It’s not exactly Buckingham Palace, but...  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

Someone needs to tell the grocery stores that 60201 is not comparable to the area surrounding Buckingham Palace. ©

I arrived in Evanston, Kellogg's home, on Sunday night. Thus far, my entire attention has been on getting myself set up on in the US. In some ways, it has been easier than I expected. Some frustrations remain, nevertheless.

60201 – Evanston – is a quaint little university town. Thankfully, this means some of the numerous amenities around the town know exactly what my requirements as an international student are. The bank made it almost effortless to get an account, even sorting out proof of residence for me through their knowledge of the university intranet and contacts at the university. The cell phone shop automatically game me my student discount for my monthly phone bill – without asking for any form of student ID. While I stood at the front of my apartment, waiting to direct them, the removal people already knew how to find my apartment block’s rear loading entrance and had started moving furniture in.

However, what frustrates me is that there seems to be few grocery stores in my part of Evanston that provide genuinely student prices. Living in Park Evanston, Whole Foods is next door and extremely convenient. However, the cheapest priced bread (for example) is $4. This is still over twice the cost of what even the premier groceries in London would charge. In fact, that kind of price could only be found in London if you lived next door to the Queen. The Northwestern campus is nice, but it’s not Buckingham Palace. To save on the weekly trip to Jewel-Osco, I’m thinking of using an online grocery service. This would also help me plan my meals upfront – a sure way to control those notorious US calories.

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Update on the to-do list  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

The micoeconomics preparatory course used a real life example that all students will be familiar with. © Kellogg.

I'm running out of time. On Sunday I fly out from London to Evanston. The to-do list has shrunk - partly as a result of pruning out some of the more ambitious items (e.g. learning speed reading and touch typing), but I've managed to get quite a bit done, though there are still a few things left to do.

The most tiresome to-do item has been the prepartory online courses that Kellogg was "pleased" to provide incoming students with. It was tiresome because they required quite a bit of time, and I'm sure a good chunk of the material is already covered in the GMAT and CFA Level 1 (both of which I've had some exposure to). Nevertheless, I appreciated the effort that was put into making the course material applicable for real business situations. Scenarios ranged from a startup's accounting practises to Pepsi's pricing strategies. I think I could really get into some of these courses when they kick off properly in the Fall. However, if a paradoy of those courses is what you're looking for, this video is it.

Among other things, the apartment and living situation is sorted out, and my money is the US - in time for the first tuition (and health care) bill to arrive: over £17,000 for the first quarter - getting that was like getting a punch in the face. I'm also mostly packed up: extraordinarily, it seems that I may just be able to fit my who life into two suitcases, a carry-on and laptop bag... I wouldn't have thought it, but it seems possible.

So what's left on my to-do list? I need to revisit my LinkedIn page and CV. The latter of these has to be put into "Kellogg format", which seems to be just Kellogg's way of standardizing CVs into a standard format for easy perusing by employers. Beyond that, the most important things are those related to my entreprenurial ambitions. I've got a rough prototype. I will soon need to start putting together a list of target companies to approach to see if they'll be first customers. This will be a learning experience in itself. Finally, I also want to make some subtle changes to this blog.

The mania continues. Will it ever stop?

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How venture capital has affected my view of startups  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

How simple and compelling is your startup's pitch?

The romanticized view of entrepreneurship is of creating something world beating. This is still the view of many VC firms, I'm sure. Yet - in the the VC firm where I've been working - this is not necessarily true. This may be because this particular VC firm is moving later stage with its investments, which may be true of many European VCs comparative to Americans. In any case, the experience of intern'ing at a London based VC firm has coloured some of my thinking on start-ups. Here are some of my take-aways.

You doesn't necessarily have to have something market leading. You just need something that gains market traction and generates revenue. If it makes enough of an impression on the market, it'll be acquired and generate a payout for the entrepreneur and the investors involved. It is not necessary to build a new way to brush teeth; a better way to brush teeth is fine.

There are lots and lots of startups everywhere. It is amazing how many there are. They are flies circling VC firms. The VC will say that only thing that ultimately differentiates one against another is revenue, profitability and the opportunity for growth.

It's not necessarily about creating a good business as much as creating a good exit. Having mentioned how important revenues are... on the flipside, if you can sell the hype that a service with millions of people using it, yet no revenue, will in some future generate large revenue returns - so be it! The classic example of this is Google's purchase of YouTube.

Entreprenuers fumble about a lot before hitting the jackpot. There are a number of examples of companies that are successful now, but which weren't originally as successful. As they started investigating a problem, they stumbled on something which was the real money making opportunity. A recent British example of this is Skimbits, which eventually found a neat way to monetize links and created Skimlinks.

Some entrepreneurs are more impressive than others. Some of the most impressive entrepreneurs have a long track record in the field they operate in, with deep industry knowledge, know-how of the market and what users want from the product. They also have lots of connections within the industry and experience of the technology or innovation involved. One entrepreneur I've come across has such a reputation in his industry, a firm he was interested in acquiring dropped their asking price from £1M+ to ~£150k for a 50% stake in their business: they believed he could dramatically increase their revenue.

Presentation and clear articulation are important. Many companies will approach a VC firm in many different ways. Some companies can be overlooked quickly merely because the concept is not clear. This is particularly true if the financials are not particularly impressive. The clarity of the message is important. How well the entrepreneur communicates this can reflect on him/her positively or negatively. Realism with a slick, carefully thought out presentation can go a long way. The first presentation everyone (including a VC) will look at is the company's website.

There are signals for good and bad. A company seeking investment for international expansion is attractive. A company seeking investment to expand by going into a new market (which it may not have direct experience), is much more risky. If the company has a foot in the door (e.g. a pilot) for the next growth opportunity that they promise, this is a good sign. If the company needs lots of physical assets to operate, it can be difficult to scale it.

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Turning Points & Personal Brand  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in ,

A personal brand is another way to differentiate oneself in the crowd ©

August is here. For many of us starting our MBAs, there are at least two turning points fast approaching us. The first is the thought of having yourself plucked out of everyday reality and crammed in with hundreds of other people from all parts of the world and all walks of life - restarting student life in quite a different place to where-ever we are now. Whatever gradual path we've been taking thus far will soon be batted into the stratosphere. The second turning point will come approximately 22 months later. At that point, our paths will again be smacked out to other parts of the stratosphere - in different directions. With the career goals essays that the schools mandate, I feel like I've been thinking about these turning points and my future life path for several years. Recently, with the first of these turning points fast approaching, I've been inspired to think about them in three specific ways.

Be the best at three things, not one. Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, suggests that to become to the very best at one thing, such as a NBA basketball player, is very difficult. Instead, he recommends picking three things that work in synergy to define your own niche. For me, I think this is media, entrepreneurship and technology. I've always been interested in media - from starting a school newspaper when I was 14 (a newspaper that never saw past issue 1, such is youth) to launching a online student new site (which I can't take full credit for, I admit). Entrepreneurship has come relatively easy in spits and spats - building torture devices (starting a public speaking club) and once running a hobby company organising embarrassing events (yes, speed dating). Technology was my undergrad education and has been the major part of my career to date. Maybe, just maybe, the MBA will give me the opportunity to properly fuse these together.

If you want to shine, put in 10,000 hours. Malcom Gladwell has written a book on this thought, and the gist of it can be found in many places. It makes a lot of sense that overnight success actually took several years of hidden effort. It also makes sense that perhaps the reason people never realise their true potential is because they give up before they reach those 10,000 hours. If media, entrepreneurship and technology are to be "my thing", I wonder - how many hours have I put in to date? Perhaps it is 10,000 hours that are required to start a business?... in which case, I'd still have lots more hours left to put in. The difference between success and failure is perhaps persistance. Do I have what it takes to put those 10,000 hours in? Because I spent a long time deriving my "three things", I think I do. Time will unravel if I will be right.

Personal Branding in the age of Google. Seth Godin points out that it's difficult to not have some kind of personal branding out there, on the Internet. He himself has built an unshakeable brand on the Internet. His three things are probably "hip marketing, author/blogger, thought leader/professional speaker". He has certainly put in at least 10,000 hours into this over at least the last 10 years - probably more. The culmination has been a personal brand that attracts for him the resources and opportunities he needs to be even more successful. Thus far, I've not proactively managed my personal brand on the Internet; a search for my name produces random things. There is barely any association to my three things - "media, entrepreneurship and technology" in what comes up. I'm now thinking about the kind of brand that I might be able to build for myself over the next two years, either side of the turning points, as well as beyond.

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