What lies behind the Business Plan  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

Spring quarter has started at business school, which means it is business plan season.
Business plan competitions with strange acronyms are flocking from every corner, from RBPC to NUVC. For someone like me, who is starting a business from business school, these competitions are great motivators and milestones for writing and rewriting my business plan.

The competitions rarely ask for a full business plan, as least in the early stages. Instead, an executive summary or abstract is asked for. Someone recently said to me that, in selling my business, I need a 1 minute pitch, 10 minute pitch and 45 minute pitch. These summary documents are analogous to the 10 minute pitches.

So I've been writing these "10 minute" summary versions of my business plan. As I write these documents, I realize that for every line in a one page document, there is probably tens of hours of work of work behind it. Yet this will not be apparent at all in reading the document. Take, for example, a line that says "a team from an undergraduate class will build a prototype". This line does not describe the other alternatives I had investigated and thrown away, such as looking to contract software engineers or developing relationships with researchers who might help build it. It will not even describe the pain experienced in some of these not working out.

At first, it is tearful to not unravel the full story behind the window dressing that is the business plan. But it is important to realize that the business plan is largely window dressing. I'm learning more and more that a business plan is not a document with intricate details that you design and create to carefully help you navigate yourself to your dream. It is not even an aid to help people understand how you will set up your business. A business plan is a marketing document. Its sole purpose is to convince people - to excite people into giving you whatever it is you need.

Though I have only entered two competitions thus far, I already feel that each competition helps iterate and refine my ideas - solidifying them, creating more punchy descriptions and ultimately improving what I'm working on. I'm looking forward to what my business plan will look like at the end of Spring quarter, at the end of the business plan competition season.

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A lesson in winning resources  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

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A few good mentors  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

I've managed to assemble a few good mentors to help me develop my business.
Several people have asked me how it came to be that I'm now working with these mentors. The answer to this question comes from MORS430 - a course that all Kellogg students complete during pre-term. We are taught that we should "seek advice" from people who can help us. When seeking this advice, we must demonstrate likability and competence.

Before even starting at Kellogg, during the admit weekend (DAK), I took the opportunity to meet professors and others who might talk to me. During these conversations, I often managed to demonstrate my enthusiasm and interest, if not take their thinking in different directions. For the people that did not meet me, when school started, I was soon at coffee chats that they frequented. I was soon able to demonstrate my commitment, if nothing else.

As my ideas developed, becoming more realistic and tangible, then the moment of magic occurred - one of these people said, "that's a really great idea - I'd love to work with you on it". Pretty soon, the next person was saying, "wow - how'd you manage to get that person on board?". My credibility was increasing.

Through this continual process of seeking advice and demonstrating likability and credibility, I've now gained access to two valuable resources - a team that will help me prototype my idea (some undergrads) and some money. I hope to find the limits of this seeking advice/likability/credibility strategy.

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University startups can create competitive advantage  

Posted by Dino Gane-Palmer né Ganesarajah in

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg created competitive advantage over other social networks by first creating a closed environment for just the students at Harvard.
Competitive advantage comes from a firm's resources. Often this advantage is rooted in the very origins of the firm. At Kellogg, this is one of the first lessons we learnt in our Strategy course during the Fall quarter. For me, working on creating a startup while at business school, this lesson has taken on a whole new meaning.

Southwest started life with the ambition to be the cheapest airline available. As a consequence, it developed resources (e.g. culture and processes) that meant costs were always kept low, comparative to other airlines. From the beginning, McKinsey prided itself on having consultants who were generalists - and the firm continues to have a generalist bias even as other firms use specialists to give them an edge.

Before there was Facebook, many social networking sites existed. However, Facebook was the first such site where users did not feel the need to be anonymous. As a consequence, it became far easier to find your friends and keep up with what they are doing. Facebook was able to achieve this because it first started as a closed system for use within universities. Within such a closed environment, it felt safe for the s initial users to reveal their identities. By the time Facebook became public, there was a critical mass of people who felt comfortable with exposing their identities online. Facebook was able to get its user base to reveal their identities - and thus create a key differentiator - because it spawned out of closed university environments where people felt it was safe to do so. Faceboook's competitive advantage was due to the unique resources (the university environment) that it had comparative to other social networks.

So, in starting up my own business, I'm utilising the resources that I have available to me at business school. I've spent a long thinking - what do I have available here that lets me build something that others can't? What is available here that let's me build something in a different way to which others have - enabling me to create some kind of competitive advantage? Perhaps it's the alumni network? Perhaps faculty? Perhaps students? Perhaps the buildings and facilities? Perhaps the student culture? As Facebook has shown, I believe the vastly different dynamics of a university to the outside world are sure to provide opportunities for new kinds of firms to flourish.

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