What a Techie can learn from Warren Buffett

Originally posted on David LoVerme:

Warren Buffett is famous for saying that he does not invest in Tech companies because he doesn’t understand them and cannot predict what they will do in ten years.  He may be a whiz with stocks and insurance companies, but can a Techie like myself really learn a lot of value from him?  Recently, I had the opportunity to attend the Warren Buffett Experience with a group of MBAs from BC and five other schools.  I met the Oracle himself and we had a 2 hour Q&A (with a tasty chicken parm thereafter).  It turns out the answer to my question is a resounding YES!  Buffett spoke very little about investing in particular and more about general business and life lessons as applicable to Tech as they are to Textiles (the business from which his Berkshire-Hathaway holding company gets its name).  I have pages upon pages of notes but will…

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ACHVR

Catching Up with BC MBA and Entrepreneur Ryan Traeger

Last week I had the chance to catch up with Double Eagle Ryan Traeger, CEO and co-founder of ACHVR.  Ryan received a BA from BC in 2003 and an MBA from the Carroll School in 2012.  I have always believed that BC is a great place to start a business, yet our MBA program is not always viewed as such from the outside.  One of the goals of the Grad Tech Club is to change that perception and create opportunities for plenty of future businesses to come out of the walls of Fulton Hall.

Even before his MBA, Ryan was no stranger to entrepreneurship, running a small web design firm out of college before taking on some marketing agency firm jobs.  While he loved marketing, Ryan started to feel the entrepreneurial itch again and decided to go back to BC for an MBA.  He hoped in the time to either start something or find a fledgling business to join while there.  In his first year, Ryan was a member of Professor Gallaugher’s TechTrek West class which he says was the pivotal experience in his MBA program.  It really invigorated him and was the true impetus to making him really dig in and start exploring ideas with new vigor.

The idea for ACHVR came to Ryan early in his second year and he ran with it.  ACHVR would be an app that would gamify the experience of setting and pursuing life goals.  It would also generate significant and valuable data for marketing and advertising uses.  Passionate about pursuing the idea, Ryan approached the Dean of Graduate Programs and got permission for himself and a few others to approach the business as a class.  He further developed the idea and then spent his second semester raising money.  Ryan recruited a BC heavy management team tapping an undergrad classmate as CMO and a fellow MBA for the CFO.  In October of 2013, ACHVR raised $1.3 million in seed funding!

Clearly Ryan made great use of his time and skills at BC but was there anything he wishes he would have done more of?  Of course!  Ryan says he did not do enough going out to the slew of entrepreneurship events happening nearly every night in the Boston area.  These events can sometimes be dominated by Harvard, MIT, and Northeastern and could certainly use an infusion of Maroon and Gold.  In particular Ryan suggests the Drinks on Tap meetup for Mobile entrepreneurs and the Greenhorn Connect calendar for discovering other events.

Thanks to Ryan for taking the time to talk and for his willingness to help out BC entrepreneurs!  I look forward to chronicling more BC MBA startups over the next few weeks and to seeing more arise over the next few years!

Interested in learning more about ACHVR?  Check out this video interview conducted by BC’s own Greg Stoller.

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

TechStars Boston: the Right Place, the Right Time

Last Friday, members of the Grad Tech Club joined forces with our undergrad counterparts to visit TechStars Boston in their headquarters downtown.  The visit was a great experience where we learned a lot about one of the most prestigious accelerators out there.  Like most accelerators, TechStars provides space, resources, and mentorship for the 1% of applicants it accepts as well as some upfront capital and the promise of more in a convertible note should the company get funded later on.  More than just great companies, however, Techstars is committed to producing great ecosystems.  One way they do this, which I found to be particularly interesting, is by bringing on not only startups but also coders and young business professionals as Hackstars and Associates.  These people serve as floaters so to speak, and resources available to the different Techstars companies.  This gives an on demand labor force for the companies and the opportunity to plug in to the Techstars ecosystem for the Hackstars and Associates.

We also got a good glimpse into what sort of startups Techstars is looking for:

  • Team first–Since most companies have some kind of pivot it is important to invest in good teams.  If you invest in an idea and then the idea changes…what did you really choose?
  • Very rarely take single founders, instead look for 2-4 person groups with at least one business and one technical co-founder–A Hustler and a Hacker
  • Look for founders who are passionate about what they do, where at least one has significant domain expertise
  • Ideally, the founders will have acute experience suffering from the pain point their product is trying to solve
  • Companies that already have traction in the form of a working prototype, some revenue, an established user base, and a functional business model
  • Companies that get shit done
  • Since Techstars is an accelerator they are looking for companies that are primed for that growth curve.  They often take companies from incubators or more early stage accelerators like Mass Challenge, and sometimes even take companies on their third or fourth time applying

TechStars

The real highlight of the visit, however, came by happy accident.  One of our group asked a question about hardware startups.  As we were sitting in the open, various people had been shuffling by all afternoon and at that moment, our host stopped the gentleman walking by and asked if he had a moment to answer a question about hardware startup.  The guy turned out to be Harish Kamath, cofounder of Headtalk the makers of Magnet.  In the next 5-10 minutes Harish managed to give us a succinct and anecdotal summation of the real value of doing Techstars.  His product, Magnet, is a bracelet with a pair, designed for long distance significant others.  When you tap your bracelet, it lights up and vibrates its counterpart to let your significant other know you are thinking of them, regardless of the distance that separates you, helping people stay connected.  Although they had a crude prototype, Harish and his co-founder are engineers not designers but one of the mentors Techstars paired them with was the design firm IDEO.  With the help of this mentor, they learned to understand their users better and develop form factors that really met their users needs and preferences.  The next task however, was to produce multiple prototypes for testing and time was in high demand.  Founders juggle a million and one tasks at a time, as Harish put it, “they don’t call it an accelerator for nothing!” and therefore assembling the prototypes was a task that was hard to find time for.  Once again, Techstars could help!  Techstars has a 3d printer and one of the Hackstars had an interest in hardware and was happy to help, assembling dozens of prototypes so that Harish could focus on other aspects of the business.  Finally, there is the value innate in being part of a cohort.  The Magnet team decided to do a Kickstarter campaign and needed to create internet buzz about their product.  Once again, however, these guys are engineers and not web marketing experts.  It turns out, however, that fellow Techstars cohort members Fortified Bicycle had already successfully executed two Kickstarter campaigns and social marketing was literally Mavrck‘s product!  This gave Harish and his team the resources and advise they needed to tackle the digital world, even with a hardware product.

We could not have had a better case study in the value Techstars brings and the reason for doing an accelerator.  BC already has some strong ties to Techstars through previous hackstars and associates and we look forward to an MBA startup slingshotting out of the program sometime soon!

Today, Tomorrow, and the Future: Navigating the Tech Landscape

We all know Tech Startups have many differences from traditional businesses but identifying them and how to navigate these differences to build a successful career can be challenging.  That is why we were so fortunate to have industry veteran and NDT VP of Recruiting Larry Kahn visit the Heights last Tuesday!  With more than 20 years experience recruiting for high tech, he brings a great perspective on how to break in and make it in the industry.  I have done my best to summarize some of his key insights here.

A huge thank you to Larry for taking the time to share his knowledge and experience with us!

On Interviewing

  • Companies are increasingly hiring on consensus, with more than just one “decider” you need to pay extra attention to how you come across during your entire time in the office and to anyone with whom you interact.  This can be particularly difficult as interview length is shorter now on average than in the past
  • It is key to let interviewers know all the relevant info about you.  If you cannot fit it all in during the interview, you can use your thank you email, second paragraph to pass on some relevant information that may not have come up.
  • Even if you don’t have anything else to add, send a follow-up thank you.  It really matters.
  • Video interviews are also becoming more common and you must treat it like an in person.  Dress like you would for an office visit, choose a quiet place, and make sure there are no distractions in the background.  Little things make a difference.
  • Make sure your shoes are shined, your clothes are clean and free of lint, in short-make sure you look good.  This does not mean wear a suit however.  For some companies you should–for others that will make you awkward and out of place…if you have any question at all, ask!
  • Companies will search you, look at your social sites, and your online presence.  See building your brand below.
  • Eat well beforehand, including protein.  You don’t know if the interview will last longer than expected and you need to keep your energy level throughout.

On Offer Letters and Job Choice

  • Startups offer a fair compensation package that may be lighter on salary but should have meaningful equity
  • Mid Sized companies should offer higher base salary and a bonus up to 30%, perhaps with some equity
  • Regardless, do not simply pick the highest paying job, but one that provides the best opportunities for work experience to put you on the right path to where you want to go.
  • Try to balance your experience between big and small companies–if you’ve been at enterprise businesses, try a startup and vice versa.  This will avoid becoming typecast.  Look for transferable skills.

Building Your Brand

  • You need to control your brand.  Have a professional photo on LinkedIn that is different from Facebook.  Post articles or work samples that reflect your strengths on LinkedIn.  Content is key!  Maintain an active and professional Twitter handle.
  • Companies are looking for interesting people so you need to demonstrate how you are different from you peers.
  • Don’t short sell yourself!
  • Company loyalty is not what it used to be on either side.  For most companies, 2-4 years is a good tenure and staying much longer will get you typecast.
  • You must stay current by reading voraciously, following trends online, and taking classes whenever possible.  Blog, Tweet, etc. to keep yourself relevant.
  • Give back!  Look for opportunities to mentor and help others

Finding and Maintaining Mentor Relationships

  • People are generally willing to help but you have to try
  • Reach out to a person three times before giving up, including over the phone.  Sometimes messages fall through the cracks.
  • Say thank you!  Send emails, follow-up with news, and generally emanate an attitude of gratitude.
  • It does not need to be an equal relationship.  It’s okay if a mentor helps you more than you help them, just pay it forward!

Growing Jobs and Trends in Tech

  • Product Management
    • A/B Testing
    • Agile
  • Digital Marketing
  • Social Marketing
  • Professional Services
    • Training
    • Consulting
  • Engineering
    • Ruby
    • Pearl
    • Java
  • Healthcare and Tech
  • Big Data
    • Companies that help other companies harvest and interpret big data are flourishing
  • Technology as a base for business
    • If you want to stay in Mass, work in SF or in the Pacific Northwest, get a job at a tech company because those companies are the ones who are going to dominate the economies in these areas

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

BC GradTech: A Week in the Life

They come less often these days, but I still occasionally receive emails to the tune of “I’m not a coder, can I still join the BC Grad Tech Club?”  I respond explaining that we are devoted to preparing our members for jobs in the Tech industry but that these include all disciplines including business development, finance, HR, marketing, and more.  While professional clubs such as the Finance Club, the Consulting Club, and the Marketing Club seem to be pretty intuitive, our own is less apparent.  While this ambiguity has allowed us to pursue a wide and meaningful agenda of activities, it has perhaps made it difficult to understand what it means to be a member.  As a result, I thought I would share what one recent week looked like for me.

Monday, Feb 16

It’s President’s day and a BC holiday.  While there won’t be any classes today the Tech scene rolls on.  I read my weekly email for VentureFizz, a great source of information about Boston Tech, looking carefully for any events our club members should attend or for jobs that might be a good fit.  It would not be uncommon to have a speaking event on a normal Monday but today is a university holiday so I turn off my computer and head out to enjoy the day.

Tuesday, Feb 17

It’s snowing today but the BC Startup Job Fair has already been rescheduled once so we keep it as is.  As I head to campus on a shuttle that promises a snail’s pace at best, I tweet a reminder to club members.  In the startup world especially, it is all about networking as Bobby Gooch reminded us, and we need to mobilize our folks.  I chat with early stage startups, later stage firms, and a slew of incubators and accelerators, at once looking for good fits personally and for opportunities to pass on to the club.  There are a lot of good options and I exchange cards with a number of folks.  I will need to follow up soon, but at present I can’t as I have to rush to Fulton Hall for a meeting.

StartupFair

I slip into the conference room just as my watch hits 3:30.  Google student Ambassador Arev Doursonian is already sitting there and we open up our computers to Google Adwords.  This month’s Digital Marketing targets the popular SEM tool and we begin hypothesizing about the best ways to drive traffic to our site.  The meeting lasts close to an hour and I leave knowing a lot more about the service than I did when I walked in.  Hands on, experiential opportunities to test hypotheses and learn by doing.  That is what this initiative is all about and a week later, we are making some serious progress.

Wednesday, Feb 18

Nothing on the calendar today!  Even with a lighter courseload this semester, days like this are rare and worth taking advantage of.  I cross a number of items of the to do list, one of which is updating bcgradtechclub.net.  I start with the events page but quickly move to the homepage.  For such a dynamic organization it is pretty static and the image is a year out of date.  I replace the image with one from our recent visit to Google Cambridge and then rename the page to “About” in our menu.  I opt to replace the landing page with our blog to better represent the dynamic nature of our organization.  We saw a lift from 1.7 pages per visitor to 2.4 after the change!

Like all Wednesdays, I also send out the Grad Tech Weekly Update.  This week’s emphasis?  Code & Coffee, BU’s Tech Conference, and an opportunity to try out some Google wearables!

Thursday, Feb 10

It’s Thursday evening which means one thing, Product Team Meeting!  This one is particularly special because we have been working for months to identify needs, develop concepts, and test our hypotheses.  We finally have something we are ready to start working on and we have developers joining us for the first time!  We take stock of where we are at and make a plan for the future.

For me it’s off to class and then straight to Landsdowne Pub to support one of our members, Jackie Ouellet!  In addition to being a full time MBA and an Uber driver, Jackie is running the Boston Marathon for charity.  It’s great to see so many Eagles out to support her.  Some even do so vocally…in the form of live band karaoke!

karaoke

Friday, Feb 20

It’s 12:50pm which means I am currently brewing a French press full of coffee to fuel us up while myself and others work our way through CodeAcademy’s intro to Python course.  I blast Pandora “Don’t Stop Believing” Radio and crush lists and libraries.  Normally our weekly Code & Coffee event lasts two hours but today I have to leave early to join a mixed group of MBAs and Undergrads at Highland Capital’s Cambridge office for TechTrek Boston.  It’s an awesome event and I learn a ton!  As you’ve probably come to expect…I blogged about it.

Saturday, Feb 21

As a second year MBA, I am used to evening classes.  Maybe that’s why I am still groggy after being up for an hour and a half.  I wait for the shuttle bus that has replaced the green line, pressed against a mountain of snow where once there was a sidewalk and crossing my fingers that I don’t get hit by the passing cars.  Cold and traffic notwithstanding, however, it is going to be a great day!  BU’s Tech Club is hosting their annual TechConnect conference and the theme is Product.  I have worked with these guys before and seen many of the presenters speak in the past.  I know it’s going to be a great event!  Fast forward a few hours and I am enjoying a post conference beer and chatting with some of my Terrier counterparts.  The conference was awesome and I learned a ton.  I congratulate them on a job well done and fail twice at getting the green line shuttle to stop for me at Blanford St, I hail a cab and head home.

Meghan

Sunday, Feb 22

I do nothing Tech Club related today…at least not that I can remember.  We all need a day of rest after all.

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Digital Marketing Experiment 4: Driving site traffic with Adwords

In an effort to drive traffic to bcgradtechclub.net and ultimately increase current- and future-MBAs’ user engagement with the site, we’ve begun pioneering our Google AdWords marketing campaign. While the campaign is still in its infancy, we’ve seen moderate success with the keywords we’ve chosen and returned today to reexamine the campaign.

We initially aimed to purchase keyword tags that drive the most traffic, and postulated that the most relevant ones would be related to “BC” and “tech”. Originally, our list of keywords included:

  • BC Tech
  • BCVC
  • Boston College Tech
  • CSOM
  • BC MBA
  • Boston College alumni
  • BC Tech Alumni
  • Tech MBA
  • Carroll School of Management

We found that the keywords driving the most traffic were “BCVC” (highest click-through rate), and “BC Tech”/”Boston College Tech” (tied for highest # of clicks). We also found that certain keywords, like “CSOM” and “Carroll School of Management,” had very low engagement, and Google even warned us that they were rarely shown due to low quality scores. Since an ad’s Quality Score is determined by its cost-per-click multiplied by its click-through-rate, we figured that we were getting beaten out by other CSOM advertisements and decided to eliminate those keywords.

adwords

We also realized that it’s approaching the time of year that potential MBA students might be Googling MBA programs and Tech Clubs to get a better idea of the tech scene at different graduate schools. So, this week, we added keywords we thought MBA hopefuls would search– like “MBA blog,” “Business School Blog,” and “MBA life”. We’re excited to see whether these keywords increase engagement with our site during the rest of our AdWords Campaign.

Feel free to let us know if you have any AdWords suggestions! We hope to keep up the progress in the future.
-Arev Doursounian is a Sophomore math major at Boston College and an honorary member of the Grad Tech Club

Catching Up with the Product Team: Wireframes, Requirements, and MVPs…Oh My!

When last we saw the Product Team, we were in the midst of testing various concepts to determine the right product direction.  Since that time, we have made a lot of progress and we are excited to report that we are on track for an April release!

Choosing a Concept

After testing a few different concepts and determining market viability, we were left with three that we felt were worth pursuing.  At this point, we weighed the various choices against the criteria of indication of interest, ease of implementation, requirements for outside help, time to impact, and cost.  This helped us to determine which of the concepts made the most sense to pursue.  The one that won out was a crowd-sourced and curated resource about sharing economy opportunities.  The win was driven primarily by the fact that it would need little development effort as it could be done with WordPress and the majority of the effort was in content generation.  However, since our primary purpose is learning and we like a challenge, we decided to go after our second choice concept instead.  The ForgetMeNot concept is an app that uses RFID chips to track your items so you don’t leave without them.  It will be the most complicated and require the most outside help to pull off but hey, we are nothing if not ambitious!  As it received the highest score on market interest, we also felt we were justified in our efforts.

weight

Feature Definition (and Bloat)

Once we had decided on the concept we wanted to pursue, we began writing use cases and creating a MoSCoW list of Must Haves, Should Haves, Could Haves, and Won’t Haves.  Before long, the list became pretty lengthy and we still lacked developer talent…yikes!  Realizing that we were getting carried away, we reoriented ourselves to a Minimum Viable Product approach instead.  Asking the question, what is the absolute smallest amount of effort and features we can create to make something that works well enough to start testing?  Once we had that, we could see how users respond and adapt our roadmap from there.  This produced a much smaller (and more manageable) list and we began writing requirements docs for the MVP and creating wireframes using myBalsamiq.  For most of our members, this was their first exposure to wireframing, reinforcing our raison d’etre, to gain hands on skills and experience in product management!

wireframes

Finding Development Talent

While many of us spend our Friday afternoons learning Python, we have not yet developed the coding chops to build this on our own.  Operating on a shoestring budget, none of which can be used for direct compensation, we knew we had to find talent aligned with or primary goal of learning through experience.  Using contacts made through a number of cohosted events with the undergrad tech groups we put out the word and received a few responses from some super impressive undergrad programmers.  Luck was with us as the three students we have working with us each have a different core competency spanning Python, Java, and Objective C.  These just happen to cover servers, Android, and iOS, giving us flexibility in what we can develop and release!  More importantly, our new collaborators bring an excitement and great attitude that has provided a new spark of energy to our whole team!  We cannot wait to get moving and get something awesome out there ASAP!

Next Steps

As I write, we are working on getting our MVP planned and built so we can start testing with real users.  One complication we ran into was sourcing the RFID strips.  With a myriad of options, we are tapping expert resources to determine the right choice for our product.  Concurrently, we are testing non-functional prototypes to determine the right look and feel of the actual tags.  Exciting Stuff!

 

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

BC Visits BU for TechConnect 2015!

techconnect-website

Big props to our friends at BU for putting on an awesome TechConnect Conference this year!  The theme was Digital Crossroads: Products and Ideas and featured an awesome array of speakers that really complemented each other and meshed with the conference theme.  It is a ton of work to pull something like this off so my hat is off to Jaymie and her team for a job well done!  A single post is not enough to do justice to the amazing amount I learned, but I’ll do my best to share a couple thoughts from each speaker I saw.

Bruce McCarthy-Effective Product Roadmapping

I have seen Bruce speak several times now at various Boston Product Management Association events and I am always struck by his enthusiasm and desire to help others.  It’s always a pleasure and I always learn something new.  In this case, Bruce emphasized the importance of your product road map telling a story about the value of the product.  He went into detail and shared a lot of knowledge but I will sum it all up by listing the Dirty (Bakers) Dozen common pitfalls of Product Roadmaps:

  1. Being Too Agile
  2. Planning Based on Your Gut
  3. Over or Under Estimating
  4. Not Having Strategic Goals
  5. Inside out Thinking
  6. Trying too Hard to Please
  7. Focusing on Features
  8. Not having a Buffer
  9. Playing Catch-Up (to competitors)
  10. Not Getting Buy-in
  11. Being too Secretive
  12. One Size Fits All
  13. Not having a Story

Want to hear more?  Check out Bruce at ProductPowers.com

Meghan Keaney Anderson-Product Launches

Like Bruce, I have met Meghan a few times before.  Not only is she Hubspot’s Director of Product Marketing, but she is also a BC Alum!  Meghan combined her deck on product launches with real examples from Hubspot to demonstrate her points in a highly effective and meaningful way.  She summarized the role of Product Marketing as coaxing the meaning out of the Product.  She shared with us her Golden Rule of Product Marketing: It’s never about the product, it’s about the person using the product.

Meghan

While I won’t share everything Meghan talked about, one of the biggest take home messages for me was how thorough and methodical an approach good product marketing requires.  Meghan follows a step by step process, ensuring that each necessary element is taken care of, tested, and resonates with customers.  She maintains a product marketing menu of all the different tasks, tactics, and channels they could use for a launch or activity and then selects which are the best for any given time.  Likewise, for a launch event, Meghan and her team actually have everything planned down to the minute or even the word of a keynote.  They maintain a command room at the event to facilitate a smooth launch!  All this effort and preparation can seem overwhelming, but it is crucial.  While there is certainly a lot there, according to Meghan, not all product marketing was created equal.  “The key is good positioning.  If you get that right, everything else is easy.”

C. Todd Lombardo-Ideas Lifecycle

C. Todd runs the InnoLoft at Constant Contact and had both an awesome presentation and a superbly aesthetically pleasing deck.  Most people are familiar with the concept of an MVP or Minimum Viable Product from the Lean Startup approach.  C. Todd suggested that before and MVP, you should pursue an MVC or Minimum Viable Concept.  Unlike an MVP, this doesnt even have to work, only to do a good enough job demonstrating the concept to get a sense of what it does.  He used IDEO’s Elmo Monster Maker prototype as an example. At this point you can test with 5 to 7 customers to get a sense of whether it is worth pursuing an MVP.  C. Todd suggested doing design sprints, or few day deep dives into a problem using the Define, Understand, Ideate, Build, Test cycle repeatedly.  He talked about the importance of being a “Designtist,” a creative designer that nonetheless approaches their design using the scientific method of testing hypotheses over and over to arrive at the right ends.  It’s a messy process and certainly not too straightforward.  C. Todd suggested that it is more like the design squiggle than a straight line.  “If it feels too linear, you are probably not doing it right!”

Ctodd

The other thing I really liked about C. Todd’s presentation was the concept of Job Stories.  We are all familiar with user stories and the amount of Jira tickets I have written stating “As a salesperson, I need to be able to…” could fill up more than a few Excel spreadsheets.  Job stories are different in that they lend context to the request and are thus more powerful.  They take the form “When (situation) happens, I want/need to (action), so I can (benefit).”  This format forces you to think about whether you are really addressing the pain point and makes it hard for anyone to misinterpret intent.

C. Todd left us with a few key take-aways that I will reproduce here:

  • Your opinion doesn’t matter
  • Talk to customers. Listen.
  • Check your assumptions. Again.
  • Think like a designtist.
  • It’s not failure if you learn.
  • F*** It, Test it.

Allen Murray-Agile Methodology

Allen is an SVP at Mobile Device Management company Apperian and his session was perhaps the most fun all day, not only because he is charismatic and approachable and I learned a ton about small aircraft flight, but also because we did the marshmallow challenge.  For those unfamiliar, it involves working in groups to form the tallest possible tower using spaghetti, tape, string, and a marshmallow on top.  MBAs typically perform terribly at this, while kindergartners do much better because the task lends itself well to trial and error and iteration and not advanced planning giving the time limits and lack of expertise in most participants (architects as the exception do quite well when planning).  Happily, we outperformed most MBAs and even kindergartners but learned that most of our assumptions were ill founded.  Allen used the activity as a jumping off point to talk about effective teams and Agile product development.

Marshmallow

Key Take-Aways from Allen’s Session:

  • Diversity in Teams matters, need leadership, facilitation, and specialization.
  • Incentives magnify outcomes.  With the right team, great things are possible but incentivizing a team without the right skills will only magnify the failure
  • The crowning moment in your professional career is when you see your customers truly satisfied with something you have given them.
  • If you can manage four things you will be successful using Agile:
    • Visibility
    • Adaptability
    • Business Value
    • Risk
  • Declaring work done is crucial to a successful scrum cycle.
  • You are not working on a technology, you are working on a business problem.
  • Must create dynamic on teams to want to improve.

Dan Cobb-Creating a Culture of Innovation

The final keynote of the day came from EMC SVP Dan Cobb who was slated to talk about creating a culture of innovation.  To be honest, to me his talk was a bit of a let down.  Dan spent the majority of the time educating the audience about EMC and essentially making a pitch for the company.  As a BC MBA, I am very familiar with EMC as they are a top recruiter on campus.  Nonetheless, Dan did hit on some points that I found very interesting.

Key Take-Aways:

  • Big companies must balance innovation and disruption
  • Innovate through internal R&D and aquisitions
  • When you aquihire you must empower the talent to stay on.  EMC does this by involving its acquisitions in future M&A decisions.
  • 3 Major Keys to Innovating Successfully:
    • Develop a brutally candid view of the world.
    • Align innovation agenda with strategy
    • Institutionalize feedback loops and then step back to listen, partner, engage, and measure.
  • EMC is “absolutely, positively, the most paranoid place in the world” and that is a good thing.
  • Innovation is a strategic means to an end.

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

Two Hours at Highland Capital

Anyway you slice it, getting a meeting with a leading VC is tough, and getting to spend an hour plus is almost impossible. Yet as members of the BC Grad Tech Club and the overall BC Community, we have had the great fortune of having it become almost commonplace.  Only a few weeks ago, we were able to spend an hour with Spark Capital’s Bijan Sabet, and a number of our student entrepreneurs recently discussed business ideas 1:1 with Highland General Partner and BC Alum Peter Bell.

Last Friday was no exception as a group of us were fortunate enough to spend almost two hours in Highland’s Cambridge office on the top floor of One Broadway.  BC Alumni Dan Nova and Chris Protasewich hosted us, answered our questions, and dropped some serious knowledge.  While my notebook contains several pages of scrawled notes, I’ll do my best to distill it down to my impressions of a few key takeaways.  A huge thanks to Dan and Chris as well as the whole Highland team for being such staunch supporters of the school and our programs!

highland

Key Take-Aways

On what type of companies they look for and fund:

  • Highland is looking for revolutionary companies that seek to reshape an entire industry such as Uber with transportation, HourlyNerd with Consulting, and Rent the Runway with high end fashion.
  • This requires founders with big ambitions who are a little bit crazy.  In often cases, these are people with goals to start a movement or reinvent the future.  For successful entrepreneurs, opportunities to make a few million by selling early can be hard to say “no” to but can also hamper the potential of a company.

On Highland’s People First Approach

  • Highland evaluates opportunities with a People, Market, Product, and Deal Terms approach-in that order.  They sees themselves as selling a relationship based on trust and value-add and therefore the most important element is people.
  • Highland looks for solid, smart, and hard-working people.  They believe that if they find the right people, they will be able to adjust successfully to the changing market.
  • Of more than a thousand meetings each year, Highland will only fund about 15-20 companies after a great degree of due diligence on the people.  As Dan says, “There is no substitute for time when you are investing in a relationship.”
  • They look for people who can communicate well and honestly even when its bad news.  In Dan’s words, “We make a living dealing with bad news.”  Highland has a lot of experience and can often recognize patterns that allow them to provide sage advice as long as the founder comes to them honestly and in time to take action.

On Corporate Venture Funds

  • Dan is not personally a fan because there is often a disconnect in alignment between them and companies like Highland.
  • Corporate Venture groups move less slowly and they usually have a strategic interest that can alter the natural course of business development.

On Continued Investment

  • Highland recognizes that companies often require more than one infusion of cash, as a result they set aside a dollar for every dollar they invest initially to be used for further investment.  This allows the company to continue to support its portfolio companies as needed.

On the Future

  • “We are in the Golden Years of Major Marketplace Shifts.”  Transport, Housing, Fashion, Consulting, are all being rocked at the core and Dan believes this will continue to take place.  There are a lot of entrenched but ridiculously inefficient industries out there and the market and technology is now prime for disruption.  We can expect to see a lot more of this.
  • Immersive 3D Virtual Reality is here and will be huge.  Dan believes that the moment is here though he admits he is awfully bullish on it and my may be a bit early
  • VCs do not know all.  In an admirable moment of self honesty, Dan also admitted that VCs have a lot of experience and insight but certainly do not know all.  He asked about what are the most popular technologies on BC’s campus and was surprised to hear the anonymous social app Yik Yak was among the leaders.  He admitted he isn’t big on the anonymous thing, calling it “…the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen,” but appending his statement with “but I said that about Twitter…”

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

A science experiment for the BC Graduate Tech Club (and my wallet)

I’ve been an Uber driver for about a month now. I’ve logged a total of 7.5 hours on the road, chauffeuring people around Boston and the burbs. About a quarter of the people I’ve driven around have asked me how I became an Uber driver and why I’m doing it. I tell them it’s for two reasons. The first reason is to help pad the wallet a bit while I readjust to living without an income. The second is for BC.

Jacqueline Oullet, BC MBA ’16

I was lucky enough to be accepted to go on this year’s Tech Trek West, a field study to visit tech firms in Seattle and Silicon Valley (more to come on that experience in my next blog post.) One of the firms we’re visiting is Uber. I figured some inside insight wouldn’t hurt when we have the chance to talk to BC alumni during our time meeting with the company. I was also incredibly interested in how Uber got so popular, why it works the way it does, and some rider and driver pain points.

Arguably the biggest pain point for riders is surge pricing. As an Economics major (BC ’09!), I immediately liked the concept of surge pricing. Not that I’m willing to spend the money for 4x the normal fare, but it makes perfect economic sense. If you’re willing to pay for it, you should be able to get a ride across the city, even if you are paying top dollar. Many riders hate this, feeling as though they are being taken advantage of when they need a ride the most. Well as it turns out, Uber drivers are real people, too, and also would prefer to go out to dinner on a Friday night or be sleeping at 2 AM when the bars close. Surge pricing gets more drivers on the road when more people need rides. Simple economics, hence the appeal.

On the driver side, my biggest frustration is that I’m not able to choose an area within which to drive. All drivers are at the whim of the riders – drivers aren’t actually shown the destination of the rider until the rider gets in the car and the driver swipes “start trip” or asks the rider, “where to?” This means if things go poorly, as a driver I could potentially end up in New Hampshire towards the end of the night, an hour or more away from home with no guarantee a request will come through for a ride back to Chestnut Hill.

While there are a couple possible improvements in logistics, the ease of use is top-notch. The driver app, like the rider app, is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. Uber certainly makes it easy for drivers to know how much money they’re making and how they compare against the top drivers out there. As you can see in the screenshot below, I’m making better money per hour than the top drivers (because I only drive during times of surge pricing), but I’m working fewer hours and taking many fewer trips. This dashboard makes it easy to see how I’m stacking up against other drivers and definitely provides an incentive to stay on top and keep driving.

Uber Driver Review

The screenshot below makes it easy for me to see when the busiest hours are and when I’m most likely to see surge pricing. This is mostly intuitive, but it’s nice to have a visual. It also makes me wonder why 4 AM Monday – Thursday is one of their busiest hours.

Being involved with the company on a new level like this really got me spending a lot of time thinking about small tweaks they could make to the app to help alleviate rider and driver pain points. As I’m also involved with fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, it also made me wonder about opportunities to drive for charity. I’m sure there’s a segment of the population out there that has limited funds to donate to charities they’re passionate about, but has a car and time and would be willing to drive people around knowing the money earned would go directly to their favorite charity.

All in all, it’s been a good experience so far. I’ve picked up other MBAs from both BU and Harvard and have even been able to do a bit of networking while driving people around. If nothing else, it’s great practice talking about any topic under the sun with a stranger. More to come on this in my next post!

Reposted from the Carroll School Admissions Blog.

Jackie Oullet is a first year MBA and member of the Grad Tech Product Team.