Guest Post :: Still Ranting & Rambling

[I needed inspiration. I needed that biting wry sense of humor bitching away about life served up straight and strong. I needed that no-nonsense attitude to make it’s mark once again. In short, I needed her back. Without any further delay folks, join me in welcoming the famous MBA/MRS out of her self-imposed exile (if you still haven’t checked out her blog, where the hell have you been?!)]

When OMJ asked me to write a guest post, I hesitated, thinking that I haven’t been able to write the final post for my own blog despite many tries.  But this is somehow easier – and doesn’t need to be nearly as conclusive.  And the occasion of your Summer Ball gives me plenty to reminisce about.

So, kiddies, was it the best night of your life?  You and your best friends spent the night dancing away, taking endless photos of yourselves leaning forward in a circle with the camera placed on the floor?  Aren’t you sick of that Black Eyed Peas song yet?  What about the one by The Killers?  Or do you now collectively adore something new and equally repetitive that I’ve missed out on while listening exclusively to classical radio since graduation?

I was tempted to go, but then things got… how should I put it?… disappointing… with one of your classmates.  So I opted to witness it on facebook instead.  I know it’s not where you are, but who you’re with, but our summer ball was in the Chateau.  You know, that humble little hunting lodge of the kings you drive by every morning?  The one with the weird mishmash of styles where a succession of Louises, Philips and Charleses sent the furniture that was going out of style at Versailles?   Yep, that one.

Oh, you youguns, how many things are still going to change!  The P3 BFFs – the ones you love to death now – might not be the ones you will keep in touch with after INSEAD.  That dream job you take over the summer might turn out to be completely boring or intense and miserable.  But in the meantime you’ll discover what you are really meant to be doing.  Or you’ll just end up drinking lots of pints and cursing at London bus drivers instead.  Either way, it won’t be how you think it’s going to be.

You’ll probably regret not going on the Silicon Valley trip.  And if you go, you’ll regret not going to Stanford GSB.  You’ll change your P4 and P5 campus three times.  And three more times after that.  The waiting list will flip and you’ll have endless fights with your new P4 BFFs about whether you should stay or go.  You’ll probably choose to go where your friends are, not where it makes the most sense for your career/education.   (Hint: your relationship won’t last.  Go to whichever campus has Kevin Kaiser teaching VCCR in P5).  You’ll live each moment as precious and unique, and your Italian week will be better than any national week the campus has ever seen, and your section dress up day will be the most fun and clever one in history.  Except that the collective memory of INSEAD is 10 months long.

In the fall, you’ll chase the consulting firms, shake lots of hands, fake lots of smiles, try to find the balance between drinking enough to be friendly and not drinking too much to embarrass yourself.  (Hint 1: always carry ibuprofen with you.  Hint 2: your real BFFs are the ones who’ll tell you when you have parsley stuck in your teeth at a company cocktail)  First you’ll court the big ones, then the second and third tier ones (then the no-name ones who like to call themselves “boutique”), even though you said you wouldn’t do that.  You might have a few fights with your friends who insist that you should think about Plan B.  In a moment of desperation, you might even interview with a tobacco company, or three.  Or, like me, you’ll stand and watch the madness from the sidelines, edit countless obsequious cover letters, and wonder if you’re not joining in the McKinsey lovefest because you’re a contrarian, or because consulting really isn’t for you.  You’ll find validation in your choices when four months out your friends are complaining about their golden handcuffs, and you’re being a content housewife with your fancy freelance gig that allows you to spend time wondering in the British Museum while everyone else is at work.

In P5 you might go to Singapore to see about a boy, even though you swore you’re not going to Singapore.  Except by the time you get there, you’ll no longer be on speaking terms.  But it’ll be fun anyways, and you’ll eat Chicken Rice daily to justify being in sweaty, boring Singapore.  The grad trip will be sloppy and fun, and after you’ll be happy to avoid all INSEAD functions for the next three months.  Chances are you’ll go back to being a normal person, with a normal job.  You’ll pick up the hobbies you’ve abandoned before – cooking, painting, opera-going.  You’ll probably get back with your ex because your INSEAD relationship didn’t make any sense anywhere but at INSEAD.  But beyond that, my predictive abilities fall apart.  Most likely, you’ll look back at that year and wonder if it really happened.

Since the life of an INSEADer can be counted in dog years, the remaining 6 months might as well last 4 years.  Go forth and live out your unique INSEAD experience.  And I’ll watch this blog to see how my prophecies bear out.   That is, if OMJ finds any time to write.

OMJ’s Back…


Stay tuned!

P.s. Thanks ClearAdmit for the Best of Blogging nomination. Kick-started me into writing gear again.

2-weeks old

So, the new year has dawned. With it, all those danged resolutions, and stuffy promises crowd the mind, and fill up the heart. Promises are meant to be broken and I am yet to fail that adage. Gone are those resolutions to attend gym everyday, to write to a pen-pal weekly (by escargo), to pick up a new musical instrument, to not pick unnecessary fights, and generally to be a brand new person. The new year brings about this delusional confidence that we can pull all these off; the curse of January. The advent of February brings about the sweet relief of release from the mental chains of pressure, guilt, and conformance with expectations. The entry of March brings about the hope that next year will dawn fresh and these resolutions will definitely be fulfilled next year. The next 9-months brings about the satisfaction of thrashing this year’s resolutions till the cows come home.

So, as you can see, I don’t do resolutions anymore. However, a somber thought is upon me today at the start of a new year. Yesterday, I attended the first of the INSEAD parties. It was a NYE party. I met many of my future classmates. It was an odd sort of meeting. No one knew anyone (well enough at least); FB and Connect were kind enough to at least make a few names recognizable. However, it felt a little like the first day at primary school; A sea of strange faces, and names. Awkward moments were broken by the common INSEAD questions of explaining your background. And, then a sort of standing musical chairs (imaginary) would occur and the whole ritual would repeat until everyone “knew” everyone. Let me honest. It’s not possible to remember so many names in one meeting. Memory and alcohol have a direct relationship. So, after one round of musical chairs, it was not uncommon to see little groups of musical chairs repeating all over again. Hey, it was a way to kill time till midnight struck.

Anyway, after the party, I came back home and introspected. How many people would actually remember me after that party? And, I realized that there was a sameness to everyone. Everyone was super-qualified and everyone was a superstar. “Normal” takes on a whole new meaning in INSEAD. After a while, things go into a blur and then you’re on auto-pilot mode. “Where are you from?”, “What were you doing before”, “What do you plan to do after?”, “Are you going for the party on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday?” come out like ink from a squid who’s lost bladder control. Sometimes, the answers are not even important. This gets a little tiring when you’re trying to do this with ~500 people. I am trying consciously to keep this process human and try to reach out to people on a more sincere level. I guess sincerity should count for something. At the end of the day, if I can make even one true friend for life, I will consider myself as satisfied.

Dammit, I’ve just gone and made another resolution…

Leavin’ on a Jet Plane…

So, this is what my to-pack and to-do list is looking like right now. This list, though unsaid, obviously includes my passport, tickets, laptop, daily clothes, underwear (color you say?), ties, and socks. It’s a non-exhaustive list, and of course, any glaring omissions are welcome.

To Pack
Canon dSLR
Basic first-aid kit
Stationary (pens, mechanical pencils, highlighters, staplers, erasers, text pads, )
HP portable printer
Documents:

  • Academic Records (Originals and copies)
  • Financial papers (loan papers, OD facility, bank statements)
  • Marriage Certificate
  • OFII form
  • MRI scans
  • INSEAD acceptace letters
  • House rental agreement
  • Professional appointment letters

Shoes

  • Formal shoes
  • Sports shoes
  • Slippers/ Sandals

Academic Books & French books
Business suits
Oakleys
Belts
Dakine backpack
1-set bed linen and pillow case
Motorola Bluetooth headset and charger
Chequebooks
Montblanc pen
Toiletries
Shaver kit

TODO
Cancel mobile phone account
Cancel credit cards
Buy/ Beg/ Borrow/ Steal financial calculator for INSEAD
Try to do at least a little pre-reading

Whether all this will fit within my airline baggage weight restrictions is still up for debate. Why does Europe allow so little baggage in??

DIVORSEAD

I came across this term just yesterday, courtesy of a fellow INSEADer who updated me about INSEAD’s dubious reputation. I always knew there were hook-ups and break-ups, but never knew that a name had been connoted as well. Sample this statistic: there were apparently 14 divorces in the previous year (!!).

It’s sad to think that nearly 30-something year-olds do not have the maturity to realize that they are no longer undergrads, nor are they at some frat-party, and be more sensitive to their partners. How can they forget all those days when their significant other would have goaded them on to do the GMAT, write those applications, prepare for the interviews, wait nervously in eager anticipation for that acceptance call? How can they forget the loving empathy the partners extended when that dreaded ding(s) came? How can they forget all that encouragement and support their partners (at the expense of their time and energy) extended to keep propping up their egos each time it got bruised like a rotten apple?

Partners, IMO, go through more than the applicants/ students during this whole b-school process. They have to deal with the insecurity of leaving their jobs, relocating to an alien location, keeping themselves busy when their partners are at school, waiting eagerly at home to see their partners in the evening (which would in all probability be the high-point of their day), listening patiently to their partners as they rant about their day at school, everyday. And, I’m talking only about those partners who move with their partners. Long-distance relationship is even harder. The insecurities the non-studying partner has to bear are immense. They would always be worried about drifting apart, as the b-school bubble consumes the student more and more.

B-school can be crazy, but students have to remember all those years that brought them to b-school in the first place. One or two years should never change a person to the point where they don’t care about hurting their loved ones. B-school will end and reality will bite. Who do they turn to at that point?

I dedicate this post to all the partners of b-school admits. You go through more than anyone gives you credit for and you need to be applauded for that. And, to all those insufferable pricks who are selfish enough to forget that, remember that what goes around comes around and b-school is and can never be an excuse to end a marriage/ relationship. Grow up and act the part of a mature student at an elite b-school.

Fishy Sushi

I attended the Open Day (Admits Weekend) for INSEAD a week ago. I’m not going to go into a breakdown of the day’s events and how it panned out; I’ll let the INSEAD marketing team do that. I will however share a story that one of the profs. shared with us during a session. This to me was probably the most important takeaway from the entire day. This story was related by the UDJ prof., Neil Bearden.

Neil was telling us how the previous night he had taken his gf out for a sushi dinner. It was her birthday and though he doesn’t like sushi, the gf was a big fan of it, and so like all good bfs before him, he sucked his stomach in and went for the dinner. He asked his gf to taste each sushi and let him know it’s “fishiness”-quotient before he sampled it. What he realized after a while is that the “fishiness”-quotient was getting exaggerated in his mind everytime the gf gave her honest opinion. Very soon he asked her to stop giving her opinions (which the gf took in a good manner) and decided to trial for himself the tribulations of the Land of the Rising Sun. He started enjoying his dinner more, and actually downed more sushis than he cares to admit now (the latest news is he’s now training to be a sushi chef in his spare-time)

The point about the story was herd-mentality (in case you missed it) and the power of suggestions. It must be a great social experiment to put highly accomplished individuals together, for a year or two, and see the dynamics. Since, each individual is as bright as the other, a form of herding happens, and the motivations of an individual get molded by the collective ideas of the group. There is safety in numbers. Have you ever seen a flock of seagulls fly-by? How come they are so coordinated? Besides the assumption that bird-brains are actually smarter than we think they are, the answer is very simple. The birds follow a simple evolutionary algorithm. The rule is to not touch each other while flying and let instinct guide the direction of flying.

B-school can become like that if you’re not careful. It’s easy to get into a herd and squawk like everyone else. Depending on the flavor of the month, consulting/ IB/ PE/ VC can rule the roost. It’s important to keep track of these herds and stay true to yourself. Easier said than done, but not impossible. I don’t know what the golden answer is,  but I suspect it involves praying a lot to Oprah (made harder by the fact that I’m not the greatest fan of Oprah and am actually looking forward to 2011 when she winds up that show).

Mediocre But Arrogant

I was having coffee yesterday with my friend. Till 8 months ago we were pursuing some entrepreneurial ideas. My friend is a successful entrepreneur and in his last startup, he successfully raised 2 rounds of funding and created some niche products. For various reasons, the startup closed down 2 years ago. Since then, we’ve been toying with different ideas.

My friend is a technical person and his passion lies in the technical domain. In his previous startup, he was, besides being a co-founder, the CTO and VP of Engineering. I have seen him sit down with the developers and get involved in the nuts and bolts of product development and engineering. I have also seen him talk to VCs and pitch the idea from a business perspective and win 2 rounds of funding from well-respected VC firms.

We got together about 2 years ago to brainstorm on new ideas. Somewhere along the way, we were joined by 2 friends from HBS and CBS. Together we threw ourselves into creating the idea, the product, the revenue model, the monetization plan, the business plan, etc. Naturally, the HBS and CBS guys were more focused on the business side of things, while my friend and I were more focused on the actual product development and product management.

As time went on, we noticed a disconnect between the business and product development sides. The business-guys did not really get product development and were trying to solve product development problems through business solutions. Eventually, things came to a dead-end and we decided to drop the startup, while still remaining close friends.

Yesterday over coffee, my friend and I did an impromptu post-mortem of the whole experience and this is what we came up with:

  • The business guys had too many ‘cool’ frameworks to come up with an idea for a startup; most times, all that’s really needed is just plain intuition.
  • The business guys were more focused on providing a service, while the development guys were more focused on creating a product. Instead, the focus should be on how the product is going to provide a service that can be used by many people. Surprisingly, this concept is harder to implement than understand.
  • The business guys vastly underestimated the efforts of development; analyzing a problem sitting 50,000 feet high doesn’t make the problem smaller.
  • The business guys were far removed from development (even though they had a choice of being involved). Not being involved created many assumptions in the minds of the business guys and this led to wrong business strategies and internal confusion within the team.
  • The attitude of the business guys was that development is a commodity to be used and discarded. What they failed to understand is that product development is very tightly coupled with business strategy.
  • Every idea was always focused on the monetization plan and seemingly good ideas were thrown away because there was no clear monetization model around it.

I purposely did not go into the problems generally posed by developers. There are many like the one where developers are usually blind to business needs and timelines; where they do not see the bigger vision of the market; where developers do not know the trade-offs between a ‘perfect’ product and a ‘ready-to-market’ product, etc.

My reason for focusing on the business folks is because I’m going to b-school now. These are some of the things I do not wish to forget after INSEAD. It is extremely important for an entrepreneur to be the creator AND executor of his/ her idea.

Too many MBAs these days have forgotten this and want to be just the executors of someone else’s creation. That would be all right if they at least gave the creator(s) the creative license to go about developing the idea freely. Business folks need to understand, appreciate and respect the efforts involved in idea-development. This holds good whether you are starting the next Starbucks or the next Google. You damn well better know all there is to know about coffee as you better know all there is to know about search algorithms and load-balancing techniques. Not everything has to have a clear revenue model at the outset. Look at Twitter. These guys still don’t have a clear monetization plan, but they are valued at $1 billion. If I had to come up with the Twitter idea, it would probably have been shot down since there is no clear way to monetize it.

It’s fine to know all there is to know about all those consulting frameworks, or knowing how to slice and dice derivatives, or knowing how to read an annual report, or being able to smooth-talk an investor (though this is infinitely harder these days). If you want your startup to succeed after an MBA, get ready to forget all that money spent on b-school, be prepared to throw that ego out of the window, garbage those gloves, coz’ the only way you’re going to be successful is if you get your hands downright dirty.

Don’t believe me? Show me one successful entrepreneur who did it without getting his/ her hands dirty.

Update 1Nov09: Read Paul Graham’s latest essay here. He’s captured the whole startup scene better than anyone else. For those who don’t know who Paul Graham is, please do a Google search.