MBA Strategy

Think of yourself as an entrepreneur who is going to sell a product to potential Venture Capitalists across the country. The entrepreneur is you; the product is your application and the Venture Capitalists are the admission committee members of the various Business Schools. Assuming that the cost factor is in place (you have competitive GMAT scores in comparison to the application pool) and the product is of considerable good quality (your background, Work Experience etc. are commendable), how are you going to market the product to the potential venture capitalists in order to get funding? (Or get an admission). Think that all your competitors also have similar products (cheap and good quality) so how are you going to distinguish yourself from the rest of the pool? In one word, i.e. Strategy

I would break down the Strategy into 4 important points:
– Which potential customer segment you are targeting and why?
(Which schools and why them?)
– How the funding will help you to grow your company? (Why MBA?)
– Why this is the right time to market? (Why now?)
– How your product is different from your competitors? (Uniqueness)

Picking Your MBA Schools

I think this is one of the most important decisions you will make regarding your MBA application process. Half the battle is won if you pick the right schools assessing your competition. (People will argue that it is difficult to judge your competition but a thorough research will help you considerably in making the right decision.) I have seen friends with competitive stats applying to tons of schools just based on school rankings and then getting rejected from all. It is very important to understand what your values are and what is important to you and compare it to the value system of the school to evaluate whether it is the right fit for you. A good idea would be to get in touch with the current students and alumni or visit the schools or attend the information sessions. (Remember the Brochure is a marketing tool so it may give a rosy picture hiding the realities.) I think it is a safe bet to apply to maybe 5-6 schools 2 schools above your reach, 2 schools where you will be fairly competitive and 1-2 safety schools. Pick the safety schools wisely. Though personally I dont believe in the safety school theory. (Unless and until this is THE year to go to school.)

Why waste time visiting 10 venture capitalists with a weak product strategy when you can get the funding by only visiting 5 of them with a much stronger product portfolio? You have a higher probability of landing the deal in the latter than in the former.

Why MBA? Why now?

It is very significant that you completely belief in your product before you can sell it. And in order to belief in your product you have to do thorough introspection to figure out why you need an MBA? Why now? And where the MBA will lead you into the future? It is very easy for the admission committee member to figure out whether you have concocted a story or whether you mean it from within your heart? I remember 2 of the schools when they gave me rejection feedback in 2002 they raised the same points why MBA was not clear? Your future goals were not clear? Now, the long-term goal can be opaque, but the short-term goal has to be crystal clear. So, make sure you have this story right. Lastly, dream big.

Uniqueness

Uniqueness well we have heard this word many times, what does it actually means? You are a venture capitalist and you have 10 products in your hand of the same quality and price, which one will you pick and why? Obviously, you will pick the one, which has additional characteristics and features that distinguishes it from the rest. So the challenge here is to separate yourself from the rest especially if you are among the pool of innumerable management consultants or Investment Bankers or Indian IT engineers applying each year. Taking the example of an Indian techie (the pool which I belong to) I will highlight the following characteristics that can differentiate you in this demography:

(a) Technology – Most of the people who are coming from this demography are either engineers, leads or managers. I believe that the one who is different from the rest is the one who has an expertise in a particular technology rather than just a programming language or software. For example, expertise in telecommunication or networking product niche, Operating Systems, E-Commerce or other industries. A thorough knowledge and experience in a particular industry really helps. Additionally if one is involved with the technical forums or groups like IETF or DSL FORUM or ITU or IEEE or Cable Industry Alliance etc. which drives the future of technology is an added plus.

(b) Function – Bschools dig that : Cross-Functional Experience. It really shows the variegated nature of ones experience especially if an engineer is involved with product management, sales engineering, future product roadmaps, customer interaction or service and marketing. Think about the richness of your knowledge enhancing the experience of your classmates.
(c) Non-Profit Experience – Doing it passionately. It is very difficult to imagine that a candidate will get admission into a Top Bschool without any non-profit experience It is an unwritten rule in most schools that community involvement is a must. A solid short-term involvement carries much weight than a frivolous long-term participation. And if you are in a leadership role like a Board Member in a Non-Profit Organization or you have founded one Bingo!! You have hit the Bulls Eye. Most notably, anything you do, you should do it passionately.

(d) Extra-Curricular Involvement – Tangible Achievements. Most of us have lot of extra-curricular activities that are intangible and may not have a significant impact on our application. For example, I love watching movies of Kurusowa, Renoir and Bergman and frequently attend film festivals; I am a voracious reader and have a deep interest in Philosophy but do they carry any weight in comparison to being a chairperson of a particular genre in a film festival or founder of a local philosophy club. The later are tangible achievements while the former are not. So the more tangible extra-curricular achievements you have the more unique you are.

(e) Background – This is the most difficult to crack. I am 100% sure that we each have our own uniqueness in our background but the tricky part is searching for those attributes which are not shared across this demography pool. Is being reared in the agricultural capital of the world, unique? Is being a southpaw, distinct? Is being able to run for 10 miles in a marathon, exclusive? I cant answer these questions as it differs from person to person but you have to figure it out yourself, which is the one you want to highlight in your application.

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Now even after doing all this introspection and figuring out your strategy, some of the venture capitalists refuses funding for your product Do you give up? Remember it is not a reflection on you as an entrepreneur but rather a reflection on your strategy and business plan of your product. So, Never give up, all visionary companies were built on the foundation of skepticism and cynicism.

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