter Rypple. According to their Crunchbase entry, they were founded in 2008 in Toronto, and raised 7 million dollars in Series A funding in 2010. The software promises to get rid of performance reviews that "suck" and instead brings a culture of constant feedback and learning to employees. I can see such reviews and feedback items being extremely helpful, and bringing in a useful perspective on yearly performance reviews. I love the idea. However, I see some issues with this product as it is right now:


1. First of all - Rypple up being another social network for the enterprise; and there can be just one. Yammer and Chatter (from salesforce.com) are going head to head against each other; Rypple needs to find a way to work with them rather than standing alone.

2. I think that the product is missing an initial hook to bring in users. It uses a Yammer like go to market approach, where anyone can sign up for a free account, and the organization can 'claim' the network later for $5 per user. However, if I was in Rypple's place, I would try to provide value right out of the gate; for example, what if I could sign up for Rypple, then send a feedback request to anyone in my company, and they can give me anonymous feedback without needing to sign up? I get immediate value, and people who give me a feedback get an opportunity to sign up for an account. As they hear more and more about rypple, they eventually sign up and there you have people up and running on it!

3. The name - why is the name Rypple? Don't get it.....

4. Last, but not least, implementing Rypple will involve a sea change in how a company works. I guess others - like Yammer - have made that change in companies, but I would argue that Rypple involves an even greater change in how we give feedback to each other, how public we make it, how often we look for/want feedback.

On the positive side:

1. Love the inbound marketing approach. They already have videos with several customers up and running

2. Product design is fairly good, though a lot of features do make it somewhat confusing

Good luck Rypple. Excited to see where this goes...



High Level Rypple Demonstration from Rypple on Vimeo.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Career Leader

One of the key tests students take to understand one's suitability to different careers is called 'Career Leader.' I have taken this test several times; once a long time before B School, once in my first year of Kellogg, and once in my second year. The test is supposed to help decide which Career is a good match for you, and which is not.

While I found the career leader to be a great point of starting the self-reflection process, I did see that my suitability to various careers seemed to change significantly over the years. Here is an example:

2007:




















2nd year after my summer internship in consulting: Notice that Management Consulting is now near the top of the list



























A key determinant was my interest in 'Theory Development and Conceptual Thinking.' I believe that Business School education has changed this significantly; I have really enjoyed learning frameworks, thinking about Business Strategy through the frameworks learned in courses such as Business Strategy and Competitive Strategy. So will Management Consulting continue to be the perfect suitable career for me? We will find out in a few months...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

10 Marketing Trends to Watch in 2011

Happiness in negotiations

One of the courses I am looking forward to next quarter is Negotiations. Although I have to say, it does suck to negotiate - why? No matter how good an outcome you get, it is likely that you will not be happy. There is an inherent tendency to focus on what you left on the table, rather than what you did get. And since typically there is no way to determine exactly what you left on the table, you will always be unhappy.

A book that I am reading now (How we decide) sheds light on this phenomena in investing. Let's say you invest in a stock and it goes up. You sell. Then the stock goes up even further. What happens? You are upset that you lost that money. This disappointment is even stronger when losing money. Let's say you invest in a stick. It goes down, and you figure that you should sell, but you don't - because of a related phenomena called loss aversion; which is that when it comes to losses, we prefer uncertainty, but when it comes to gains, we prefer uncertainty. What happens because of this? You end up selling all stocks that went up, and end up holding that goes down - in short, you are left with a sucky portfolio.

So what's the solution? If you find one, please do let me know - when I do pay off these MBA loans and have some money, I will invest in your solution.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dear Kellogg prospective students

Dear Kellogg prospective student visitors,


We love having you visit the school. We love talking to you, giving you advice, learning about some of the interesting things you have done and plan to do in the future. And we love you visit classes. There is one thing that we do not love - if you attend classes, we are disturbed if you are completely distracted and on your smartphone all the time. We are distracted when you start typing up emails on your blackberry. And we don't like it as it shows complete lack of respect for the professor. We are guilty of this ourselves at times, but we try to refrain as much as possible. So please do us a favor; when you visit a class, keep your phone completely switched off and stowed away for the duration of the class.


Thanks
Kellogg Students.