Week 2 of 13: All the worst jobs  

Posted by Dino in

"At least we don't have to do the cleaning," says one of the interns.
While doing various jobs in the eight year period before business school, I would sometimes come across other people doing other jobs - jobs I would deem "worse" than my own. I would be grateful that I was not one of those people doing those jobs. Yet, this week I have been doing those very same "worse" jobs - and learning a lot.

My first job out of undergrad was as a software developer. In that role, I would often work with software testers - people who would go through and test all the functionality of the software that we developed, making sure it all worked perfectly. During the early part of this week, this was exactly what I was doing. As we polished up the first iteration of a prototype developed by a software engineering class during the Spring quarter, I've been getting my hands dirty making sure it all works perfectly for when it comes to demo.

Later on in my career, as I moved into managing software development teams, I would sometimes peer over the wall towards the sales team and watch them trying to develop new sales leads - so the software development teams would have something to develop. Developing customers is how I spent the latter part of the week, sending out numerous emails and making calls. This was all with the purpose of setting up meetings with the types of people who may be our customers. We want to test our assumptions against these end consumers to ensure it has value for them.

The end consumers we are targeting are of two varieties: researchers in academia and researchers in industry. The academics have been relatively easy to meet with - the professors at Northwestern have been pretty open to meeting. The researchers in industry have not been as open. I've been using the Northwestern Alumni directory to reach out to these folk, but often the contact details are wrong. Secondly, when I do get through to the alums, they will often not be inclined to help. This is a learning process though, and I'm getting a better sense of the approach I should take.

Through all this, I've developed a minor health problem, which has been affecting my level of positivity. A less than positive mental attitude signals all the wrong things to the rest of the team (the interns), as well as the people I meet. Part of this game has to be projecting confidence and believing success will come - creating the virtuous circle where confidence and success reinforce each other. So I've turned to music to keep my spirits up; it has been surprisingly effective. We might be doing the "worst" jobs, but at least we can do them the way we want to, playing music in the office that we want to. This week, it's a lot of AC/DC.


Week 1 of 13: Starting Up  

Posted by Dino in

My startup is incubated on the top (attic) floor of Fisk Hall, the home of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.
"I never thought any of this equipment would see use again," says one of the staff members at Northwestern's Media Management Center. Pulling out computers from the basement of Fisk Hall, we are literally dusting off old equipment and piecing together what we can to get ourselves set up for the thirteen weeks we have of the Summer. Thirteen weeks is all we have to develop and prove a business model that will generate revenue. Thankfully, we are building on work already completed during my first year at Kellogg.

My focus this past first week has been on getting things set up, as well as team-building. I've hired two software engineering students from Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering as interns for the summer. Out of my keenness to get them on board with the mission, I had us all review the team-related slides from the MORS430 (Organisational Behavior) course. A highly rated course at Kellogg, I genuinely believe in the importance of this stuff.

The MORS430 course explains the differences between high-performing and low-performing teams. For example, in high-performing teams there are clear divisions of responsibility in the team. There is also greater emphasis on co-ordination of activities than any one person leading. Also, as we learned in a Lego game during the course, the better the team does in initial planning, the quicker and easier the team finds it in ultimately executing the necessary activities. Thankfully, the interns thought the material to be as interesting as I do.

As much as this is the first week of a summer adventure, this is just the current phase of my ongoing project. This is the project I undertook, when I started business school, to start a new media venture. During the Spring Quarter I was fortunate enough to have a number of student teams take on my startup as part of their class projects:

  • A software engineering class at the McCormick engineering school developed some mock-ups and a basic outline of the web-based service that we are building.
  • A marketing research class at Kellogg (MKT450) completed market research on some of the end users that would use the service, developing some findings on their preferences and motivations.
  • An entrepreneurial selling class at Kellogg (ENTR903A) developed a slide-deck and sales presentation for presenting the business to channel partners.

During the Winter quarter I was even more fortunate to have won funding, via Northwestern's Media Management Center, from the McCormick Journalism Foundation. This funding is what provides the financial support for the summer activities that I am now undertaking.

With all these past efforts from the Winter and Spring quarters, another part of "setting up" this first week has been getting together and shaping up what we already have, so that it is ready for use in the upcoming weeks.

At this stage it is difficult to say how these thirteen weeks will unfold, but it will perhaps be a more interesting ride than the MBA admissions process or even the first year of business school.