Thursday, October 28, 2010

Differentiating yourself into the shadow

I'm not really sold on the new Nook Color. It seems to me that in trying to differentiate themselves from the Kindle, they've managed to move into the shadow of the iPad and all of the other tablets that are coming to market soon. Maybe they did this intentionally, but why?

Barnes&Noble doesn't exactly have a reputation that resonates with tablet devices, and now they are using hardware and software that is really similar to what everyone else is using. Maybe they plan to compete on price, but even that seems like a tough sell as a dolled up e-reader or a limited tablet device.

Oh, and it gets 8 hours of battery life with WiFi turned OFF. So don't forget to bring the charger along.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Kellogg Insight Poster Montage!

All of the "Kellogg Insight" posters that I could find at Jacobs

Did I mention how much I love these Kellogg Insight posters?  I meandered through the halls of Jacobs trying to find them all (very Pokemon like) to create the montage above. I think I succeeded, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I may have missed some.

I'd love to also see "Kellogg Impact" posters in the same format to highlight what current alumnus are doing in the world. For example, they could highlight folks in different industries, such as Jennifer Beall, a 2010 grad turned entrepreneur recently featured in a FastCompany story along with her start-up CleanBeeBaby, or Andrew Youn, a grad who co-founded the nonprofit organization OneAcreFund.

In case you want to actually read about all of the great stuff the professors have done, the original file (in all of its 8000x8000px glory) is available here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

State of the Quarter

The quarter has been busier than I expected so far, but I think things are finally starting to taper off.  Fortunately though, I've been able to slow down a bit, relax, and regain some of the precious life balance that I gave up last quarter.  Since I haven't had much time to write, I'm going to do a shotgun post to get caught up. Grab some popcorn, sit down and relax, because this is going to be long.

Loving the Kindle
I picked up a Kindle at the beginning of the quarter, and I can wholeheartedly say I love this thing. At first I wasn't sure how well I'd be able to make the transition from books (with all of their tangible goodness) to reading on the Kindle, but it was not a problem at all.  The e-ink screen is much better than I expected, and the thing is surprisingly well-designed, small, and lightweight, making it ideal for carrying around in the backpack and reading for long periods of time.
The Kindle makes it a lot easier to buy books and start reading at any point of the day. I'm currently working my way through 3 books: The Prophet, Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, and the updated version of Kellogg on Marketing, which has a chapter by Prof. Jain on the Sandwich Strategy, something he taught us in class. Although I've also been loading class notes (PDFs) on to it, it doesn't work as well for that.  I think that's where the iPad comes in, but the course packets still aren't offered in a format that is easy to transfer on to it from what I understand.

Office 2011 for Mac
If you are using at Mac with a virtual image of Windows for working in Excel, Powerpoint, etc, do yourself a favor and pick up Office2011 for Mac as soon as it comes out. I've been using it for a couple of weeks now, and although there are still a few minor issues, it has made it a lot easier to work on things for class. Before, I used to try and avoid having to open docs up too often because of how much time it took to power on Windows, move the files over to work on them, etc.

BCG Texas
Since recruiting is underway, I've had the opportunity to talk to a few folks about why I ended up going with the Dallas office. I know that lots of people are probably gun-ho about New York, San Fran, Chicago, etc (hell, I'd love to live in any of those places too after grad school), but I think the Texas system is like a hidden gem.
  • The offices are doing really well and growing
  • The cost of living in Texas is much, much lower than a lot of other places (can you say no state income tax!).  Given that pretty much all consulting firms pay the same salary regardless of where you live, this makes a big difference and should help me pay off my loans quickly
  • The offices have a pretty big footprint in a lot of different industries, including Technology (my favorite), CPG and Retail, Energy,  Leisure&Travel, and Public fact, the PubEd practice leader is a partner in the office
  • The offices are ridiculously family friendly. Not as much an issue for me now, but good to know just in case

The MBA and What It's Good For 

Shahid Hussain, a Kellogg 09 alum, wrote a fantastic article on the value of getting an MBA, giving away part of what makes Kellogg awesome...the "impressively low asshole ratio." A few days before reading it, I was having a conversation with my GF where I echoed the same sentiment: much like my undergrad experience, I know that I am going to come away from here a fundamentally changed person....and be all the better for it.  The opportunity to grow and learn more about yourself in grad school seems limitless.

Grateful for Kellogg's Emphasis on Scholarships
Last quarter, one of my professor's had a brief conversation with our class about the school's fund raising and the plans for a new building.  He mentioned that historically Kellogg's priority has been on providing students with scholarships.  I don't know if it's true or not, but a few weeks ago I went to an event that supported the notion. I was amazed to see how many classmates at Kellogg are rocking scholarships in some form or another.  I'm fortunate enough to have some scholarship funding as a component of my financial aid, and I know first-hand how much it can weigh on the decision to attend one school or another.  I almost went to another program because of a fat scholarship, but fortunately a friend of mine was able to knock some sense into me and convince me to go with my gut.

I'm really digging my classes this quarter
By far, my favorite class has to be Managerial Leadership with Prof. Kraemer.  Although I can easily see how someone might consider it not very useful, especially for the bid point price, I love the discussions that we are having in there and the questions that it provokes me to think about.  I found one of the articles that we read for class, The Making of a Corporate Athlete, online. It should give you an idea of the type of things we focus on.

I am also enjoying the one-two combo that is Financial Analysis and Financial Decisions, which I think is a must-take course.  The two classes cover a lot of complimentary topics, and back when I was asking around for classes that were good for consulting, FinD was the only one that came up consistently. I think it's living up to its reputation. Every week, we do one or two cases (6 of the 10 weeks it's two cases) tied to some financial concept, like choosing the optimal capital structure or valuing a company, and then we discuss it in class, where Professor Raviv is able to describe a complex topic in a beautifully elegant and simple, but not simplistic, way.  I know that Kellogg doesn't have a reputation for being strong on finance, but I've found quite the opposite to be true. Between TurboFin with Professor Braun, FinD with Professor Raviv, and my teams in both classes, I think I'll come away with a pretty good foundation in finance.

Overall, I've been really lucky with the quality of guest speakers this quarter. I've had a chance to hear from a Partner at Madison Dearborn Partners, multiple CEOs, and the CMO of Coca-Cola, amongst others. And unlike some past experiences, they've all been top-notch speakers.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wow. Movie about R. Lord's in Austin!

Wow! I just found out that they are making a documentary about R. Lord's Boxing Gym in Austin.

I boxed here for about 3 months after graduating from UT. Sparred 2 times. Got my butt kicked 2 times. Almost got knocked out 1 time. One of the crazy things about that gym is that it is located in a metal warehouse building and has no A/C; just a box fan near the front door. Needless to say, everyone builds up a healthy sweat in there.

Richard Lord is a mad man. Awesome coach. I remember he used to run between 5-7 miles up and down the ramps at the UT football stadium without ever getting winded.

Forming teams

The overwhelming majority of my classes so far have involved a group component to assignments, with Management Communications being the only exception.  That's to be expected given the school's emphasis on collaboration, and although it sounded dubious at first to have a group in a class like TurboFin, I've found it to be extremely helpful for discussing and understanding the material (as long as I've had time to prepare in advance of group meetings).

During the first year, most of my groups were picked by the professors, but this quarter, things have shifted around. In three of my four classes, we were able to pick the teams ourselves; in fact, lots of classmates recommend having a team set up for Financial Decisions, which has a comparatively high workload (but is an amazing class), before taking it. I tend to be very passive about forming teams, mainly to try to avoid my tendency to work with folks that I know, and although it's worked out really well so far, I know it's a bit of a risky strategy.

As far as I can tell, there are several considerations that influence team formation in a class.
  • Friend factor - are you good friends with anyone in the class
  • Prior experience - have you worked with someone before to the extent that they can vouch for you
  • Reputation - a bit of a corollary to prior experience, but do people regard you as a good teammate, where good is somewhat qualitative and can vary depending on the class content
  • Initiative - do you actively seek a team or wait to get scooped up

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I dig these Kellogg Insight posters

Kellogg Insight board in Jacobs

It seems like these Kellogg Insight posters have sprung up all over Jacobs recently...or at least I don't remember seeing so many of them last year. They highlight bits of research that have been done by some of the professors.

I dig them. It's a nice design, and it gives me something to read when I'm loitering in the halls. And I do love to loiter, especially when I need a break from whatever I'm focusing on.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Case Prep Learnings: notes and sheet layout

Obligatory "just my opinion" warning.

I've seen different levels of note taking during case prep: some folks take a lot of notes throughout the case and others choose not to take too many.  I think that going too far in either direction can lead to problems.
  1. Not taking a lot - If you get stuck, you don't have useful notes to review, so you may not remember what you've already learned from the interviewer. It's possible that you missed an important insight the first time around.
  2. Taking too many - If you get stuck, you have too much information to review making it harder to determine if you missed something. It's tough to go through a lot of notes carefully mid-case when you know the clock is ticking. Furthermore, you might be disengaging from the interviewer too much to take all of those notes.
The trick is to find the right balance of note taking and to lay it out in a way that makes it easier to review if necessary. I've been asked by several folks for advice on both, and although I have no idea how to find the right balance, I can at least describe the layout that worked well for me.

After trying different options, I settled on using a minimum of three sheets of paper (rarely needing more than that, though my writing is pretty small) in the layout below.

I divided my notes out across the sheets as follows.
  • A - The problem statement and any key pieces of information given during the case description, including the objective(s)
  • B - My framework for solving the case, generally grouped into 2-3 categories (buckets), such as Competition
  • C - The recommendations I would make at the end and a brief note on why for each one. As I worked through the case, if I felt that I had arrived at a recommendation, I would pause to write it out here so that I could refer back to it at the end for the concluding "elevator pitch"
  • D - Info that I received while asking questions under Category 1 in my framework
  • E - Info that I received while asking questions under Category 2 in my framework
  • F - Info that I received while asking questions under Category 3 in my framework. If I stumbled onto something that wasn't in my original framework, I just added another section below here for it
  • G - Scratch work during any calculations. Afterward, I transferred the final data over to either D, E, or F depending on time. At first, I did all of the scratch work on the same sheet as my notes, but then it would get too cluttered to look over
Of course, I don't think there is any one right way...just have to find what works best for you.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Looking for an iOS developer in Chicago/Evanston area

Stephen and I are looking for an iOS developer in the Chicago/Evanston area to join on to a start-up venture. Must be passionate about social media and equally committed to making software that is simple and elegant (don't let this blog's design fool you...).

We believe that we have a chance to do something unique and exciting in the social media space.

If you are interested, send me an email to get the ball rolling. Cheers!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Common case prep pitfalls

Now that full-time consulting recruiting is underway, I've started doing case prep with classmates again. That got me to thinking about all of the case prep sessions I've been able to give and the issues I've seen people run into.  There are a few that show up frequently (and keep in mind, that this is based solely on my experience and opinion...unfortunately, I don't have any insider information).
  1. Not following the framework - I think the framework is a great way to set up a structured approach for tackling the case before you get too bogged down with all of the details of the case (and the time pressure). It may not be 100% right, but it at least gives you something to build upon as you learn more throughout the case; I don't think there's anything wrong with updating it as you go along.  Normally, the frameworks that people come up with sound great, but they don't always go back to the framework throughout the interview. This doesn't always impact the ability to solve the case, but it can lead to a "scatterbrained" approach. I think that demonstrating a good thought process is just as important, if not more so, than arriving at the packaged solution.
  2. Not explaining the thought process - This tends to come up when people are asking for data, where they'll either ask a very generic question that sounds like fishing for help (e.g. "What can you tell me about our competitors" versus something like "Have the numbers of competitors increased recently? Have they introduced any new products? Are they cutting prices?" etc..), or else they don't go the extra mile and explain why they want a specific piece of data (e.g. "Have competitors introduced any new products? It's possible that a new product has made our products uncompetitive or obsolete resulting in lower sales.")
  3. Narrating versus executing - This might be the result of over-explaining the thought process. Basically, the interviewee will outline their approach for investigating something (not to be confused with the overall framework; more along the lines of "Costs have been increasing recently. This could be a result of labor increases, such as an increase in wages due to union pressure, or a result of rising raw materials prices......etc...), walking through all of the possible explanations (hypotheses) and what their implications are, but then they don't follow up with the questions to prove or disprove them. This one pains me, because sometimes I'll hear someone nail the actual source of the problem during the outline, but then they don't ever return to it; it ends up lost in the excellent narration as a possibility.
Again, please take these items with a grain of salt.  I'm by no means an expert on this stuff; I just happen to play one on TV.