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.

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.

(check)Mate

Doing an MBA entails giving up on a lot of things and making multiple sacrifices onĀ  many levels. There’s the opportunity cost of doing an MBA, the strained relationships, the stress of the job-hunt, the lost hours of sleep, the insane studying, the loss of hair in trying to raise money for tuitions, etc. The list goes on for quite a bit.

Somewhere along the way, students make up for all these losses through the networking, the parties, the brand-name chip on the shoulder, the joining of an ultra-elite league, landing that PE job with Blackstone or that consulting gig with M/B/B. However, all these gains can never make up for the biggest loss of them all; old friends.

In the middle of this insane rat-race, I know a few MBAs who’ve forgotten their old friends. They’ve forgotten the days when as mates they climbed mountains together; as mates they consoled and comforted one another in times of bereavement; as mates they crashed together in motorbike accidents; as mates they cursed b-school apps together; as mates they consoled one another through broken relationships; as mates they saved each other’s relationship from self-destructing; as mates they called one another wherever they were in the world, just to say hi; as mates they would write e-mails to one another like a Skype conversation.

Whatever happened to those simpler times when there were no thoughts of an MBA or any other ego-bloating degree or activity in the mind? When will the realization dawn that an MBA will come and go? When will the understanding come that all that networking was, but, for a short while? When will that clarity shine through that b-school’s nothing but a bubble, and that after it bursts with a loud bang, it’s the old mates who will still be around? It is not unjustly said that MBAs lack heart and soul. When the shit does hit the fan, and realization finally dawns, it’s usually too late. Too much time would have passed and the hurt wounds of old mates would have become hard shields and they would have given up and moved on in life.

But, who am I to talk right? I’m just another MBA after all.

Flying Pigs and the Cheek of it All

I just got back from my 2-week break. I needed this holiday very badly. It had officially been 1.5 years since I had last taken any significant holiday. Coupled with a super-stressful job, having to write B-school applications did not exactly make my Sundays any rosier. So, this was a long overdue break.

I had decided before leaving for my break, that I would not answer any official mails. You see, I have this very dirty habit of sneaking a peek into my official inbox; this generally happens when I’m bored. Sending 1 mail when on holiday will result in approx. 12 replies. So, the maths isn’t in favor of a chilled-out holiday if you’re sending official mails.

This had also been a difficult year at work. I had the worst-possible boss (henceforth known as the asshole) the last 10 months. Huge hiring mistake on the part of my CEO. The asshole had neither managerial nor technical skills. What he did have in abundance was a keen understanding of the divide-and-rule policy. His daily work was to confuse, demoralize, denigrate, play racial politics and point fingers when upper management asked questions. I always call an asshole an asshole (fucker works equally well here). Needless to say this created enough love in him to start hating me with all his black heart. Unfortunately for him, my results were always at par with expectations. It used to drive him crazy and more time and juices were spent plotting and scheming on how to make me lose more hair than I had already lost the past 10 months.

This was a shitty position to be in and I was burnt out trying to block-out the negativity and defend myself from all these schemes while still delivering actual output. The 2-week break cleared up a lot of muck in my head and my heart. I decided that come Monday (3rd Aug), I will resign. Heck, why should I kill myself over a job when I can travel and enjoy my time before INSEAD? So, I flew back home late on Sunday night, composed my resignation letter and went to sleep intending to send it out the next day.

I headed to work the next morning all morose that I still have to look upon the asshole’s face. I step into my floor and see that his cabin (in case you didn’t know, assholes get cabins) is empty and the lights are off. Am thinking this is my lucky day, the asshole is on leave. Then, I sit down and my colleague beside me asks what I thought of the “good news”. My blank expression informs him succinctly that I know nothing of what’s happened. So, he jubilantly tells me that the asshole had been fired last Thursday with immediate effect!

I’m like WTF?! All my plans of resoundingly slamming my resignation in his stupid face were shattered. He did not allow me even the satisfaction of a vengeful resignation.

Anyway, the resignation’s been put off by a week now till my CEO’s back in town.

An Exercise in Relaxation

I know I haven’t blogged in a while. Been on holiday :). I’m in Singapore at the moment. I figured going to INSEAD here will be a good idea. Plus, I have a few friends who’re already at INSEAD and are in Singapore. So, meeting up with them is also going to be informational and fun.

The tough part about being on holiday is that
a) I know I’ve got to get back to work in a short time,
b) it’s harder to digest I’m going back to work knowing I’m quitting, and
c) not having enough time to soak up as much fun as possible.

Anyway, I’ve decided to quit the day I get back into office. I don’t see any point in continuing my job when I’m so half-hearted about it. It ain’t fair to me or my employer.

I’ll post more after my INSEAD visit.

Dedicated to Our First Place

When you hear you’ve been admitted to a top-school or landed that dream promotion at work or gotten that huge pay hike, the feeling is surreal. Weirdly enough, waiting for such results becomes a huge part of our lives. When the goal is reached and the waiting is over, a void is left which was previously filled with anticipation and expectation. We start looking for new ways to fill that void; new worries, new (higher) expectations and that all too-familiar feeling of dreaded anticipation comes back to haunt us. I think this is a huge motivator for most people (subconsciously of course) and is what drives people to succeed further. The initial feeling of euphoria gives way to a cloudy surreal feeling while you wait for the actual realization of the dream and hard-work. There are moments when you can glimpse what’s headed your way.

One moment, for me, came over the weekend. I moved out of my place to save on the rent-money and to build up some savings before INSEAD. It was sad to leave. This was my and my wife’s first place after marriage. We had a lot of memories built up over a year-and-a-half. Friends always hung out at our place. Impromptu parties were always thrown with barely 15 minutes to arrange for food and drinks. Friends have fought with their better-halves (or parents) and come right home without notice to spend the night.Everyone who came in felt right at home. We spent all our creative juices in doing it up. We had a red-and-white theme for the living room. A chocolate brown theme for our bedroom. A peacock blue theme for the guest room. A soft-orange theme for the study room where I spent countless nights preparing for the GMAT and the applications. Each sofa-cushion in the living room was painstakingly and lovingly chosen. We scourged our city trying to find the right shades to match the crockery cabinet, the dining table, the entertainment unit, etc. We failed on most occasions; we were always a shade lighter or darker. But, that imperfection gave it a warmer look in the end. Audrey Hepburn graced our dining room with a throw-back to the 1950s in a quirky twist to our otherwise classical dining area. Guests loved it and more importantly we loved it.

Shifting out of our home brought me back from the surreal to the real. I got a glimpse of what’s up ahead. It came down more heavily than before, that very soon I’ll be uprooting my life for a completely different adventure. While its certainly exhilarating, its definitely scary. Any plunge into the unknown is.

I don’t know where I’ll be after INSEAD, but I never want to forget all the events that led up to it and the place where most of it happened. So, in a small way, thanks “home” for all the wonderful memories. We’ll miss you.