September, 2012

Foster Supports Women’s Business

Friday, September 28th, 2012

As my second year at Foster begins ramping up, one of my most exciting responsibilities is being the president of the Women in Business club. I am proud to run a club that includes so many amazing women.

What does WiB do?

We are a group of Foster MBA students that support the personal and professional development of women at the Foster School of Business, especially focusing on growing women into leadership roles. We have themes for each quarter that rounds out this mission: connecting (fall), confidence (winter), and competence (spring).

Why did I want to be involved with WiB?

Coming from an all-women’s undergraduate college, representing women in spaces where we are largely underrepresented is important to me (in fact, this was the topic of my essay for Foster!) From discussions on negotiating salaries to golf lessons, I think it’s important that women have a space to reflect on being a minority in business.

Who runs WiB?

I am proud to be the president, but I would get nothing done without my trusty board of eight amazing women. They head up everything from our mentoring program with the Undergrad Women in Business club, Alumnae networking events, golf lessons and events for the evening students at Foster.

As a board, we meet two times a month—each meeting covers upcoming speakers, event planning, ideas for getting involved in the community and more.

Each spring, WiB runs a spring retreat. Last May, we rented a house out in Hood Canal (in Eastern Washington) right on the water. We shucked and ate oysters right on the beach, ate steamed clams for dinner, played a golf scramble and we held our first official board meeting for the upcoming year. It was an amazing way to reflect on the year that had past and prepare for all the great events we have planned for 2012-2103.

~Guest Blogger Kara Gibson, Full-time Class of 2013 and WiB President

Preparing for a Zombie Apocalypse

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I spent my internship helping to usher in the zombie apocalypse. And by that, I mean I worked at PopCap Games – developer and publisher of titles such as Plants vs. Zombies, Bejeweled, and Zuma.

These are exciting times for casual gaming, as the industry is shifting at a remarkable pace. There has been a rapid movement away from the premium download model, where players pay once for unlimited use of the game, to a freemium model, where the player can play for free, but is encouraged to make in-game purchases.

Under the premium model, the key to success was convincing a large group of players to pay upfront for your game. Whether those players played the game for 3 days or 3 years had a limited impact on the developer’s bottom line. Under the freemium model, however, player retention is critically important. The more often players play, the more opportunity they have to make in-app purchases.

For one of my internship projects, I wrote a white paper on how competitors used virality mechanics within Facebook games (friend invites, gifting, posting updates, etc.) to enhance viral user acquisition and retention. So yes, I spent a big portion of my internship playing games on Facebook! But when I reflect on what I learned about customer acquisition and retention in casual games, I realize how applicable and valuable this knowledge is even in industries far removed from gaming.

Several of my smaller summer projects involved gaming analytics. Cue first quarter stats (especially regression and hypothesis testing)! With the shift to freemium games, some developers have found success by placing a heavy emphasis on testing and iteration. Imagine your game has a few million daily active users. Will total revenue go up if you decrease the price point of a particular in-game item? Will players invite more of their friends if they see a green “Invite” button or a blue one? Will players send more free gifts if they have one gifting option, three gifting options, or 20 gifting options? Rather than making a game-wide change and hoping for the best, developers can use A/B testing (or even multivariate testing) on small subsets of users, and only implement game-wide changes that show statistically significant improvements over the existing game features.

But perhaps the biggest takeaway from my internship was that my MBA experience has given me the skillset to add value, even in an industry where I had no previous experience. As a result, I am confident in my ability to significantly contribute to my fulltime employer – even if they are not in the zombie proliferation business.

~Guest Blogger Ethan Anderson, Full-time Class of 2013

A Software Company Promoting No Software?

Friday, September 14th, 2012

The cloud has been all the buzz lately in the tech industry. While some software companies have been slow to adopt this new technology/service-delivery model, salesforce.com has been a pioneer in the space since the early 90’s.

This summer, I worked at Salesforce as a product marketing intern with the Sales Cloud team. One of my main responsibilities was to help with Dreamforce, the company’s annual conference. Over a 4-day span, close to 40,000 attendees will have access to 750+ breakout sessions, where they can learn about our products and hear from our customers. I helped our team manage over 90 of these breakout sessions by finding session moderators, vetting through customer stories, and more. I also helped build out demo stations for the expo grounds, where attendees can experience our products first-hand.

Aside from Dreamforce responsibilities, I was asked to create a demo video for our Forecasting feature. The demo video will go up on the features section of the Sales Cloud website, and is used to attract new customers who want to learn more about our product. I worked closely with the Product Manager of the feature and my teammate to create a storyboard and script, and recently went into the studio to record the voiceover for the video. So if a career in the tech industry doesn’t pan out, there’s always the possibility of being the voice behind commercials or movies.

Outside of those major projects, I got to experience the day-to-day life of product marketers. I worked with and learned from a cross-functional team that had marketing campaigns people, SEO (search engine optimization) and SEM (search engine marketing) specialists, a software developer, and a copywriter and artist. It was interesting seeing how the different roles worked together towards a single goal.

And of course there were the great intern events and company perks. I got to hear from company leaders including COO George Hu (a former summer intern), Chief Creative Officer Bruce Campbell (who created the “No Software” logo), and even Peter Schwartz (a renowned futurist). And because Microsoft is a competitor, and their summer interns got a live concert at Gasworks Park (ask fellow Foster MBA candidates Taj Mathews, Aaron Shepherd, or Jessica Martin about that…), I have to ask…

Is there a better way to finish an internship than seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers live, outdoors at the San Francisco Civic Center?

~Guest Blogger Nelson Haung, Full-time Class of 2013

First Year Highlights: Advice from an MBA Mentor

Friday, September 7th, 2012

The Foster MBA program provides so many opportunities to meet with and talk to people in business, from meet-the-firms to happy hours to career fairs sponsored by MBA Career Services. While all of these opportunities are excellent, the one I found the most unique was the MBA Mentor Program. I knew this program was something very different early last fall when it held an “NFL draft” of mentor meet-and-greets, only this time the mentors were the prospects instead of the students! The mentors spoke about their areas of expertise and then were unleashed to the students for more getting-to-know-you conversation before students voted for their top three mentor choices. The mentors provided such a great opportunity to learn more about an industry, gather information about what to (and not to) spend time worrying about throughout the next couple of months, and garner any wisdom that they could pass down. The meetings with mentors provided an outlet for true curiosity and learning because the mentee groups were small and people did not have to wonder if they were asking enough thought-provoking questions or smiling enough, or worry if a recruiter was interested in their types of questions.

One of my mentors was Herb Bridge, chairman of Ben Bridge, a jewelry company with stores all over the western U.S. While the jewelry industry is not at the top of my priority list, I found myself drawn to Mr. Bridge’s experience, dedication, and no-nonsense responses to questions. As a career-changer in an MBA program, I gravitated to his resolute and definitive decision-making and responses. I was the coordinator for my small group so I was responsible for setting up each meeting between mentor and mentees. This role gave me additional opportunities to speak with Mr. Bridge and pick his brain. Most mentors have one meeting with their mentee group, but Mr. Bridge held two meetings: one with him where we discussed paths, what we wanted to do, and his thoughts; the second with additional people from his office (his CFO, etc.) where we had the opportunity to gain further information and different perspectives. Each meeting was left very open-ended, with contact information exchanged and an invitation for further communication.

Thanks to my meetings with Mr. Bridge I was able to get answers to my personal questions regarding business, sacrifices, and potential opportunities. His comments were really tailored to the goals of each person. Often I find that speakers and industry representatives generalize their answers for the wide audience, but Mr. Bridge really took the time to tailor his remarks to each person.

After speaking with classmates with different mentors, my experience of multiple visits and introductions, open invitations for further communication, and definitive answers and opinions on how to achieve our desired goals was unique to Mr. Bridge. His interest in the students and successful business experience created a unique atmosphere and one that I have yet to find in any other MBA or business networking opportunity.

~ Guest blogger Jennifer Yanni, Full-time Class of 2013

Being an MBA Means Being Right, Right?

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

By Gwyn Gaubatz, Full-time Class of 2013.  Gwyn graduated from Smith College with a double-major in Computer Science and American Studies.  After teaching two years in rural Mississippi with Teach for America, she spent five years in the educational testing industry before her interest in organizational behavior and development drew her to business school.

Like many people, I don’t like being wrong.  And I hate being told that I have done something wrong.  For most of my professional life, being told that I have made an error, inadvertently caused a problem, or chosen the wrong course of action has been almost physically uncomfortable, a small spike of adrenaline that twists in my gut as I experience a sinking feeling of, oh no, oh no, how bad was it and can it be fixed ohnoitwasmyfault!

I can’t say this has made me a perfectionist, but I do think it’s a driving force behind some of my detail-oriented behaviors – checking, checking again; verifying authorization; planning in advance; asking question after question – as well as my penchant for trying to guess what people will need from me before needing to be told.

Of all the things I thought I would learn at business school (marketing, stats, networking, etc.), I actually did not expect to master this.  I mean, sure: I thought that an MBA would give me the tools to avoid making mistakes even more adroitly and give me the confidence that I would make the correct choices, again and again.  So, I didn’t exactly think an MBA would make me ‘perfect’, professionally, but I think that there was definitely, in the back of my mind, the hope that it would bring me closer to some kind of magically business-savvy infallibility.

HA!

Over the course of my first year at business school, I have learned that I cannot hope to be perfect-ish or anywhere near infallible.  This became very clear during my first quarter – not just that I would be wrong, sometimes, missing questions on homework assignments and quizzes and midterms – but also that I could really screw up: handling the financials of a case study on behalf of my team and missing a key step, or forgetting to produce exhibits for a deliverable, or pushing others to accept a marketing strategy and completely missing the 2 key drivers that could make that strategy successful. Given the amount of new information MBA students are expected to digest and apply (“drinking from a fire hose” is an apt cliché) over the course of each 10-week term, especially for those (like me!) with no practical or academic experience in the subject matter, it is simply impossible to be avoid doing something – sometimes many things! – wrong.

The point is not that business school has caused me to make mistakes; the point is that business school has taught me how to make mistakes gracefully and responsibly, and to recover from them nimbly, looking forward.  No more squirmy guilty stomach-aches of how could I have done something wrong?  Because there is simply no time for that.  There is only: what is the scope, how can we fix what needs to be fixed, what do we do next, what can we learn from what happened?

I still care dreadfully about devoting my best efforts to my teams, planning proactively, and trying to get it right the first time.  But I know that if I don’t get it right, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s not worth feeling sick over.  In fact, one month ago I was required to give a presentation on the research project I had been working on for the first 6 weeks of my internship.  As the first MBA intern to be hired by the company, there was no template in place for defining project deliverables or building out presentations and reports – I basically made that up as I went along, to the best of my ability, with some (but not a lot of) oversight.  And now I had to tell everybody what I did and how I did it!  The audience included the team I had been embedded in, the marketing team, senior managers from both sales and development, and, oh yeah: most of the c-suite, too; all in all, over a dozen people, with more calling in remotely.  The presentation was scheduled for 90 minutes.

Of course I was a little nervous – who wouldn’t be?  But I wasn’t really worried about getting something wrong.  I had been told before hand by multiple parties that the executives would likely break into the presentation at many junctures to comment, question, perhaps refute things they disagreed with.  I was told to expect lots of audience participation; to be prepared to have my arguments picked apart – it was par for the course.  Normally this would have been the worst part for me, but oddly, going into the meeting I wasn’t especially nervous about potentially being told I was wrong.  I was confident in the work that I had done, sure, but it wasn’t just that.  I was also comfortable with the knowledge that the presentation – much like the entire internship – was a learning experience, and that I could handle whatever was thrown at me with equanimity.  This frame of mind allowed me to respond thoughtfully and confidently to questions, and to absorb different interpretations eagerly, integrating them into later dialogues.  And let me tell you: there were a LOT of questions, and a lot of discussions.  I’m not going to lie, I was certainly sweatier leaving than I was going in.  But the comments and perspectives of the executives also helped to stretch my thinking and inform my approach to further projects.  In the end, the presentation was a great success.  But it could have turned out differently – and I think that knowing that and being comfortable with it was what allowed me to be decisive in my conclusions and poised in my speech.

So: if you are considering business school or about to enter as a first-year student, let me gently disabuse you of the notion that earning an MBA will allow you to win at business by being right all the time and by always making the best choice, the correct choice.  But it will teach you how to make a wrong  decision and recover, and being confident in your ability to manage good, unexpected or disappointing outcomes will most certainly enable you to assume responsibilities for big decisions.  You won’t be right all the time, but you will definitely be right for whichever job or leadership position you choose to pursue.