Canned responses for leaving work  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

 Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to my "roomies" - Snap, Crackle and Pop. ©

Friday was my last day of work. Well... sort of. It's my last day of work in my current job. On Thursday, I start an internship at a venture capital firm. It's going to be a busy summer leading to Kellogg.

I feel like I've been counting down to these final days leading to Kellogg since I was admitted to Kellogg in December. Over the past few months, I slowly told people at work about my plans to leave. The reactions were mixed. I came up with a standard set of canned responses to common comments and questions. Here are some of them:

  • What do you want to go back to school for? It's true. You got to admire Rodney for sitting in that same job for the last 20 years, waiting for his pension.
  • So you've got a big change ahead of you? You mean American girls who dig British accents?
  • Kellogg? Why does that sound familiar? Because they make cornflakes?
  • What is the course content? 35% women. Average age: around 27.
  • HR: Do you think you'll come back here after you've finished? Yes, yes... please just give me a "career break".
  • Everyone else: Do you think you'll come back here after you've finished? Err...
  • Have you sorted out a place to live yet? Yup. I'm living with Snap, Crackle and Pop.
And so with questions such as these answered, my last 2.5 years with my current employer have come to a close. I feel a set of weights lifting off my shoulders. At the same time, I now feel another set of weights coming to rest these same shoulders.

In the middle of next week I start a pre-MBA internship with a venture capital firm. It took significant effort to source the internship, but I'm hoping it will be worth it. The experience may give me some insight into how these folks evaluate and work with companies similar to the one I want to start. Beyond the internship, I also have a hell of a lot of pre-MBA prep still to do: the online courses, the 360 assessment, sorting out medicals etc etc. Here comes the summer...

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Out of date as soon as it's written  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

This could be me writing my business plan, looking about as alive and healthy as I usually do. ©

I plan to start a business while at business school. I'm writing a business plan. I've previously published an outline. At the moment, I'm on version 11 of the document. Each version has required hours and days of sweat and toil. Yet, it's still very far from any way near something that is presentable. The narrative is jolted and does not quite flow from problem to solution to route to market. Adding realism to financials requires revisiting all the assumptions that make up the rest of the plan. Taking consideration of potential competitive threats makes me wonder if the problem and solution are thought out enough. Writing the business plan is like putting together a 100,000 piece jigsaw puzzle where fitting in a new piece disrupts the other pieces that have fitted before it.

The first version started with a fantastic aspiration. The idea was simple. There were some monetization possibilities. No figures. No project plan. Just the germ of an idea. Then I started to flesh it out. I sought evidence for my problem hypothesis. Sites such as the Pew Internet & American Life organisation and even Northwestern's own Media Management Center are full of data and information that are absolutely fascinating. There is only one problem – none of it quite says what I want to say. The focus is always slightly off from what I'm looking at. This means the solution does not quite follow from the problem. Maybe I need to do my own market research? If that's the case, I might be better off waiting to do that in the relevant Marketing Research class at business school.

The solution is a software platform. There is so much open source software out there, yet none of it does precisely what I want it to. In fact, none of it does even 5% of what I need it to. So it'll be built in three stages, reworking existing open source solutions where they exist. The first stage is to build a prototype. I'll try and get this done before business school starts. The second is something that will be developed over the summer internship period between first and second year. The third is for after business school. The prototype can be built in a few days, I'm sure of it. The problem is getting motivated people to help me build the thing in return for promises of receiving something great at some unspecified future date. I'm still working on this.

I initially thought I was working on a consumer facing solution. I'd get it out there and try and grow it organically. The problem with consumer facing solutions is that any monetary transaction from a consumer will be relatively small. You need to amass a large number of small transactions to generate revenue. Would I really be able to get the business growing quickly and fast enough to fund several members of staff and overheads? I figure that I need $60,000 to fund software developers (and me) over the summer period between first and second year of the MBA – the period when stage two of the software platform will be developed. I think this is too challenging to raise from small monetary transactions against a prototype. I'm now thinking of generating three large sales of $20,000 each from three companies. For this money, these companies would get a white label solution they can brand for their own purposes.

Competition is a problem. As a consumer facing service, the threat is Google, Yahoo and a myriad of other companies. A professor from my undergrad would often say, "if Canon enters your market – then it's time to leave". I'm not trying to build something in an established market, but it is adjacent to so many other markets that it would be easy for others to shift their emphasis and copy what I'm trying to do. Yet competition has also made me focus. Digg is doing X, which is different to what I'm doing because of Y. Google Wave is amazing – it does piece N of what I was thinking of doing, but in a much better than what I was already thinking. Every product announcement by every corporation, usually covered in detail by TechCrunch, makes me rethink and revisit that 100,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. What does it mean for what I want to do? Do I need to do anything differently?

I've heard that some MBA entrepreneurs write a new business plan each week, just for kicks. I wonder what exactly they were doing. I've written business cases for my employer before, but I'm finding this to be an entirely different game. Perhaps it's because I've more "skin" in this game. The shear information overload from how much detail that I could write for each section of the business plan overwhelms me. At first I thought I needed to capture it all in the business plan. Then I started moving it all to appendices. I soon realised that keeping the appendices up to date (and even finishing each one) was a mammoth task. I'm soon starting version 12 of the business plan. This time I'm simplifying everything – the appendix is now just a spreadsheet with a different sheet for each piece of information. The business plan is just highlights. Perhaps I'll be able to finish writing this version.

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Uncertainty and Trust (in Accommodation)  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , , ,

I'm going to join the 10%'ers in Park Evanston. If you're considering doing the same, drop me an email and we'll split the referral fee. Blatant commerialisim. You've gotta love it. © DAK/Kellogg.

Uncertainty creates huge amounts of work. All parties involved spend time and energy to gain mutual trust and clarity. Yet it can be allusive, because none of the parties involved want to end up with a bad deal. I have found this particularly true for me in my accommodation hunt

I was not lucky in the McManus (Kellogg halls of residence) lottery. In fact, I don't know anyone who has been lucky. So consequently, I've spent some time weighing up options - trying to reach certainty in what I wanted to do. What's most important to me? Proximity to campus? Proximity to the bars? Amenities, such as an onsite gym? Style of apartment? Whether I'd share with a another person? In the end I've probably ended up with what could be considered the safest possible option: an apartment in Park Evanston - the block with the second highest concentration of Kellogg students. Can so many Kellogg students be wrong? Surely I can trust the heard? To keep costs down, I'm sharing a 2 bed 2 bath with a fellow Brit. Again, sharing with a Brit will reduce some of the cultural shock and increase my certainty as to what the other guy will be like.

With the stress and time of finding an apartment has eased, the uncertainty now is whether we can get the lease sorted out smoothly. As we're not in the country, there are questions as to whether legally we need a Notary Public. They are a rare breed in the UK and cost a fortune, whereas in the US I understand (from Wikipedia) that it is as easy to become a Notary Public as applying for a library card. When I get to the States, I might apply. If we can get the apartment management to just trust us that we're not going to disappear off the face of the Earth, then the time and effort of this process will squish to nothing. Hopefully we'll get there soon.

In the meanwhile, I'm buying a whole stack off furniture off an international student who is graduating from Kellogg and heading back home. I just could not bare the thought of trying to set up an apartment piece by piece. Trips to and fro from Ikea over the week before school starts might be a fine Kellogg tradition, but not one I'm keen to partake in. The uncertainty I have with the furniture I've bought is around figuring out how to get all the furniture to the new apartment. Perhaps I can just put it into storage until I get there? Will it survive in one piece? Can I trust these shipping people when they say they'll take good care of it?

Despite all this, there is one thing I can say with certainty - I got my first choice KWEST trip. I can't reveal much more than that, as a tradition of these trips is The Big Reveal - that the participants don't reveal personal details about themselves until the end of the trip. However, it is interesting that there is already a rumor floating around. Allegedly one of the participants in one of the South American trips worked in the "adult entertainment" industry, if you know what I mean. Is it true? Would Kellogg admit such a student? Why would such a student need an MBA? Oh, the uncertainty!

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If you can see it coming, it's probably not disruptive.  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

Brace yourselves; this post is a rant on Google and disruptive technologies. ©

For some time now, people have been talking about Google Docs and other similar efforts to port an MS Office style environment to the online world - into "the cloud" - as being disruptive. Disruptive technologies are those that have displaced existing technologies, in the process almost magically displacing the dominant incumbent companies that champion the existing technology. In the 1980s, HP's inkjet printers offered a cheaper, but "good enough", alternative to large and expensive heavyweight alternatives from the likes of Xerox. The inkjet stole market share, forced Xerox to move to more upmarket customers, and ultimately sealed HP's name in the printing business. Other examples include digital downloads displacing CDs and DVDs, as well as email displacing postal mail.

Disruptive technologies of the past have not altogether been obvious at the outset that they are disruptive. Had they been so, the companies they threatened would have noticed them and taken action to ensure they were not displaced. So it is that Microsoft, eyeing the potential disruption that is Google Docs, has created its own rival offering. In this particular case, it would appear that the existing incumbent technology could well survive the threat of the disruptive Google Docs. However, I don't believe that Google Docs was ever disruptive to begin with.

Google Docs continues to work with the existing paradigm of documents and files. If you were to take out the rich formatting in the document you send in an email, what is the difference between the document and the email text itself? Why could the document not have been written in an email client itself? Why do we need to open a separate application to edit a document, which we then save and send out in another email? Google Docs continues to perpetuate this behavior by simply taking the offline Office experience and putting it into a browser. Surely the browser affords a new way to work with information? In disruptive technology lingo, it could be said that Google Docs is "cramming" the existing Office concept into a new technology. As a result, everyone can see it coming. So I would suggest that Google Docs and online office suites are probably not disruptive.

So what is disruptive in the office suite space? If we take the behavior of sending each other emails with documents attached, then perhaps Google's Wave product is the truly disruptive technology. The email is the document. Collaborators change different elements of the document inline. There is no need to open a separate application to work on the document. Many think that Google Wave is disruptive of email; even the Google Wave team position Wave as what email would be if it were invented now and not 40 years ago. However, a large portion of my emails is between myself and one other person. Most of my emails also do not require the playback/forward sophistication of Wave. I think email is still the simplest solution for most private text based communication. Wave's strengths in collaborative working – in collaboratively creating documents.

It is probably not obvious that Google Wave could disrupt the office suites, rather than email. That's why it might just do that.

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Bedroom entrepreneurs are better off at B-School  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in , ,

Starting up at in the bedroom could be chaotic ©

Bedroom entrepreneurs may be better off doing their thing at business school. A good B-School can provide all kinds of amenities to help your venture that your bedroom can't. Here are five of them.

(1) As a student, you can make all kinds of requests to companies that might otherwise get rejected. When Akamai started out of MIT, they called up Internet Service Providers and companies such as Yahoo. Because they were MIT, people were willing to talk to them. Because they were students, these companies didn't think these kids were trying to sell them anything. Tom Leighton's talk has the full story on Akamai; the company formation stuff gets interesting from 26mins.

(2) With an MBA from a top B-School, you get the credibility to do all kinds of stuff that might be more difficult to do otherwise. For your startup to get the attention of investors, such as VCs, some people moan that you need an MBA from some elite school with 20 board members who know Jack Welch personally, with an extremely complicated idea that has never been built. Alternatively, you might want to buy a company. Yes, really.

(3) You get something to show for those 2 years in the bedroom. I have several friends working on building businesses. The most successful among them have got a customer or two and can make a living. Others are still prospecting for their first customer, two years after they started (yep, not good). Those guys might have been a little bit better off doing an MBA in the meantime.

(4) You can structure your effort. Starting a business can be an unstructured effort that can seem to go nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Discipline can be difficult, with self-imposed deadlines swooshing by as time drags on. Some business schools provide a structured process for starting a business, providing stage gates and support for building a business. This brings some certainty and enforced momentum to the process. Wharton's VIP is one such process. Northwestern (Kellogg's parent institution) has the interdisciplinary Nuvention program.

(5) You'll meet all sorts of people who could help. Activities such as finding initial customers and getting funding could be made a little bit easier through a referral from an appropriate school professor, a class-mate who has worked at a company you are targeting or any number of other people. Some of these "people who can help" are prolific; just take the example of Stanford computer-science professor David R. Cheriton.

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