They Call Me Mr. Start-Up

“Well, it’s not so bad! I think I’m even going to have time to read a couple of novels along the way.” These are exactly the thoughts I shared enthusiastically with my friends back home when I received the course schedule a few days before kick-off.

Then the first week hit, leaving me only a few hours of sleep and a whole lot of networking and career workshops. A bit of wishful thinking and I figured that with all the activity associated to the beginning of the degree, things would settle down very soon. The interesting part is, you can choose to have it pretty laid back (relatively) at INSEAD! But is this what you want? What your heart truly desires? To have a laid back year at INSEAD? You can launch your professional or personal life in any direction you wish! You can choose from a plethora of social or professional activities, workshops, or sports and outdoor clubs, without mentioning anything about the low cost flights all over Europe or Southeast Asia.

It is in those spirits that I didn’t hesitate to join an intensive 48-hour Entrepreneurial Startup Bootcamp that was offered by a finance angel. My heart quickly took over, and decided for me: I’m not here to have a relaxing year off work. Bring on the challenges, workshops and never-before-seen activities!

With 34 other MBA candidates, the weekend was launched Friday night at 7pm where we touched base with dynamic duo consisting of angel Charlie Mason, bootcamp director, and start-up artist INSEAD alum Alexander Argyros. We set off to get acquainted with the three crucial start-up ‘P’s: People, Proposition, and Pitch. Within 4 hours, 35 ideas were proposed by participants and we got in teams of two to four with an idea to cherish and pamper over the next 44 hours. Fully aware the end of the weekend culminated with pitching the proposition to seasoned professionals of the startup sector, I wondered how we were to come up with a decent presentation.

Finance angel Charlie Mason in rapid-fire mode.

Starting Saturday at 9am sharp, we quickly got hands-on training on how to target a problem and transform it into a market opportunity. Through an ongoing iterative process, we developed a plan to acquire clients as well as develop the financial needs and requirements of the venture. The most crucial aspect I realized, was the importance of teammates all completing one another through the entire process. You close the books and go home in the middle of the night, to arrive once more, at 9am sharp on Sunday.

Masterplan!

One of the many appeals of the start-up world is the paramount importance of presenting to external parties to obtain funding. This is exactly what the third day focused on: How to pitch your startup venture to investors. How to capture an audience in only a few minutes, and keep your public hungry for more.

By the end of the weekend, the 10 teams proposed their idea to a panel of three, and five semi-finalist teams were shortlisted to present in a more detailed fashion. In the second round, a winning team earned the top spot, to close an intense weekend of learning and building new ideas and network.

Coming out of the fruitful weekend, I was totally exhausted, and took a few days to reflect on what I had gained through these 48 hours. Many people went into the workshop in order to develop an already existing idea, and to learn how to enhance their proposition. Others went out of curiosity, and in order to learn more about a fascinating sector. I was part of the latter group. After all, 53% of INSEAD alum go on to be entrepreneurs at one point or another during their professional careers. Before this weekend, I had always been afraid of entertaining a startup idea as I didn’t know how to develop it. I was scared that I wouldn’t know what to do with it, and that the opportunity would be ‘wasted’. Well not anymore! The bootcamp also convinced me an idea is only the beginning to starting one’s own company. It’s all about the right people coming together and completing one another, in order to build a project that goes in the same direction to stand the test of time.

Most of all: go out there and have fun!

Photo credits: Edouard Chehade; Jane Venet Fellowes

We are never alone

A very pleasant call

Months ago, riding my bicycle down through Av. Faria Lima in São Paulo, I received a call from INSEAD. That was the yes-you’ve-been-approved call I’d been anxiously waiting for. Applying for a top business school is definitely not a solo job. Some help you to choose the school with the best fit. Others take you out when you are too GMATired. So, I immediately started calling, pinging, and messaging most of those who had helped me throughout that process. I knew the MBA would be a similar experience in terms of helping and being helped, but I didn’t know how powerful this virtuous cycle would be.

 

Before the start of the program.

Moving to another place always is a lot of hard work, and moving to another country can potentially reach another more tedious level of work. Details and paper work can be very annoying. I was starting the preparation to tackle all of this bureaucracy and other details such as: where to live, renting a car, buying a bicycle, and so on. And suddenly I was added to an instant messaging group of other Brazilians who were also coming to the MBA. For a start, I didn’t know, and still don’t, how one of my classmates found my mobile number. I also couldn’t imagine how helpful the insights people were sharing there would be. The mutual help did not stop there. The more friends and colleagues knew I was about to come to INSEAD, the more help I received from my friends and  friends-of-friends. My move ended up going smoother than I could ever imagine.  Before the class, it happened that I even ended up being invited to a lunch prepared by Brazilians of the previous intake and to my very happy surprise they prepared FEIJOADA, which is definitely among the dishes I enjoy most.

 

First Week and Splash Project.

During the first week at business school, I already came to meet the team I would be working with during the core part of the program. To foster camaraderie among the students while improving the life of the surrounding community, the school involved us in a Splash Project. The main activity is to build or improve a local facility that is used by the community.

 

Before Splash Project Later on the day

 

The following weeks and my MBA Group.

To me, the Organizational Behaviour class has been one of the best surprises in terms of academic and personal development here. The practical approaches we have in classes along with the quality of faculty have been making a huge difference in my overall experience. One of the practical jobs we had was to deliver a contract to the group, with our group name and logo on it. The debate we had to design this contract helped us to understand how five people from four continents could work better together. We had two more activities thereafter, giving us even more opportunities to improve the way we worked together. And why is it important?

As Steve Jobs once said:

“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.”

Until another post.

Takeoff

Dear Reader,

One week into arriving in Fontainebleau to tackle this one-year MBA, and I am already deep into activities, classes, and social events. It feels like it’s been ages since I’ve put my other ‘regular and normal’ life on the sidelines 6,000 kilometers away but it’s only been seven days.

The “Integration Week” has been the most intense, action-packed week I have ever lived! Three months ago, I received the thrilling phone call from my Admissions Officer announcing the great news. After having spoken to many alumni, but also in light of all the accepted students of my cohort reaching out to me, I had a feeling I was entering a world of its own. In fact, only a few hours after receiving the official letter from INSEAD, my future colleagues were already contacting me to get acquainted. I already felt I was right there on campus! Getting to meet everyone over the web, and through reading the different introductions of my peers on different social platforms, I instantly understood I had entered a special community. My future peers were a group of overachievers and self-motivated leaders in their respective fields. I realized I had stepped in a unique world, an organization where the sum of all individuals is so much stronger than each single person.

It is in this state of mind that I left snowy Montreal, in the first few days of the New Year. I thought I knew what an intense first week lay ahead me, but it turns out I had know idea.

We had 20 different conference speakers talk to us over the course of the week, all of them passionate at communicating with their audience and involved in the development of the students. The personnel and professors take great pride and interest in contributing to INSEAD, and their doors are always open. Furthermore, you’re encouraged to reach out to them for help or to expand on subjects of interest.

I must also talk about classmates: I wonder how it is that so many talented people as my peers ended up in the same establishment. In my former universities, at work and in different activities, I met lots of driven people, but never that many in the same environment. The students bond right away, whether it is with your 7 roommates in a 17th century country house, with the previous intake in student clubs, or with teammates from your project team. Each one is there to help you push your limits, get out of your comfort zone, and support you. This culture of empowerment among the student body comes from each MBA participant, but it is also fostered by INSEAD through policies such as non-grade disclosure and the explicit encouragement for all to have an open mind and an inclusive mindset. Having more than one hundred nationalities on campus helps promote this acceptance culture as well.

During a discussion on general management, I spoke up and mentioned that I was surprised to see as many people interested and curious about so many diverse subjects as I was, and that I could really associate with the student body unlike any other environment before. At this point, the professor addressed the 75 students and made us reflect: “Show of hands—how many of you came here at INSEAD to be led in the group?” I didn’t see one hand stick up. “You are all leaders here. You want to take charge and want to get results, and that’s why we want to help you develop this leadership, and that’s what makes you feel so at home here.” I take it that’s the environment I associate with here, and I’m pretty certain this self-enlightening journey is just getting started.

Not even one week after starting the program, and I fully realize the depth of what all the alumni are saying when mentioning their year at INSEAD changed their lives.

I am really excited at the prospect of starting other classes next week, and I’m looking forward to sharing different stories with you for the coming year, a year that I am sure will make me a transformed man.

Cheers,

Ed

INSEAD application reflections

Life is filled with precious moments that money can’t buy. Receiving INSEAD’s admission letter is one that I will treasure for a long time. To thank those who helped me, I want to share a few key lessons I learned throughout the process.

Be consistent and coherent.

From the outset I asked myself what my three most important values are and I used them to form the backbone of my essays. The coherence it created made it easier to incorporate experiences that best demonstrate those values. Attempting to showcase everything will only make your profile unmemorable, so be selective and tell a good story.

Focus on strengths.

One of the mental obstacles I had to overcome was to stop worrying about my weaknesses. During the initial stage of research much of my focus was on how to address the weaknesses in my profile, but soon I noticed others were doing much of the same thing. I came to realise that expanding on my strengths pays more dividends than trying to become the ‘perfect’ candidate, and I shifted my focus immediately . How you write gives away your confidence, so focus on what you are good at and really shine.

Persistence trumps talent.

I went to at least a dozen MBA related events, and they were filled with people of extraordinary intellect. Talent alone may get you lucky once, but to be consistently ‘lucky’ it takes persistence and work. I don’t have a high GMAT score or a flawless resume, and I started my application from scratch and learned from trial and error. If I can do it, so can you.

Overall, the pursuit of an MBA is a rewarding journey in itself regardless of the outcome. I guarantee that if you put your heart into it you will experience self-discovery along the way, and that in itself is well worth the effort.

‘Predictably Irrational’

It’s 10:31pm. In 89 minutes time we will embrace the first day of P3. P1 and P2 passed in a flash, and to be frank, it is difficult to translate the experience into words adequately. Nonetheless, I feel somewhat compelled to share a few perception shifts I experienced in the past four months, and I hope that gives a glimpse of what INSEAD has to offer.

Managing Uncertainty

Prior to INSEAD I managed my life via apps, calendars and spreadsheets, and I was not bad at it. That sense of control I depended on was challenged at INSEAD, with an intense schedule and multiple events taking place at the same time. I tried to fight it by doing more spreadsheets, adding more calendar entries, and having less sleep, and soon I was burned out. Eventually I realised that the schedule was not meant to be exhausted. I have to choose between a company presentation and lunch, a weekend in Belgium and a finance tutorial, and a night of peaceful sleep and a halloween party. INSEAD taught me how to refine my judgements when faced with ambiguity, and how to adapt to a fast-pace environment with composure.

Managing Network

In the years of my working life, I interpreted the term ’networking’ as much as I needed to impress my direct report. I gave little thought to it in part due to my introversion and in part due to an occasionally negative connotation I felt towards the term. Coming to INSEAD changed my view. After attending over a dozen of networking events, reading, and discussing cases with fellow classmates, I came to realise that networking is not only about growing LinkedIn connections or making small talks at cocktail parties. It is about listening, asking well-thought questions and making people like you.

Managing Self-Development

I have a habit of writing goals down and revising them regularly to track progress, and I used to derive satisfaction from ticking off the list. A week ago I reflected on the goals I set for INSEAD. They were met, but the satisfaction was not there. It then dawned on me that I was doing it all wrong. GPAs and job titles are only validations to serve my insecurities; they do not provide real development. I experienced growth when I succeeded in cracking an unfamiliar subject, when I was able to dissect a case study from different angels, and when I shared a laugh with others whom I barely knew. INSEAD MBA has more than a job and a certificate to offer, and to grow from the experience one must be willing to let go of presumptions and maintain an open mind.

Just as Daniel Ariely pointed out in Predictably Irrational, our assumptions about making decisions based on rational thought may be flawed. I now truly come to appreciate my ‘irrationality’ and I look forward to more interesting turmoils in the coming months.

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