From the monthly archives:

July 2012

In my very last module of part-time MBA program at GWSB I took a class on Business Communication. I mentioned that class briefly in one of my posts before. This was a very hands-on class and quite a bit of fun too. I am going to have a longer post with the recap of that class soon. And now I just want to touch upon one particular episode that was very helpful for me to understand certain things about myself.

In the course of the class we had to prepare, among other things, a persuasive presentation. The topic I chose was on the telework. And here is a link to the Powerpoint presentation I prepared for the speech. Essentially I was trying to persuade the business leaders to let their people do teleworking as much as possible, subject to business and technological constraints specific to particular organization/business.

After the original presentation each of us received feedback from the students in the class and the professor. We were also given a chance to have a second take on presentation with an attempt to incorporate the feedback and correct the mistakes pointed by the audience. The second take was not the whole presentation though, just a short abstract where we tried to show the improvements based on the feedback.

The final part of this assignment was to write a self-evaluation of the persuasive presentation itself and any feedback we received. So the rest of the post is the edited version of that self-evaluation written assignment. As you will see, I got a lesson from the class in the area I did not really expect. Frankly, these revelation moments are one of the most important parts of MBA program for me.

Even though for this persuasive presentation we had been given time to prepare, unlike the other two impromptu speeches, it is amazing to see that the same things pop up regardless of preparation or impromptu status: eye contact, legs movement, etc. I made a note of all those remarks given to me in the feedback. It takes though more than just one class a week to practice and exercise in order to correct those shortcomings, and not just once, but consistently.

However, for me all those technical comments were overshadowed by a much more important comment. I needed to hear it some 30 years ago. This one comment was like a lightning bolt for me.

Since my teen age I remember hearing comments from people, both peers and superiors: “You are [look] very serious.” I did not see any problem with this. Being “serious” is more of a compliment than being “lightheaded” in my book anyways. This “serious” appearance was even beneficial to me when I was changing schools every year in my high school years, in the military service, even in the work place. Most of the time I avoided being bullied or harassed in other ways in spite of my not being a jock or a mean person.

On the other hand I realize now that I probably missed quite a few opportunities to get to know interesting people who were too scared of my “serious” appearance.

In this class I finally, after all this decades of self-delusion, got the right definition of what my appearance really is. After I did my re-take one of the classmates said: “This time you seemed to be more APPROACHABLE”.

This is the real thing that has been masked by “looking serious” comments from the past. People just could not find a better definition, but this was the real reason why even the bullies shunned away most of the time – all these years I appeared UNAPPROACHABLE.

Now that I know this, I can consciously try to work on this and have more laid-back, relaxed and APPROACHABLE demeanor. The best, though, would be to learn to switch back to my “seriousness” when needed, and to learn to recognize which situation requires what approach.

So this revelation that I am perceived as unapproachable is probably the most valuable lesson from the whole class. In my future post I will cover in more detail the technical aspects of Business Communication class.

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About a month ago I received an email from a friend I met at Audencia School of Management on my study abroad trip to France. She asked me if I had any contacts of venture capitalists who she could approach for funding the business she was helping her friends to start in Algeria. I had to admit that I had neither contacts nor much knowledge about venture capital. Even though there was some sort of an elective offered at GWSB that tackled on the new ventures and their funding, I did not take that course. One thing I picked up from talking to some students and reading business publications was that generally venture capital is extremely difficult to secure and you should have a really brilliant idea to sell in order to get a shot at venture capitalists.

So I promised her to contact some of my classmates from MBA programs at GWSB who I thought could have at least some exposure to or experience with the venture capital due to their jobs or because I knew they were trying to start their own businesses. I received back three responses from about ten emails I sent out. It was interesting to read those emails.

One was very short: “I’m afraid I’m not the right person to ask. I can’t even get VC funding in DC”. Another guy said that he was actually working at VC firm and they were raising capital for several projects in the Middle East. He requested additional information and gave links to his company’s website.

And one of the classmates, Ben Lee, a principal at BRL Consulting Group and a blogger at Sustainable Employees, gave a bit more extended general advice which I am going to include here with his permission. I actually featured a post from Ben recently in my blog too. Even though his suggestions are somewhat general, I found them quite interesting and helpful as the very first introduction to venture capital. So here is Ben’s advice:

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Regarding VC contact info, that is a great question.  Here would be my plan of action.

 1.  Write a fantastic feasibility/business plan.  Play extra close attention to the section on who is managing the business and their credentials.
2.  I would try to make your project/business work without needing a VC.  VCs fund an incredibly small number of projects that are presented to them and fund less then 1% of new businesses started each year.  If they have already exhausted the three Fs (family, friends, and fools), they might have better luck talking with a bank if they are from the US or live here now.  Banks in Europe sometimes can be a little tight with their money regarding entrepreneurs.  If they haven’t already, they should start building a strong relationship with their banker.
 3.  Check out www.kickstarter.com.  Pretty cool place to get funding for certain types of projects.
4.  Enter business case competitions and volunteer at business case competitions,  for two reasons.  Number one, if you enter the competition, you could win some money and/or resources for the business.  The second reason is to network with some VCs.
5.  Its all about networking.  Which it seems they are doing a good job with.  But they need to not just let people know about the project they need to let people know that they need funding, why someone should fund this project, and the viability of the project (30-45 second sales pitch).
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So I forwarded all these responses to my friend in Nantes and hopefully the readers of this blog find them useful as well.

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Last Thursday I was reliving some of the best things you can get from MBA besides highly acclaimed (and frequently challenged) credentials, cursory introduction to critical business knowledge and skills, and chronic sleep deprivation ;-) .

I went to a celebration of the end of the first summer module by first and second year part-time MBA students from GWSB. The gathering was held at a bar right on the GW  campus that has already become an unofficial headquarters for GW students socializing. There were at least 30 people gathered there. The only other time I saw so many part-time MBAs from GWSB gathered informally was at the same place after my very last class in the program, when most of us were celebrating the end of MBA program.

I met a couple of these students in my classes during the program, and some more at the baseball game outing organized by one of the students in May. I have seen some of the names in GWSB emails. But I consider myself really lucky that I had two classes with one particular person and got friendly with him in my Business Communications class in the very last module of my part-time MBA. More on him later in this post.

As I mentioned more than once throughout this blog, one of the biggest drawbacks of the part-time MBA mode without cohort system is that students do not have as many opportunities to form meaningful and sustainable bonds with each other. Moreover, majority of part-timers do not even attempt to overcome the objective constraints imposed by full-time jobs, part-time studies, and family obligations in many cases.  I have witnessed this and have been guilty of this mindset throughout most of my program.

Only after I came back from my study abroad in France I realized how bad we really had it here. Out of my frustration I even wrote an “Open Letter to Part-time MBA Students” ;-) . And in the last seven weeks of my MBA program I was trying to catch up on socializing with my classmates and getting to know them beyond the classroom setting as much as I could. I succeeded somewhat, but it was a bit too late in the game.

That’s why I am completely blown away by what I see going on in this class of part-time MBA students, most of whom are slated to graduate in 2014. It all started very modestly by one of the students opening the Facebook group for the MBA class 2014 in August 2011, even before the classes started. For a couple of months there was very little going on, and by the end of the first module they only had about a dozen members and hardly any interaction in the group.

Then another student sent out invitation to the whole class to celebrate the end of the first module with happy hour. After that the group tripled within about a week and a snowballing effect started. Then invitations for other happy hours started to trickle down more regularly.

My classmate in Business Communication – Matteo, whom I mentioned earlier in this post, really took it to heart to use the group for organizing regular (as in “weekly”) happy hours. As they were meeting more and more often, more support and participation was coming from a broader student base. The Spring 2012 part-time MBA intake were incorporated in the group. Through Matteo I got included in the group just a few weeks before graduation, as well as a few other more “senior” part-time students. As of now the group has over 100 members many of whom are quite active in the group and events organized through it.

So even after graduation I can stay informed, and sometimes involved, like last Thursday, with the students of part-time MBA program at GWSB. Another example of involvement was the networking event at Honest Tea  two weeks ago, invitation to which I also received through this Facebook group.

And now they are planning to have a wine tasting tour, and tubing tour over the summer. All these things are rather natural for undergrads or even full time MBA students, however for part-time graduate students this is a very remarkable and commendable pursuit.

And these weekly informal gatherings are really not only about drinking and schmoozing. I could easily see on Thursday night the cohesiveness of the class 2014. This cohesiveness actually spills over in other areas of their MBA experience. From the emails I used to receive in Spring from GWSB office I know that the group of part-time MBA students, mostly comprising class 2014, got involved in dialogue with the business school administration. They challenged some long-standing  and crippled conventions about the status of part-time MBA body at school, scheduling issues, academic issues. Through the series of meetings with the business school deans the students were able to actually make some progress in changing the status quo on some very important issues. It is all work in progress, of course, but what I see is already remarkable.

So these students of Class 2014, and for me specifically – Matteo who is really passionate and proactive about gathering the classmates together for informal fellowship, are my real part-time MBA heroes. I talked to many of them last Thursday telling how incredible it was that they were getting together and having fun regularly and in such numbers. Some of them thought that it was natural and normal. But I know better. They are – anomaly, and I hope they will stay that way. I tip my hat to all of them and plan to crash their parties from time to time ;-) .

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