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MEST Day 2 – Workshops

19 Apr

Why are pirates always so grumpy?

Day 2, Wednesday 6th April – Workshops

The MBAs were to give workshops to the EITs about several business areas: Tayo and I would cover budgeting and sales forecasting; Mike and Jaro covered business plans; and Louis was taking on implementation strategy on his own.

I was slightly apprehensive about the workshops. Despite having completed a PhD, I never got the opportunity to do any teaching (I emptied bins instead, but that’s a different story…), whereas Tayo has been a university lecturer in the states. Nevertheless I obsessively read startup and VC blogs so I figured I could take something useful from there. Maybe I should be concerned that I based my workshop on a few blogs rather than the very expensive learnings of my MBA!

I took my main inspiration from a couple of my favourite presentations: Dave McClure’s “Startup Metrics for Pirates” and Andrew Chen’s “How to Start a Profitable Freemium Startup”. Fortunately the EITs hadn’t seen these before, so my first suggestion was to look up McClure and read everything he’s ever written (whilst warning them that he uses “colourful” language and his slides look like they’re made by an eight year-old!).

I actually started out by saying that I think that revenue forecasting for start-ups that don’t yet exist is mostly a folly*. Top VCs will want to know that you are aiming at a big market, and that you have a product that people want so that you can take a significant chunk of that market. The actual forecast you come up with isn’t that interesting, because you have to make so many assumptions that the margin of error is massive. Nevertheless, showing that you’ve thought of each of the variables that contribute to the forecast shows that you’re thinking about the important factors that determine whether or not you’ll get any revenue at all.

So then we discussed each of these factors using McClure’s AARRR (like a pirate, geddit?) framework**, which stands for Acquisition, Activation, Retention, Referrals and Revenue. We took each factor in turn and discussed all the potential ways we could maximise our percentages at each stage. Tayo and I had quite a neat tag-team effort going on, with him talking about how to build a strong brand and use marketing to generate revenue rather than sales. He even treated them to a branding framework he had developed during his PhD.

Finally, I would take them through Andrew Chen’s freemium spreadsheet and show them how the things we had just discussed during the AARRR session were applied to each of the stages on the sales funnel in Chen’s model.

The EITs said they got a lot from our session – all of the sessions in fact. Even though I was paired up with a university lecturer who has a PhD in what he was teaching I think I did ok. Tayo’s a good lecturer – maybe he could have a word with a couple of the lecturers at Saïd***…

That evening everyone from MEST went out in Accra for some dinner, where we ate fine Ghanaian cuisine, and we redeemed our bonus beers for getting pics of the lighthouse (all the teams managed to get a pic!). There was some entertainment mostly in the form of singing both English and Ghanaian songs. There was also a humorous… ummm, spectacle… which I can only describe as “the duck”.****

*Note I haven’t been a VC, or raised money for a startup, so you can take my opinion with a pinch of salt!

**Obligatory pirate joke – Q: Why are pirates always so grumpy? A: Because they AARRR!!

***If by any chance you’re a Saïd lecturer and you’re reading this then of course I don’t mean you!

****Can’t tell you what this is. What goes in Accra, stays in Accra. Well, at least until I put the video on YouTube! 😉

MEST Day 1 – Exploring Accra

18 Apr

Colourful fishing boats

I actually flew out to Ghana a few days early so that I could try and explore Ghana beyond Accra for a few days. If you’re at all interested in reading about that, it’s here on my other blog.*

Day 1, Tuesday 5th April– Meet the EITs and explore Accra

After a round of introductions between the MBA consultants and the EITs (entrepreneurs-in-training), Peter, the class’s senior faculty, set us a challenge. This would be my chance to get to know Robert and Badu, with whom I had already had many chats over Skype. Armed with a small number of Cedis (GH₵) we were to use whatever means of transportation we could afford to travel around the city and get three photos taken of each MBA with his team at an Accra landmark (and get lunch at the same time). A special bonus beer was on offer for any teams that managed to get a photo of the Jamestown lighthouse, as Peter had previously tried to get a snap there but had been unsuccessful (no photos allowed!). A second mission was for each MBA consultant to buy a “trophy” for his team which would represent a learning for them.

So of course we went out, flagged down a cab and headed straight to the Jamestown lighthouse. Once there we were instantly approached by a guy that wanted to give us a “tour” of the lighthouse. Unfortunately being an “obroni” (Caucasian) made you quite the target for the local entrepreneurs (the ones that didn’t quite make the MEST grade) as I’d discovered in Elmina. We went past the lighthouse and headed down to the fisherman’s village. We were approached by a number of people wanting to “help” us, including one guy that was quite insistent that he give us a tour. Robert got rid of him, but we still gave him GH₵1 as we left anyway (for not abducting us and turning us in to fishfood?§)

Robert explained that because it was a Tuesday the fishing village was quiet as it is the day of rest for fishermen (God created the sea on Tuesday?). Although it was quiet, it was not really the sort of place I would have felt comfortable going on my own. However, with team at my side I really wasn’t that bothered. It felt so much better exploring Ghana with Ghanaians. Down there on the (rather dirty) beach I got some photos of the fishing boats (so much colour) and a kid with a bowl on his head at a jaunty angle.

Jaunty

We went back up towards the lighthouse and took the opportunity to snap a few pics. Result! Then we decided to walk towards a mausoleum, taking some pics at the Jamestown Fort Prison along the way. With hindsight that might have been a mistake – it was absolutely sweltering and I was boiling and worried about getting sunburn and/or sunstroke. It got to the point where I was sidling along the side of buildings to try and take advantage of the shadows. Still we made it there, with some singing entertainment from a bus full of school kids along the way.

Jamestown Lighthouse

Open for business?

At the  Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum we headed straight for the air-conditioned museum. Oh yeah! I needed that. We got a few pics around the park and monument then we went on our way. On the way our of the park, I found my trophy for the team**. I was only allowed to spend GH₵5 on it, so I was very happy to haggle the street-seller down from GH₵8 to GH₵5 straight away. Now I had my opportunity to experience tro-tros – private minivans that cram as many people in them as possible then run on set routes. It has to be experienced! Having lunch in town we discovered that the ladies appreciated our trophy. Can’t say I blame them – they clearly know quality when they see it.

Another taxi trip saw us at Independence Square where we got a photo of the Freedom Arch. Mission achieved!

We headed back to MEST, where we had dinner and gave the group a debrief and explained what our trophies were meant to represent to our teams. The day had certainly been good for getting to know Robert and Badu – they were great guides – and we had a pretty good time talking about their business over lunch, where we threw about a few new ideas that could be explored with their core idea. A great first day!

*what’s nerdier than having a blog? Having two blogs of course! I have about four so go figure…

**can’t tell you what it means – that’s between me and the team (and everyone else at MEST).

§I jest.

Beers and Berkley

17 Apr

Thursday morning started off with a visit to media monitoring company Meltwater. This was a particulalrly interesting meeting for me as I’ve been working with the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and was in Ghana last week. This was actually one of the best meetings of the week. Fellow MEST MBA consultant, Louis, gave a good presentation about Meltwater and set us the challenge of suggesting some business areas Meltwater could move in to. Then a Meltwater sales director gave us an hour of B2B sales training, which was really good actually as, strangely, sales training doesn’t appear on any MBA curriculum for some reason. We then did some role-playing in pairs pretending we were selling Meltwater services to each other. At the end of the session I suggested about 6 companies that Meltwater could acquire. I’ll take the credit, and commission,  if they ever move in on these companies.

In the afternoon we had no company visits arranged so Xavier took the trek organisers, including myself, for a tour of the Anchor Steam brewery. At the end of the tour we tried six Anchor Steam beers. Each one was only about 1/3 of a pint, but by the end I felt like I’d drunk 6 full pints. 🙂

Looking at the trek matrix I just realised I was meant to be at the Salesforce meeting later in the afternoon, but I didn’t go. Oops! My bad!

In the evening we travelled over to Berkley for a mixer with the Haas Business School MBA students. I really liked the Berkley campus. Whereas the Stanford campus is all perfectly manicured, like a model village, the Berkley campus feels a lot more “real”. It still has beautiful buildings, but it has a lot more character than Stanford. The mixer with the Haas students was great. They were really out-going and paid for all the drinks and food! Apparently the school puts $400 per student in to a student association budget to spend on social events. Take – note SBS!

Wannabe VC meets actual VCs

15 Apr

Facebook wall

Wednesday morning we visited two of the top venture capital firms in the world – Sequoia Capital and Kleiner Perkins. Between them they have invested in some of Silicon Valley’s, and the world’s, top companies including Apple, Google, Amazon, Sun, Genentech and many, many more.

At Kleiner Perkins we met Valley legend Randy Komisar. It was like having a meeting with Ed Harris – he looks and sounds like him. He also commands the room like I imagine Harris does. He gave us his opinion on a whole bunch of things entrepreneurial. At Sequoia we met Mark Dempster. One of the interesting things he said was that he would rather invest in a B team in an A market, which is the opposite of what most VCs (including Komisar) usually say.

Everyone at the Sequoia meeting was given the opportunity to pitch their start-up ideas to Dempster. He was positive to them all and gave us all some great feedback. He could see the need for my startup and could see how the solution could work and suggested that cost of customer acquisition could be an issue, which is indeed the case. It was damn cool to be able to pitch Sequoia – now I can drop that in to conversation any time I am talking to potential investors – “yeah, when I was pitching at Sequoia…”

Surprisingly neither Dempster nor Komisar mentioned that they read the WannabeVC blog. I presume that they do but didn’t want to bring it up in front of everyone else.

In the afternoon we had lunch with Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn. We spent an hour with him discussing various issues about LinkedIn and the Valley. Some question weren’t answered due to LinkedIn being in a “quiet period“, but I did get his opinion on the proliferation of second market trading (such as on SecondMarket where employee stock options are traded in companies like Facebook, even though they are not yet public): a “local aberration” – not allowed at LinkedIn.

Then we had one of the most eagerly awaited trips of the trek – Facebook. We had a Q&A session with COO Sheryl Sandberg and a bunch of product managers for various departments. We then got a tour of Facebook HQ, which looks like a pretty cool place to work – though they are actually due to move building again due to expansion. We did not meet Mark Zuckerberg but some of the students did see him in a meeting room as we were walking round. I wonder if when he sees us he might be thinking, “yeah, I just whupped your alumni predecessor’s identical asses (again)”. Probably not.

Finally in the evening we had an alumni mixer event (no Winklevii in attendance unfortunately. That would have been interesting) at Nickies bar in Lower Haight. Lots of alumni turned up – including a couple who flew up from San Diego – so it was a great night.

Overall – a great, packed, and very tiring day!

Partying with a Junior University

14 Apr

Stanford MBA band

We visited IDEO on Tuesday. If you haven’t heard of them you almost
certainly have used one of the products they’ve designed. These guys
are legends of the design world. Zylis kitchen products – that was
them. Palm V? Their’s. Apple mouse? Uh-huh! Opposable thumbs? Yup –
that was their idea.

Their place is super cool. You can feel the creativity as soon as you
walk in. We got a tour of several parts of the company including the
shop where try build prototypes. Also we saw the famous shopping
trolley.

In the afternoon we were meant to go to Steve Blank‘s ranch, but
unfortunately that got cancelled. Fortunately, Oxford friend Joe
DeNucci was able to help us out and arranged for us to go to the ranch
of Frost & Sullivan‘s Chairman David Frigstad. Wow – what a place! Amazing views over the mountains. We had some food there, admired the views, then spend a short while discussing some of the “mega-trends” that Frost & Sullivan is tracking for its customers.

In the evening we went for a tour of the Stanford University campus. It’s quite nice…well, as nice as a 130 year-old University can be. Come back to me when you’ve got 900 years of history Stanford.

That evening we went to the house of some Stanford MBA students for a house-party. Most of the things that I see in the movies about US parties did not happen (people flattening beer cans on their heads, girls spontaneously stripping, police turning up because of noise complaints), but they did have a live band in the basement which was rather cool. I also dressed as a tiger which was nice.

Giants and Startups

12 Apr

Our Giants view

Day 1 of our MBA trek to Silicon Valley:

Started the morning with a visit to Y Combinator, where we were meeting Partner and Oxford alum Harjeet Taggar. I knew Y Combinator pretty well already as I had made it to the final stage previously with Affect Labs, but never quite made the final selection. I found it pretty interesting to get to quiz Harj a bit more about the programme, and I was particularly interested to hear his answer when I asked him about the slight anti-MBA feeling from the Hacker News-type audience. I think we’ll have a few YC applications coming in from Said Business School next year!

Next on to Path in San Francisco, which we learnt was partially based on research by Robin Dunbar – an anthropologist at Oxford University who came up with “Dunbar’s number“, which suggests that we can maintain a maximum of 150 relationships at one time. It was a pretty interesting discussion, but unfortunately we had to cut the meeting early to head off to the next company.

Current TV has got some swanky offices down next to the Giants stadium. One of our current classmates previously worked there so it was interesting for him to see how much the place had changed. The Current team were keen to meet us and wanted to discuss how we could possibly work together on some key strategic issues they would like to address. Hopefully there’s a way we can work together soon.

Last for my group was biotech giant Genentech. Very impressive campus. You can tell they make money. Biotech is my home industry so it was pretty cool for me to see how it could be in the #1 biotech (even if it’s not independent any more). Definitely the sort of company I would like to work for if my startup didn’t go anywhere.

Other students on the trek visited other companies today including Google, Paypal, Marvell and Coulomb.

Tonight we went to watch a San Francisco Giants game at the AT&T Stadium. We had pretty awesome seats with a great view. For a lot of us, myself included, it was the first ever baseball game. Unfortunately the Giants lost. In fact when I left with 1 inning left they hadn’t scored any runs, but they managed a homerun in the last inning so at least it wasn’t a whitewash. Still, it was a great experience to be part of that great all-American game! We did have a message up on the board, but most of us missed it!

Blogging from the Skoll World Forum

31 Mar

I’m here at the Saïd Business School in Oxford, where the Skoll World Forum is taking place. The Business School is the busiest I’ve ever seen it, and there is a real buzz about the place!

At least that is what I can hear from the library – buzzing from the noise in the reception area downstairs. That’s because I am not actually attending the Skoll World Forum. I am just sitting in the same building. The event is invite-only, and I’m pretty sure I was sent a VIP pass in the post but I never received it. I have, however, seen a chap who looks suspiciously like my postman wandering around the place…

So in lieu of actually being able to tell you anything insightful  about the event, I present for your enjoyment a picture of an orange:

"Orange" by Flickr user The Ewan

"Orange" by Flickr user The Ewan

Alternatively, check out Alanna Petroff’s FT Blog, as she’ll be posting something soon. She probably won’t have a nice picture of an orange in her post though…