Why We’re Building Connect.com (Plus We’re Hiring!)

March 21, 2013

Below is the story of Connect.com. We’re currently hiring a full-time UI/UX Designer and a Front End Engineer to join our team in San Francisco as our 5th and 6th team members. If you have anyone to recommend or wish to apply, you can email me at ryan@connect.com.

The Founding of Connect.com

Since May 2012 I’ve been working actively on a new startup called Connect.com with a truly amazing team of highly competent and deeply caring co-founders. This is the company I want to work on for the next 50 years. In the long term, the Connect team is building a company that uses technology and design to address major human challenges. In the short term, we’re doing something ridiculously simple–we’re putting your people on a map.

I began working on Connect in May 2012 with my co-founder Anima Sarah LaVoy after coming up with the idea at the Singularity University Executive Education Program in April 2012. I was about to take a trip to Kenya to visit some investments there and I just wanted to see on a map all the people I knew who were in Kenya. There was nothing out there that mapped all your friends and contacts–so we decided to build it.

In the Summer of 2012 we built a basic prototype to test out our idea. We got some amazing feedback and signed up 6,000 people to our beta invite list. Now we’re building the full product–a tool for keeping track of all the people in your life.

So far, the alpha is just your Facebook friends on a Google Map with a few filters to refine the list down by name, work, school, location, gender, and job title. You can try the alpha yourself at http://labs.connect.com.

Why Are We Building Connect?

My style of startup is one that solves a problem I have. It’s a lot easier to have empathy for the user in your design process when you are the user yourself. When Aaron and I started iContact in 2003, we were solving a problem both of us had as young web designers. We had clients that wanted to send newsletters to stay in touch with their customers–but they had no easy way of sending a newsletter themselves.

So we built the first version of iContact. We were blown away by the response. Over the course of the following nine years, 1 million users signed up for iContact, 70,000 of whom became paying customers. We were able to build the company up to 300 employees before being acquired by Vocus in February 2012 for $169 million. It was quite the journey. I learned a lot. Lessons I wanted to take with me into my next company.

So as I’m building Connect, we’re similarly focused on solving a problem my co-founder Anima and I face every single day. The problem we face is that we meet a lot of people and have no good tool to keep track of everybody.

We are both on lifelong missions to create a better world–and so having a tool that helps us keep track of the people we know, easily visualize them, group them, and message them would be so helpful. We know that networks matter more than ever in the Connected Age and we knew something pretty special happens when you see all of your contacts on a map of the word.

We know we have to earn our stripes like every other startup out there, so we’re working really hard to build a beautiful, easy-to-use, and super useful product that is a 10x better than the current ways people keep track of people (which tend to be a messy collection of Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail, iPhone, Android, Outlook, and spreadsheets).

And so we’re going to spend the next decade of our lives building the best tool in the world for keeping track of everyone you know. I’d love for you to use it and give us feedback as we go. You can try our early alpha of Connect here.

Now Hiring Our 5th and 6th Team Member to Join Connect

We have a truly excellent and passionate initial founding team of four including people from Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, iContact, LaunchRock, and Singularity University. And now we’re looking for a full-time Lead UI/UX designer and a Front End Engineer to join our team here in San Francisco starting May 1st–who are passionate about solving big problems and are excited to join as early team members. It’s important for us to all be in San Francisco to build the type of tight culture we are fostering.

I am funding the company through our incubation period personally using some of the proceeds from the sale of iContact, so we’re able to pay both full salaries and provide an early equity position. We hope to provide the benefits of working at a large company with the control, autonomy, and rapid collaboration of a startup. We are all passionate about things like behavioral economics, international development, design thinking, beautiful design, big data analytics, data visualization, AI, natural user interfaces, and the future of computer miniaturization and are looking for kindred spirits who want to express their passion through their work every single day.

If you have anyone to recommend as our 5th and 6th employee, or would like to join the team yourself, just email me directly at ryan@connect.com. If you are applying for one of the roles, please include a link to a portfolio of design or coding projects and a brief description of what you’re passionate about.

If you would be willing to share the link to�our Connect.com Jobs Page or to this post I would be very appreciative.

Balancing Harvard Business School and Connect.com

After we sold iContact to Vocus in February 2012, I wanted to take some time to look at the key challenges and opportunities in our world today and how I wanted to use the next 50 years of my life to make a difference–before I jumped fully into building my next startup.

I’m deeply passionate about how our generation can create a sustainable and prosperous world–one in which every human has equality of opportunity and access to clean energy, clean water, food, education, and healthcare. I’m deeply focused on how to use technology can help create a more connected world. I very much believe that the more open and connected we can make the world, the more likelihood our species will have to truly thrive in the centuries to come.

Being 28 years old now, I thought of no better place to take time to reflect on global leadership and prepare for building a second company by doing the Harvard MBA program. I applied, was lucky enough to get in, and decided to go for it. So in August 2012 I moved from San Francisco to Cambridge. The last seven months I’ve been doing the first year of the MBA program at Harvard, loving every minute of it, and learning a lot. Since HBS classes end at 2:45pm each day (11:45am PT) I’ve been able to get a lot of work done this year on Connect even while being in school.

In Boston, I’ve also had a chance to be part of the Harvard Graduate Student Leadership Institute–which has given me a chance to truly reflect on authentic purpose-driven leadership and how I want to use the rest of my life. Depending on how things go this summer, I’ll either finish up the 2nd year of HBS in Boston or take some time off to focus on Connect. At the moment I’m leaning toward taking some time off to get Connect launched.

Thanks for reading!

A Letter to the HBS MBA Class of 2015

December 23, 2012

The admissions department at Harvard Business School asked me to write a reflection on my first semester in the MBA program for the Class of 2015 pre-matriculation blog. Here’s what I sent in. I hope it gives an insight into what I’ve experienced the last four months. In summary, I’m loving every moment. Come visit me in the Spring semester if you’d like to see HBS for yourself!

A Letter to the HBS MBA Class of 2015
A Review of the First Semester of Harvard Business School
By Ryan Allis, Class of 2014, Section F

December 17, 2012

Dear Future Friend,

Congratulations on getting into the HBS MBA Class of 2015!

As I left Aldrich Hall at HBS after finishing my last final of the first semester, I smiled, knowing that I would return home to San Francisco for the Holidays changed forever.

I considered a question as I walked through the Spangler tunnel on my way to the taxi stand, “What is it exactly that Harvard Business School does?”

Does it teach you finance? Does it teach you marketing? Does it teach you storytelling? Does it teach you operations?

Sure. But that’s not what HBS does.

What Harvard Business School does is:

  1. Teach you a deeply analytical thinking process critical to making high quality decisions and becoming a transformational leader;
  2. Enable you to build a team or find a team of superstars to go after any big world challenge that you wish; and
  3. Give you constant psychological reinforcement and mentors that enable you to refine and then actually execute on your dreams to make a difference.

Below I’ll share more about how HBS accomplishes each of the above based on my experience to date.

1. HBS Refines Your Thinking Process & Decision Making Ability

HBS teaches you a process for critical, analytical, and deep thinking that leads to a much better ability to make the key decisions that enable you to make a bigger impact in the world.

HBS teaches you to see one problem from ninety angles–equal to the number of classmates in your first year section with whom you’ll take each class and form meaningful lifelong bonds.

In your first semester, you’ll realize that there is rarely only one objective truth. You’ll see that rather there are various perspectives that many smart and reasonable people can hold. These smart classmates argue logically, often compellingly, enabling your mental models for the world to rapidly improve.

In your first semester you’ll realize that reality is seen through your own lens–which is a definitionally subjective lens. As you hear the various perspectives of your classmates your understanding of “what is truth” and your approach to seeing reality as clearly as possible will improve.

And in your first semester you’ll read 150 cases (that’s 2500 pages!) on topics ranging from building a business in the electroencephalography headset market to launching a water start-up in Tanzania.

2. HBS Changes The People You’re Surrounded By

As you might expect, HBS changes the caliber of the people in your life.

I have found that we are greatly influenced by the twenty closest people in our lives. If you are around amazing, inspiring, high-integrity and highly competent people then you are pushed, move upward, and grow. Your sphere of opportunities, perspectives on the world, and ability to contribute back to humanity all expand.

HBS allows you to not only get into the rooms in which the world’s decisions get made but also find a network of superstars to bring into the room with you. Nuclear physics PhD from MIT? Check. Solar panel builder? Check. Database scalability engineer? Check. Battalion Commander? Check. Tech CEO? Check. Financial modeler extraordinaire? Check. Synthetic biology hacker? Check. Diverse thinkers from dozens of countries? Check.

You’ll be able to build lifelong ties with people who are highly competent and want to make a big difference in the world–greatly expanding the frontier of opportunities available to you and your ability to find leverage points to influence the world.

After just one semester here I’ve formed close relationships with at least ten close authentic, caring, and extremely competent people with whom I know I will become lifelong friends, forever influencing the future direction of my life.

Coming in, I expected most people at HBS would be focused on the pursuit of business for the maximization of short-term profits and only a few would care deeply about using business to make a difference in the world.

Instead, I’ve found the large majority of students at HBS think about and care about our world and the progress of humanity and see business as a tool to make a scalable sustainable difference.

It seems that HBS takes applicants who have shown they have the raw material for global leadership and provides the thinking framework and global network necessary for greatly scaling their positive impact on the world.

3. HBS Helps You Use Your Life to Make a Bigger Difference in the World

Whether or not you already have your life dreams mapped out, HBS provides an ideal environment to take time to introspectively reflect on and clarify the purpose of your life. HBS provides the landscape for wide-ranging exploration and reflection and the support to go in any direction you wish.

After taking the time to determine how you wish to use your one life to make a difference, you can use your HBS network to build the team or find the team whose organizational mission aligns with your personal mission.

I’ve found that HBS helps students come out the other side of their time here with a better framework for how the world works, a clarified life purpose, a deeper compassion for humanity coming from enhanced exposure to cultural complexity, and the support network to fly higher than one could alone.

So you want to create a sustainable world? Awesome. HBS will show you how to create or join a clean tech team. Want to create a world in which every human has access to basic needs like food, water, and shelter? Awesome. HBS will show you how to build or join a team creating the institutions and businesses that create sustainable growth in frontier markets.

Need mentors for a synthetic biology software startup. Just go talk to a one of the many Entrepreneurs-in-Residence at the HBS Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and they’ll connect you up with the right people. Want to join a team using EEG headsets to use thoughts to control computer software? No problem. On campus is the Harvard Innovation Lab with dozens of start-up teams. You are also just two miles away from the MIT Media Lab building the next generation of human computer interfaces and two miles from Kendall Square–the R&D and start-up epicenter of the East Coast.

The Psychological Value of Being Around People Who Think You’re Awesome

At Harvard everyone just assumes that you’re going to go do something special in the world. Of course, when everyone is telling you you’re going to do big things you believe you can do big things. A self-fulfilling prophecy emerges. And most people go off and end up doing pretty impactful things during and after school.

While this self-fulfilling prophecy of achievement is often found at some of the most prestigious schools and employers, at many places this sense of “you can actually go do anything you set your mind to and by the way here’s how” is incredibly rare. If you crave the combination of an inspiring environment with access to the people who can help you do anything you set your mind to, you’ll love your time at HBS.

Come Say Hello in San Francisco or Cambridge

Over this Holiday break I’ll be in San Francisco and Accra, Ghana for an HBS consulting project as part of the HBS FIELD 3 class–working for the Ghanaian news company MyJoyOnline.com. In the Summer of 2013 I’ll be back in San Francisco working on a new start-up called Connect.com. Come say hi over the summer if you come to California or say hi on campus next year.

I can’t wait for you to join us!

Get excited. An awesome new world awaits.

To building a better world together,
Ryan Allis

About the Author: Before starting at Harvard Business School, Ryan Allis was a tech entrepreneur and the CEO of iContact from 2003-2012. Now, he balances being in school with leading a new San Francisco-based start-up called Connect.com.

What Harvard Business School is Teaching This Tech Entrepreneur

October 8, 2012

Reflections on the Last Three Weeks at HBS:

Over the weekend, I took some time to reflect on my last three weeks at HBS and the key lessons I’ve learned. This post is a follow-up to “What I Learned: Week 3 at HBS.”

As an entrepreneur, I continue to be really glad I’m at HBS. From classmates and through the HBS case methodology and out-of-class simulations I’m learning a lot that I’ll be able to take with me into to the next company–particularly about leadership and organizational behavior.

Here’s more color on what I’ve been up to the last three weeks and what HBS is teaching this tech entrepreneur so far…

A Journey Back in Time to iContact in Q4 2010

This time, I’ll begin with a story.

It was October 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina. I had been the CEO of iContact since 2003. I had recently turned 26. I was definitely learning as I went along. The firm at the time had around 250 employees and 60,000 customers. We had just closed on a $40 million round of financing that August from PE firm JMI Equity. We faced, perhaps, our greatest strategic choice yet and the stakes were higher than ever before.

To continue our growth–should we:

  1. Launch a free version of our product to reach a lot more users (and eventually more paying customers) as a competitor had shown to be possible;
  2. Develop a social media marketing product to enable us to serve our core small business customers more fully;
  3. Move upmarket into serving larger customers;
  4. Some combination of all three.

All the information needed to make the right call was at my fingertips. But what was the right strategic choice?

I spent weeks agonizing over the decision and looking at the internal, customer, and market data from every angle to make up my mind. Then, I kicked off a month long process to bring my executive team in on the planning process. Then, we went through a five month operational process to implement the decision.

Wait a second–did you catch that? I spent a month making up my mind and then I brought my executive team into the process? What was I thinking?

Strategic Mistakes I Wouldn’t Have Made Had I Attended HBS Before iContact

I made (at least) three critical mistakes in the above strategic planning process.

  1. I brought in my executive team after I had spent a month making up my mind on the decision. I didn’t bring them in on the process early enough and I didn’t properly incorporate the information they had into the process. By the time I brought them in–the bias-toward-action get things done entrepreneur in my blood was ready to act and implement. But from their vantage we hadn’t even discussed the key strategic decision yet.
  2. I didn’t create a process under which needed information could be freely brought to the table.
  3. I still thought my job as CEO was to fix the problem rather than develop my team to fix the problem.

One of the key “HBS takeaways” from the last few weeks for me has been that to continue to grow beyond initial success, an entrepreneurial founder CEO must change their very nature and slow down to:

  1. Create effective processes for disciplined information sharing.
  2. Give up as many operational roles in the company as possible.
  3. Bring the senior team in early on during strategy formation.

The Key Difference Between a Start-up CEO and a Later Stage CEO

As I’ve reflected this weekend on the last three weeks of classes, I’ve crystallized some thoughts I’ve been having recently regarding the key difference between the CEO of a start-up and the CEO of a larger company.

As CEO of a large profitable company, if you do nothing, a lot continues to happen just fine–for quite some time anyway. Larger profitable companies have an infinite number of months of operating funds on hand (as long as they stay profitable).

As CEO of a start-up, if you do nothing initially, you never go anywhere. And once you’re burning through cash, if you do nothing, you go out of business. In general, start-ups are burning through cash every month and struggling to survive.

Start-ups may only have 2-9 months of cash on hand (sometimes less!). Start-ups often have a short timeframe until they will be either forced to generate more revenue than expenses, raise another dilutive round of capital, or go out of business. And so, if you’re leading a start-up, generally you have to act. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right now.

The big mountain in front of you will only be moved through the will of a determined, focused, and fast moving leader. You think as you go. You develop a great deal of self-reliance. You intimately understand the customer problem you’re solving because you live it daily. You have a clear vision. And you just make it happen through sheer determination and persistence.

The Chief Everything Officer vs. the Chief Empowerment Officer

In the first year of a start-up, the title “CEO” stands for Chief Everything Officer. You’re often the chief janitor, chief recruiter, chief marketer, chief spreadsheet maker, chief evangelist, and sometimes even the chief engineer. If there’s a problem–solve it. If there’s an issue–fix it. The mantra is: Do. It. Now.

The very reason why so few start-up founders can successfully scale as a leader beyond 50 employees is simply this–start-up founders too often don’t get the training or mentoring they need to go from the perspective of “I’ll fix it” to “I’ll develop my team to fix it.”

After your firm reaches 100 employees, “CEO” stops standing for Chief Everything Officer.

After 100 employees, “CEO” begins to stand for Chief Empowerment Officer. Your job is not to do everything. Your job is not to solve most problems yourself. Your job is to develop your team and empower your team to solve problems.

While fixing the problem yourself and micromanaging the solution is often quicker in the short term, micromanaging actually makes the company slower to solve problems in the mid-term and long-term.

Why? Because micromanaging inserts a bottleneck (you) in the process and fails to develop critical team problem solving skills. This reality seems obvious. But, too often the start-up entrepreneur who actually makes it to 100 employees feels like they’ve succeeded against all odds and so they should just continue doing what got them there.

What is the Job of the Later Stage Venture-Backed CEO?

So, what is the job of the later stage CEO (post-100 employees)? Here’s my take:

  1. Recruiting and leading the senior team and holding them accountable to pre-defined quantitative goals.
  2. Guiding the team in developing a cohesive and focused business and product strategy with clear market positioning.
  3. Intimately understanding the needs of customers and market trends.
  4. Raising capital and managing resource allocation.
  5. Guiding and building the culture of the organization.
  6. Managing investor, board, and analyst relationships.

None of these six job requirements say, “fix operational problems yourself” or “set strategy yourself.” Yet too often–this is what Founder CEOs continue to do way too long into their tenure.

Start-up Genes and Cruise Ship Captains

So why is it that the successful “start-up CEO gene” negatively correlates with the successful “large company CEO gene?” Why must this lesson on micromanagement and process be learned eventually by nearly every start-up CEO as they mature?

This phenomenon occurs, I believe, because the key trait that leads to success as a start-up CEO (which is a relentless bias toward action and focus on rapid implementation and incremental improvement) is often the exact trait that causes that same person to become impatient with the processes necessary to prudently make the right decisions and run the company when it grows larger–at least without the right mentorship and training.

Sometimes the swiftest speed boat racers (entrepreneurs) end up sinking the cruise ship (the large company) by trying to turn it too fast and too frequently. Larger ships require coordinated plans and defined processes to properly turn their direction. Speed boat racers rarely enjoy “process” and “planning” and often have this “success bias” that makes them think what’s worked so far will continue to work.

However, if the entrepreneur is going to build something that long outlives them and makes the impact on the world they hope for, it’s either time to learn to manage a large organization or bring in someone who can.

As HBS Professor Noam Wasserman has noted in his research on Founder-CEO succession, “While the Founder-CEO’s skills were a good ‘fit’ for the contingencies faced by the company before, enabling the company to reach its critical milestones, those skills are usually much less important now that the company faces radically different contingencies (Organization Science, March-April 2003).”

While an outside professional CEO often doesn’t have the same passion for the business as the original founder(s), disaster can occur if the unprepared entrepreneurial CEO keeps the helm too long without the right guidance and mentoring.

the Founder-CEO�s skills were a good �fit� for the contingencies faced bythe companybefore, enabling the
companyto reach its critical milestones, those skills are
usuallymuch less important now that the companyfaces
radicallydifferent contingencies.

I Learned The Micromanagement Lesson – Yet I Clung On to Strategy

As CEO at iContact for nine years, over time I “half learned” this lesson regarding not being a micromanager.

We had built a wonderful and experienced seven person Senior Leadership Team including an CFO, CTO, CMO, Chief Architect, SVP Sales, SVP Support, and VP HR. In every case, I was fortunate to have hired people much more experienced than myself. I let Tim run finance, Ralph run tech, Kevin run sales, etc.

I had learned the key lesson around 2005 that my job as CEO was to hire people more experienced than me and hold them accountable to clearly pre-defined results, not to process. Thus I could step back and the company grew–from $3M in sales in 2006 to $48M in sales in 2011.

While I gave up the individual departmental operational responsibilities (and benefited greatly from having done so), what I never truly gave up at iContact was strategy. This ultimately, was one of the practices that prevented us from succeeding further and reaching a greater potential.

We would have these quarterly and annual strategy retreat sessions–but too often they turned into me guiding the team toward what I thought the right path was instead of the other way around.

Strategy is Really About Choice and Focus

By the end of 2011 at iContact I finally came to understand the value of process and integrated thinking in the setting of corporate strategy. I brought a bit of a more structured process into how we thought through 2012 strategy, asking each team member to prepare position papers on what they would do if they were CEO.

By then, however, the market had become more competitive, the path we had embarked on for 2011 hadn’t worked as well as we hoped, and we had fewer good options to choose from. Ultimately, we chose to sell the company to Vocus in February 2012 to gain liquidity and access greater distribution channels.

So which of the four choices did we choose in 2011 at iContact?

Strangely, #4. We did all three of the above listed options! We launched a free version, launched a social media product, and positioned upmarket.

If had taken HBS Professor Michael Porter’s strategy class back then I would have known that strategy is about choice. A “do everything in one year” strategy rarely works. While things turned out okay–in hindsight I believe if we would have focused on executing one of those key moves in 2011 extremely well instead of attempting all three we may have been better off.

How HBS Has Taught the Key “Micromanagement Lesson” Three Times In The Last Three Weeks

It really wasn’t until the past three weeks as HBS has consciously taught this “micromanagement lesson” three times that these learnings above have truly cemented in my brain. I have to say, learning through experiential cases and team simulations at HBS is a lot less costly than learning on the job!

Over the past three weeks, HBS has attempted to teach us this oh so important lesson of how to bring the best out of a team at least three times…

1. During the Everest Simulation – We were put on a team of five and given the task of reaching the top of Mt. Everest in a computer simulation. We were given the roles of leader, marathoner, doctor, photographer, and environmentalist. I was the environmentalist. While I’ll leave out the details in order to not spoil any surprise for future classes, suffice it to say the simulation was very effective at teaching the importance of the leader creating a process to share information.

2. During the Shad Simulation on Building Circuit Boards -

HBS split the entire first year class into around 75 teams of 12 students. Each team had a leader designated and was in charge of creating an assembly line process to build three different types of circuit boards – economy, deluxe, and imperial. We learned not only how to organize our labor for maximum efficiency of output in a timed contest, but more importantly how to create a process to share information effectively within a team of twelve very smart people.

3. During the Wolfgang Keller Konigsbrau Case in LEAD class -

This case chronicles the path of Wolfgang Keller, General Manager of a Ukrainian Premium Beer Brewery, as he figures out what to do with his head of sales and marketing, Dmitri Brodsky. While I won’t describe the case in much more detail, suffice it to say that Wolfgang was the classic micromanager and hadn’t yet learned the lesson to hold his team members responsible for results rather than process.

It was the class discussion however with our LEAD Professor Lakshmi Ramarajan that left me with the best takeaway of my time so far at HBS. She told us, paraphrasing, “There are two types of leaders. Those who solve the problem and those who develop people who solve the problem.”

I was so glad to hear HBS reinforce these two key business lessons time and again:

  1. Build and develop a team to scale yourself.
  2. Teams which have a good process of information sharing (combined with smart people in the room) generally get much better results than those in which the leader does not create such a process and whose team members keep key information in silos.

What I’d Do Differently Now

Summarizing my key leadership lessons at HBS so far, here’s a comparison of what I thought prior to coming here and what would I have done instead had I already been through the first six weeks of HBS…


What I Thought Pre-HBS

What I Probably Should Have Done — Incorporating HBS Lessons

Strategy Development

I thought my job was to analyze the internal, customer, and market data and come up with a viewpoint relating to company strategy, then to lead my team to seeing it the way I did and have them build the operating plan to implement the strategy. I would often spend weeks analyzing data and only once I had come to a pretty firm perspective, hold a quarterly strategy retreat. Unfortunately the retreat was generally held after I had already made up my mind and thus I missed incorporating critical pieces of information that may have helped us make better decisions.

Instead of brining the full executive team together for 1-2 days per quarter, I should have brought together a small committee of the key members of the senior team to discuss strategy at least monthly in shorter meetings as part of the input and analysis phase. Instead of analyzing quickly at the last minute and then rushing to implement an all-of-the above strategy, I should have forced us to clearly choose and communicate our target audience and differentiation factor and built up a year long program focused just on moving toward that well-defined and well thought-through market position. My bias toward action got the best of me.

Information Sharing

I didn’t create a process under which needed information could be freely brought to the table.

I should have created a process under which needed information related to strategic decisions could be freely brought to the table and one through the painful work to create an agreed upon accounting costing system to better calculate the profitability of our two major customer segments (like in the case of Kanthal the Swedish manufacturer).

Developing Your Team

I still thought my job as CEO was to fix the strategic problem rather than develop my team to fix the strategic problem.

While I did give up almost all operational control to the six departmental heads, I still retained strategic control. I spent too much time cerebrally “in my own head” reviewing data and figures and not enough time pushing the team (who had a lot more experience than I did) on what they would do strategically.

Why Does Learning How to Lead Larger Organizations Matter to a Tech Entrepreneur?

What HBS is effectively teaching me are the key leadership lessons and analytical frameworks necessary to be the CEO of a 10,000 person company. There are so many differences between leading a 100 person company and a 10,000 person company.

HBS seems to be pretty good at preparing leaders to run large organizations. As of May 2012, 40 of the Fortune 500 CEOs were HBS graduates, three times the next school, Wharton, with 13.

But tech entrepreneurs rarely build organizations that get beyond 1000 employees, right? Look at Instagram, who sold to Facebook for around $750M (after pre-close stock price fluctuations) with only 13 employees. One can probably list out most of the tech companies that grew beyond 1000 employees in the last 10 years (Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Salesforce, Tesla).

So why does learning the experiential lessons behind leading a larger organization matter to me as a tech entrepreneur? Three main reasons.

  1. Next time I build a company I want to be able to scale with the firm as a leader fully as it grows–hopefully well beyond 300 employees.
  2. Someday I hope to be a great investor–investing in companies that are building renewable technologies, synthetic biology technologies, and information technologies that are making a huge positive impact in the world. To be a great investor a number of your firms will ultimately need to scale well beyond a few hundred employees–and I want to have the background to be able to guide them every step of the way from start-up to well beyond their IPO.
  3. Third, someday I’d love to work in public service and hopefully be able to make a positive difference leading parts of government with lots of team members.

How HBS Evolves The Thinking Process

Through the case method and the new analytical frameworks provided, HBS changes the process behind how you think through problems and their solutions. HBS rewires the neurological structure of your thought. At times I can “feel” two concepts being connected in a new way inside my brain during class.

HBS has no doubt helped me already in becoming more analytical and giving me better frameworks to think through tough decisions. Ultimately as a CEO of a big company–while you may be making minor decisions daily you’re really in charge of making just 1-2 big decisions each year. Getting these two annual big decisions right (and then creating the right plan to execute on them fully) is what HBS is helping me prepare for.

While having a bias toward taking action remains one of the most important traits for the start-up entrepreneur–once you have the company operating sustainably and have an executive team in place (say beyond the first 3 years and ~100 employees) the priorities must shift toward analyzing problems fully and with defined processes.

At the later stage it is critically important to take the time to really analyze the internal, customer, and market data with your team, listen to what they are seeing in their departments and in the market, and taking the time to implement one key focus that brings together the strategic, operational, and financial plans. HBS is really good at teaching these type of analytical and team thinking processes.

Will I forget my proclivity toward having a relentless focus and intense bias toward action in the early stages of new start-ups in the future? Absolutely not. But now, if I can get a company beyond a couple hundred employees again, I’ll have much better tools and frameworks to build upon for long-term growth.

But Can HBS Teach Consultants and Bankers to Be Entrepreneurs?

All this exposition regarding how HBS is teaching an entrepreneur to be more analytical begs the question–if HBS is so good at teaching entrepreneurs to become more seasoned CEOs, can they teach management consultants and bankers to be good early-stage entrepreneurs?

Running with the from earlier metaphor, if HBS can teach speed boat racers to slow down and become deft cruise ship captains, can they teach cruise ship captains to speed up and become adept speed boat racers?

Well, in store for first-years like me in the Spring is a required class called “The Entrepreneurial Manager” as well as a requirement to start a small business in a module called FIELD 3. I am looking forward to seeing how HBS chooses to teach the key principles of entrepreneurship to those from larger firm backgrounds.

What is the key lesson that I hope HBS gets across to MBA students wanting to found their own businesses?

In my experience, the key lesson for the aspiring entrepreneur to learn is to not get stuck in analysis paralysis and to take action every single day toward building something that customers desire while rapidly experimenting and incrementally improving as you get feedback. I’ve found that action, constant refinement, persistence, and a deep-rooted passion for creating a change in the world that doesn’t yet exist are the keys to the early stage of entrepreneurship.

Is a Shorter Program Available?

So what can you do if you’re an entrepreneur who wants to learn how to scale yourself as a leader but don’t have two years to invest in an MBA? You may wish to check out the HBS Owner/President Management Program (OMP), General Management Program (GMP), or Advanced Management Program (AMP).

You get the same professors and get to develop a lot of the same intuition and analytical frameworks in a shorter timeframe (though you’ll miss a lot of the lifelong relationships built on campus).

Key Learnings For Me Over The Last 3 Weeks

Here were my major take-a-ways over the last three weeks:

  1. Leadership – A key part of the leader’s role is to define a process to get information out onto the table.
  2. Leadership - The leader shapes how the team works by managing its work process and thought process to come to better decisions.
  3. Leadership – The transparency of information and individual incentive structures is key.
  4. Marketing – How to use the Six M’s framework to establish clear objectives in advance of a messaging campaign.
  5. Finance – How to calculate the present value of a set of cashflows via the formula Present Value = Cashflows / (1+Discount Rate)^Time Periods) and choose an appropriate discount rate. Calculating net present value is helpful when comparing the values of various projects in today’s money based on the key concept that money today is worth more than money tomorrow.
  6. Finance - How to convert GAAP net income into free cash flow via the formula Free Cash Flow = EBIAT – CAPEX + Depreciation – Change in Net Working Capital. This process is helpful in converting GAAP net incomes into the actual amount of cash that is available per period (month, quarter, year) to those considering purchasing a stake in the business.
  7. Technology & Operations Management - How to optimize the output of a complex production process.

The Cases

Here are the cases we’ve read the last three weeks with a one-liner on each as well as the non-case classes. I write just a sentence on each so as to not reveal any significant analysis. If you’d like to read some of the cases yourself check out HBR Publishing.

Marketing (MKT)

  • Healthymagination at GE Healthcare – Which new products in the R&D pipeline should the GE Healthcare CEO choose to commercialize based on GE’s desire to increase access, increase quality, or decrease cost by at least 15%?
  • Electric Vehicles - Plugging in the Consumer Class - How can makers of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVS), plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs), and electric-vehicles (EVs) best position and advertise their products?
  • Population Services International - Will Balbir Pasha Help Fight AIDS? – How can a non-profit working with sex workers in India launch an effective ad campaign to make a major impact in the use of condoms?
  • Pepsi: Lipton-Brisk – How can Pepsi utilize a Superbowl ad for Brisk to re-position Brisk for male millennials?
  • Sephora Direct: Investing in Social Media, Video, and Mobile – How should the head of Sephora’s marketing allocate her budget across in-store kiosks, social media, produced video, user generated video, an IOS app, and an iPad app?
  • Nike Football: World Cup 2010 – How can Nike beat Adidas using social media leading up to the 2010 World Cup?

Technology & Operations Management (TOM)

  • Process Simulator – An exercise using a factory simulation program to develop intuition around what occurs when you introduce variability of machine output into a production process.
  • Toyota Motor Manufacturing – How does a Toyota plant in Kentucky handle an issue with seat quality within their assembly line process?
  • Building Circuit Board Chips Simulation – In teams of 12 we built an assembly line process to manufacture electrical circuit boards and then competed against other teams to produce the most chips with the least inventory left over and maximize cashflow from “operations.”

Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)

  • Everest Leadership Simulation – Create a process for effective information sharing and lead your team successfully to the top of Mt. Everest without being rescued.
  • Rob Parson at Morgan Stanley – How can a rebellious yet high-performing employee be groomed after tiring of a manager who doesn’t give him the immediate feedback he needs to improve?
  • Karen Leary at Merrill Lynch – How can a branch leader create optimal performance conditions for a Taiwanese wealth manager who does things a bit differently than usual?
  • Heidi Rozen at Softbank Venture Capital – The story of a highly effective networker in Silicon Valley.
  • Wolfgang Keller at Konigsbrau Beer Brewery – The story of a micromanager who tries to solves problems himself rather than building his team to solve problems.

Financial Reporting & Control (FRC)

  • Boston Chicken – Discusses the mid-1990s accounting practices of Boston Chicken (now Boston Market), particularly those related to accounting for the risk of default on self-provided loans to unprofitable franchises.
  • Kanthal – Swedish manufacturer of electrical resistance tools for heating. Discusses how to create a corporate information system for calculating profitability on a per customer, per product, and per order basis and how to get move customers from being unprofitable to profitable.

Finance (FIN1)

  • Subprime Crisis and Fair Value Accounting – What happened in the 2008 financial crisis, specifically related to the fair value accounting of Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) and Mortgage Backed Securities (MBSs)
  • CEMEX – Patrimonio Hoy Microfinance Scheme – Comparing the net present value to CEMEX and their customer of a way of financing cement purchasing to alternative options
  • Ocean Carriers (Discounted Cash Flow) – Calculating discounted cash flow (DCF) of investing in building a ship that the firm would lease.
  • Ecosecurities – International Carbon Finance – Understanding carbon trading markets and calculating net present value on a Chinese ventilation air methane project.
  • State of South Carolina (Capital Markets) – Learning about capital markets and how to calculate mean return, standard deviation, covariance, and correlation.

Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD)

  • Negotiations Day – A team exercise in which we negotiated the terms of the sale of our firm with another team representing the other party. This was an absolutely wonderful exercise and brought back lots of memories of January 2012 for me doing this at iContact. I led the sale negotiations for our team and ultimately failed due to coming across as too aggressive, which caused the other team to run the clock down and give us an ultimatum offer we couldn’t accept. I learned to be firm and clear but to also be cordial :-) .
  • Global Immersion Dinner – Ghana – We had dinner together with our group of ~55 who will be going to Ghana in January for 8 days for a company consulting project. As part of FIELD 2, HBS is sending all 919 first-year students to one of ten global countries in small consulting teams.

Outside of Class

The last three weeks have also included a number of out-of-class activities.

  • Nexus Summit on Global Youth Philanthropy – Two weekends ago I gave a talk at the Nexus Summit on Global Youth Philanthropy on “The Big Picture – How Our Generation Will Create a Better World.”
  • UN Foundation/Mashable Social Good Summit – Attended day two of the conference during the same weekend in New York. Spent time with friends Elizabeth Gore, Aaron Sherinian, and Diana Walker from the UN Foundation, Sergio Fernandez de Cordova and Angela Mwanza from the UN Foundation Global Entrepreneur Council, Brian Forde from the White House, and Kathryn Minshew of The Daily Muse.
  • Ray Dalio Presentation – The head of the hedge fund Bridgewater gave a talk on his macroeconomic theories, investment philosophy, and the right amount of quantitative easing and money supply.
  • Harvard Start-up Scramble – Stephen Douglass from Babson asked me to judge at the Harvard Start-up Scramble. 14 teams presented after working for 40 hours over the weekend to refine their ideas and pitches.
  • Section F Retreat - Last weekend we ventured to West Dover, Vermont to bond as a section of 90 and get to know each other. Led by sectionmate Mike Liu, a team of four of us recreated “Gangham Style” for the section talent show with the help of a chicken, a gorilla, a shark, and a handful of horse stick carriers.
  • Renewables Dinner – I hosted 18 HBS first years who have been working in clean tech for dinner along with an MIT graduate engineering student Tiitian Palazzi and the COO of SolidEnergy Systems Jim McQuade (HBS ‘11). I’m becoming more and more interested in nanotech, solar, synthentic biofuels, and battery storage start-ups and the general question of “How do we innovate our way toward a carbon neutral world within 30 years?”
  • Start-up Work in the Harvard iLab – 3x per week Skypes with the team in San Francisco working on the new start-up. I am working on the new company from the Harvard iLab on the HBS campus each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon and am loving the environment. At Harvard you used to get kicked out for using university resources to start a business. At the iLab, you get kicked out if you’re working on school work. I love it!

As you may be able to tell by now, I love keeping busy.

That’s all for now. I hope you’re enjoying the reflections and writing.

Feel free to leave comments below.

All the best,

What I Learned: Week 3 At HBS

September 17, 2012

We had one of those beautiful two class days at HBS today, and so I’m taking some time working out of the iLab on this Monday afternoon to reflect on the last week of learning before I jump into three cases tonight on the Subprime Mortgage Crisis, General Electric’s Healthymagination Program, and an Operations Class Process Simulation.

I find that we are learning so much and covering so much material that if I don’t take time each week to reflect on what I’m learning so much of it will pass me by. So here’s a summation of what I learned last week, designed someday to help me reflect and recall and perhaps share a bit of what’s happening here with those who someday may wish to come (and perhaps help classmates more easily explain to their parents what’s going on).

This post is a follow-up to Week One at HBS and Week Two at HBS. Just like I wrote in those posts, I am absolutely loving the experience here and every day feel like I’m a little kid in a candy store taking in a fire hose of wonderful new knowledge. If you’re interested in seeing more photos from the time here so far, check out my photo blog. I’m also tweeting from time to time via @ryanallis on Twitter.

I have a sense that future reflections may be more spaced out as the club schedule is rapidly starting to ramp up and I’ve joined the Entrepreneurship Club, Start-up Tribe, TechMedia Club, Africa Business Club, Social Enterprise Club, and Energy and Environment Club. My section (F) is also holding its retreat in Vermont the weekend after this.


Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD 1)

FIELD 1 focuses on “individual skill building to develop leadership intelligence” and “leadership exercises, peer feedback, and personal reflection.” Here’s what we did last week in FIELD.

  • Storytelling and Improv Workshop - The storytelling and improvisation workshop was the most energizing activity we’ve done at HBS to date. It was put on by the Ariel Group and was designed to help us become better communicators and more engaging speakers (and reduce all the ums, uhs, likes, you knows, and unnecessary ands we often use as crutches when speaking). From the student feedback I heard, this workshop received the highest reviews from classmates of anything we’ve done so far. We took the time to visualize a story of a dramatic defining moment in our life and had a chance to practice telling the story multiple times. It was so wonderful to have a business school (traditionally the realm of the left-brained analytical geniuses) focus four hours on creative and emotional intelligence during the first month of classes. The next day, we discussed plans as a section to continue our practice and attend an upcoming show at Cambridge’s ImprovBoston, now being run by my friend Zach Ward from North Carolina.
  • Leadership Presence – We also received a copy of two related books–Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire by Belle Linda Halpern and Kathy Lubar and Getting Unstuck: How Dead Ends Become New Paths by Timothy Butler. We read chapter one of Leadership Presence, which was very good and reinforced the lessons learned in our improv and storytelling training.
  • Feedback Workshop - We went to the Innovation Lab on campus (the iLab) and filmed ourselves giving and receving feedback based on four fictional cases. The lesson emphasized authenticity, specificity, the intention to help, and humility in the process of giving feedback. One can learn so much when they watch themselves on video! Companies should absolutely utilize this technique in their managerial training programs. After experimenting with a few provided feedback formulas, I found that my preferred way of giving feedback to others in a professional setting was to
  1. Ask for permission to give feedback
  2. State the specific behavior I observe
  3. State the effect of that specific behavior
  4. Ask for the individua’s perspective on the feedback.
  • Hay Group Emotional and Social Intelligence Assessment (EISI) – This session focused on the results of a 360 degree review assessment completed by peers, direct reports, and supervisors we selected prior to us coming to HBS. I found I had the greatest opportunity for improvement in: “Understanding others’ perspectives when they are different from my own perspective” and “using metaphors to describe themes or patterns.” This assessment was created by Daniel Goleman’s company. Daniel is the author of the well-known book Emotional Intelligence.
  • CareerLeader Results Report – We attended a session on our future career paths. Not surprisingly, according to the 19 page CareerLeader report I really enjoy 1) Influencing Others 2) Creative Production and 3) Enterprise Control, I am most suited for the following roles: Product R&D Management (99), Venture Capital (98), Marketing (98), Management in Science and Engineering (94), Public Relations and Communications (90), and Entrepreneurship (86). Rounded out the jobs I am least suited for were Supply Chain Management (11), Financial Planning and Stock Brokerage (11) and Production and Operations Management (8). Finally, I learned that the four most important components of a fulfilling job to me are Intellectual Challenge (12), Power and Influence (11), Affiliation to Enjoyable Colleagues (9), and Managing People (9) with job security (0) all the way at the end.
  • Section Norms – A class discussion led by our FIELD professor Amy Edmondson (who by the way was once Buckminster Fuller’s chief engineer — so awesome) on what norms we wanted to have in our section of 90

Should you happen to be interested in obtaining a copy of any of the below cases you can find them on the Harvard Business Publishing web site.

Finance (FIN 1)

  1. Gone Rural Day 1 – Evaluating the operational effectiveness of a $700k per year in revenue rural South African premium basket weaving operation and the tie between scaling social impact and operational execution
  2. Gone Rural Day 2 – Creating a five year pro-forma income statement and balance sheet for this South African firm with various scenarios to determine outside funding needs and understand the link between targeted growth rate and funding needs and the link between key elements of operational efficiency (like the cash conversion cycle and inventory levels) and funding needs.

Financial Reporting & Controls (FRC)

  1. Polymedica Corporation – Discussing whether direct-response advertising costs should be capitalized or expensed.
  2. Accounting for Frequent Flyers – Looking at the frequent flyer accounting practices pre-1991 and how FASB was thinking through changing the accounting rules related to capturing the liability on airlines’ books.
  3. Magnet Beauty Products – Evaluating whether to capitalize a lease on the books of a 32-store chain natural beauty supply company.

Technology & Operations Management (TOM)

  1. Polyface Farms – Analyzing the operations and expansion plans of a sustainable farm in Virginia.
  2. Fabritek – Drawing process diagrams and calculating and understanding the bottlenecks, capacity, and throughput of the various production processes of an integrated circuit board manufacturer in the 1980s.
  3. Dore-Dore – Understanding the pros and cons of cell production (single-process flow) vs. assembly line production in a French hosiery and knitwear manufacturing plant.

Marketing (MKT)

  1. Sealed Air – Looking at how this $4B global public company brought a new video monitoring technology called VTID to market, particularly focusing on which customer segments to go after.
  2. Principles of Product Policy – A module note on new products, product mixes, product life cycles, and managing product and brand portfolios
  3. Emotiv – Evaluating product positioning and go-to-market strategy for a low-cost ($299) neurotechnology headset that uses electrical brain waves to control computer games and other applications. Emotive began in 2003 and after six years of R&D launched in late 2010. As I’ve become extremely interested in neuroscience in the last year (due to my mom Pauline passing away in May from a brain tumor) I found this case really fascinating. Here’s more about the product from the Emotiv web site. After class we had a chance to play with an Emotiv headset. While I didn’t have the chance to use it myself, many of my classmates did. It was absolutely breathtaking to see a computer program controlled with just my mind alone. My classmates were playing games, lifting rocks, and scaring off spirits with just their thoughts. I plan to become a customer when I get back to San Francisco next summer. I was very thankful to casewriters Elie Ofek (our marketing professor) and Jason Riis for writing such a case about such a groundbreaking technology.
  4. Marketing Breakeven Analysis – A module note on how to calculate a breakeven analysis for the number of units a company must produce to cover their fixed costs with gross margin proceeds.

Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)

  1. Greg James at Sun Microsystems – Creating accountability and effectiveness on a team split between India, UAE, France, and the USA. As part of this case we learned about fairness on teams and our professor Lakshmi Ramarajan (who by the way was once a professional dancer AND managed conflict resolution programs in West Africa!) played a video of a scientific experiment involving Capuchin monkeys. We learned that Capuchin monkeys (like humans) often reject unequal pay. Watch the video!
  2. Taran Sawn at Nickelodeon Latin America – Looking at how to be proactive as a manager in establishing the conditions for high team effectiveness (across performance, team work, and individual development and satisfaction) as a General Manager prepares to temporarily work away from her team due to health complications.


It would take quite some time to list all that I learned last week–so here is just a sample of some of the key items I took away or greatly improved my grasp of last week. I’m so excited to be learning at this pace with such smart and caring peers. I continue to grow rapidly in learning how industries operate outside of the industry I’m most familiar with–software.

So far I have a much better understanding of:

  1. How companies achieve production efficiency manufacturing a physical product — Including how to calculate bottlenecks, capacity, throughput, output rate, work in progress, cycle time and labor utilization.
  2. GAAP accounting — Particularly as GAAP accounting enables to the capitalization of assets, depreciation of assets, and amortization of assets and the effects of these balance sheet items on GAAP net income.
  3. The payment cycle (aka cash conversion cycle) — Particularly with respect to ideas on how to reduce days in A/R and inventory holdings. This knowledge is particularly helpful for someone like me coming from prepaid subscription software (in which you have negative net working capital due to monthly and annual prepayments) and no inventory at all.
  4. Financial ratios and how they relate to a company’s health — Particularly interest coverage, leverage ratio, ROE, and ROA.
  5. Debits and credits — It took me three weeks — but I finally have learned that an increase to an asset is a debit (IAD is how I remember) and an increase to expense is a debit (IED is how I remember). From that I can work out that an increase to a liability is a credit and an increase to revenue is a credit.
  6. Measuring Team Effectiveness – I’ve learned that it’s not just performance metrics that count in measuring team effectiveness. It’s also the “capability of team members to work and learn together in the future” and “individual needs for development and satisfying work.”
  7. Being proactive as a leader – From both the Erik Peterson case and the Taran Swan case I’ve learned just how important it is to be proactive and aware as a leader and address potential interpersonal conflicts right away.
  8. The different types of leadership challenges – Specifically the difference between tactical leadership challenges that require better processes and procedures and human leadership challenges (that require better management, recruiting, training, org structures, mentoring, etc.).


Finally, during a particularly meaningful session in LEAD, the class listed out the traits of the best bosses they’ve ever had and the worst bosses they’ve ever had. I wrote down the list we brainstormed as I found it particularly helpful.

Best Bosses Worst Bosses
Supportive No mentoring
Encouraging No feedback
Asked about family Humiliates people
Care about your success Pits team members against each other
Values-centered Sink or swim environment
Passionate Uses fear-based motivation not intrinsic motivation
Makes you feel useful Doesn’t follow through
Good listener Bad listener
Inspiring Pessimistic
Create a sense of ownership Treats workers as cogs in a wheel
Good Presenter Not open to feedback
Over-communicator Under-communicator
Considerate Doesn’t care about you
Include people in decisions Makes decisions unilaterally
Set clear expectations Unclear expectations
Gives credit and claims accountability Takes credit and deflects responsibility
Enthusiasm and energy Low energy
Commitment to the organization Cynical
Competent and Self-Aware
Open to feedback
High EQ

That’s all for this week. My posts may be coming less frequently in the weeks ahead, but I still plan to post reflections from time to time on my experience and lessons learned. I’m off to read about the Subprime Crisis. Thanks for reading!

Week Two at HBS

September 10, 2012

Hello from Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. Here is a reflection on my second week at Harvard Business School. It is a follow-up to “Week One At HBS.” I’m not sure yet how often I’ll be writing–but for now I’ll try to keep sharing my lessons learned each weekend. I’m very much enjoying the experience here so far.

The Purpose of HBS

This week during a Section F lunch we heard from Rawi Abdelal the Chair of the MBA Required Curriculum (first year) at HBS to give us an overview of what’s to come.

Rawi shared with us that the purpose of attending HBS is to help us:

  1. Develop our own worldview and sense of how the world works;
  2. Enhance our ability to see the whole;
  3. Spend two fleeting years imagining how a new generation of business leaders will engage with an change the world; and
  4. Reimagine our place in the world.

The HBS Deal

Rawi shared that the “HBS Deal” is “We will teach you how the world works now. You go make it better.” He shared that the HBS learning model began with individual preparation (of cases), then small-group discussion and projects in groups of 6, then section level 90 person facilitated class discussions, and then individual reflection and integration (which I like to do via blogging).

He encouraged us to share our conclusions with our classmates–but to more importantly share the thought processes behind our conclusions. With the data identified and thought processes highlighted, we could better discuss them and learn from the variety of perspectives. Finally, Rawi shared that we are at an extraordinary moment–at an inflection point in globalization and at a new point in the evolution of business leadership and that HBS is excited to be part of this evolution. Rawi was quite a polished speaker. One thing you notice at HBS is how polished every speaker is.

Sections Coming Together

The sections are starting to come together and are really getting to know each other–through case comments, class time, and social events. We held our first “Skydeck” session on Friday in which the top row in the section classroom makes a powerpoint deck to tactfully and artfully make fun of other classmates for things that were said in class or happened during the week. You really learn so much from the perspectives of the other 89 people in the room. Friday’s cases on Cialis and a Whiskey company provided for a fun morning. We also began planning for our section retreat in Vermont at the end of the month.

Week Two Activities

This week I had the chance to attend an HBS Africa Business dinner on Tuesday, an HBS Social Enterprise Initiative Kickoff on Wednesday, an MIT Energy Ventures Class on Thursday, a DNC Convention watching party on Thursday, a Boston Teammates (a group of 20-somethings who are part of a listserv related to changing the world) dinner on Friday, a HBS dance party at Naga in Central Square on Saturday, and a sectionmate’s birthday party on Sunday. It was a fun week indeed.

Student clubs are about to start up this coming week. At the moment I plan to join the Africa Business Club, Energy and Environment Club, Entrepreneurship Club, and the Venture Capital and Private Equity Club.

I keep myself busy. I enjoy spending my energies learning and talking with people who really care about where the world is going. One definitely has to make maximum use of his or her productive energies to be able to gain from the full experience. Even then, one has to make tough choices between multiple great speaking events, club events, section outings, and learning opportunities.

The Classes

Right now I am at the beginning of the Required Curriculum (RC) year and have six classes:

  • Technology & Operations Management (TOM)
  • Marketing (MKT)
  • Leadership & Organizational Behavior (LEAD)
  • Financial Reporting and Control (FRC)
  • Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD)
  • Finance 1 (FIN1) – Hasn’t begun yet

This Week’s Cases

In the past week we’ve read and reviewed the following cases and primers:

  • TOM – Benihana – Analyzing the aligning elements that made this hibachi Japanese restaurant highly successful in the 1980s
  • TOM – Donner Corporation – Analyzing process flows, capacities, and bottlenecks in making electronic circuit boards in a factory
  • TOM – Process Fundamentals – The basics of drawing process flows and calculating capacity, bottlenecks
  • TOM – Polyface – Analyzing the operations of an environmentally sustainable farm in Virginia
  • MKT – Red Lobster – Looking at how Red Lobster improved customer perception of freshness and quality from 2004-2010, redesigned their restaurants, and went after a slightly upscale customer segment
  • MKT – Cialis – Looking at the product introduction and target market messaging strategy during Eli Lilly’s introduction of Cialis into the market in 2003. Cialis quickly grew to capture ~40% of the market with $1.5B in annual sales to Viagra’s $1.9B.
  • MKT – Market Segmentation, Target Market Selection, and Positioning – A review of the basics of how to segment customers into different groups, write a positioning statement, and create a brand
  • FRC- Accounting for the iPhone – A case on revenue recognition. Looking at whether Apple could realize the revenue from the sales of iPhones under GAAP even though it had an outstanding obligation to provide free software updates to its customers and which practice better reflected economic reality.
  • FRC – Compass Box Whisky – Evaluating the accounting and operational implications of switching from purchasing 10 year old whisky to purchasing new whisky and holding the inventory as it ages
  • FRC – Polymedica Corporation – Evaluating the proper capitalizing vs. expensing of direct-response advertising
  • LEAD – C&S Grocer – Looking at the productivity gains realized from transitioning to self-managed teams inside a wholesale food warehouse that has becoming a $20 billion private company
  • LEAD – Managing A Global Team: Greg James at Sun Microsystems – Evaluating how to manage a client crisis with a distributed team in India, the UAE, France, and the USA
  • FIELD – Managing Diversity – A great HBR article on how to fully take advantage of the varying perspectives on how to best do work and create value for the customer that can arise when you bring together competent people from many different backgrounds

The Lessons Learned

So what are the hard and soft lessons I’ve learned so far through all the cases. Here are just a few of them.

  • How to create an operations process flow chart and calculate the capacity and bottleneck in a production system (Donner case)
  • For a consumer product, have a memorable spokesperson (Snapple case with Wendy)
  • Objective reality is sometimes subjective with multiple truths (Kansas City Zephyrs Case)
  • When disagreeing on a conclusion, discuss the data and inputs that led you to that conclusion (RC year overview)
  • Create a work environment in which people teams can manage themselves (C&S Grocer Case)
  • Focus on getting the basics right and then execute (Black and Decker & Snapple)
  • When going after two very distinct markets, have two distinct brands (Black and Decker & DeWalt)
  • Make your product standout visually (Black and Decker)
  • How to properly assign debits and credits to record an accounting transaction that balances assets, liabilities and owner’s equity (Compass Box Whiskey — this one’s a bit hard!)

A Developing Interest in Renewables & Clean Tech

On Thursday I had the chance to go to MIT and sit in on the first Energy Ventures course with Professor Bill Aulet through my friends Titiaan Palazzi and David Cohen-Tanugi (a researcher working withJeffrey Grossman). I’m becoming more and more interested in renewables, solar, and batteries as time goes on. Energy is arguably the biggest industry in the world and clean energy presents perhaps the biggest business opportunity in our lifetime. With the prospect of reaching solar grid parity this decade and our atmosphere now at 395 carbon dioxide parts per million it is both economically interesting and societally critical for great entrepreneurs and scientists to focus on the opportunities and challenges within cleantech.

Last year I got to know Jim McQuade (HBS ‘11) while he was writing the HBS Second Market/iContact case with Profs. Sahlman, Lassiter, and Nanda. Recently, Jim took a role as COO & CFO of SolidEnergy Systems, a spin-out of co-founder Dr. Qichao Hu’s research on batteries at MIT. SolidEnergy Ssytems is just one example of the many clean tech companies in Boston. It’s wonderful to see so many students at HBS and firms in the area focused on this great opportunity to re-create the world’s energy system to become carbon neutral over the next two decades. I’ve already found a number of folks among my classmates I could see myself investing in or wanting to work with someday down the line.

Preparing for My Future

From a big picture, I want to focus my life on how we as a species can create a world in which everyone has access to basic human needs in an environmentally sustainable manner. From a career standpoint, in the next twenty years I’d like to build Connect in San Francisco into a software company that helps connect people globally on touch devices and invest in via HumanityFund or lead of growing a renewable energy company. After that, I’d love to get into public service. So far HBS seems to be a great place to prepare me for these goals of leading a company that makes a large positive impact in the world and leading part of the public sector. I’m meeting people here that will enable me to do more than I could have imagined.

Balancing School and Work

Tomorrow the team of Anima, Addison, Marwan, Sara, Zach, and Thor at Connect (the company I co-founded in May in San Francisco) is back to work for the Fall Season after a two week break. We are building a touch application for laptops, tablets, and smartphones that builds an integrated address book (merging data from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, iPhone, and Gmail), allows you to view and filter the home, work, and check-in locations of your contacts on a map of the world, and brings together all your digital interactions with a person in one place.

Connect launched its alpha version on August 15th and now is spending the autumn building out the beta product requirements and mobile application before a December beta launch. As I noted last week, while it is challenging leading a company from across the country, I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful COO/co-founder Anima running the daily ops and a great engineering team who is making it happen. It’s also fun to continually be engaged in building a new start-up again. It’s been 9 years since iContact was at the same stage and it’s been fun getting into the details of product management again.

Another packed week awaits. Off to bed!!