Autumn Quarter – Squeeze in Electives

Can't remember why they evacuated us...

Can’t remember why they evacuated us…

This post is very tardy, but wanted to get this posted before the Class of 2015 MSx’ers make their final decisions for Autumn Quarter class registration.

This was a 22 credit quarter for me (aka Club 22) – many students strongly suggest not loading up so heavily, but while I found it definitely made for a busy schedule, it was quite manageable. In fact, given the two electives that I chose, I would not have changed a thing – was a great selection of “must-have” classes based on why I came to GSB. Keep in mind that not everyone will have the same priorities, so don’t feel like you need to duplicate my choices…

Academics – MSx Core:

Academics – GSB Electives:

MSx CORE CURRICULUM: The core load in Autumn was still quite heavy – lots of pre-requisite skills to get out of the way before diving head-first into self-directed studies. I found that many of my classmates had deep understanding in one or more of these areas, but few had great depth across the board. Before GSB, I was more of an Technology Infrastructure generalist, so I had a fair amount of experience in all these areas – but very little depth, especially in quant-focused subjects such as Accounting and Finance. Was looking forward to gaining a deeper understanding of these topics, but pretty much walked away only knowing how to speak the language and what are the right questions to be asking of professionals in the field. So, in short, I now know (only) how to hire good accounting and finance people (and maybe how to keep an eye on them)…

Accounting: Prof. Ed DeHaan was by far the most broadly appreciated professor in our core curriculum. At the end of the academic year, he was voted our MSx most-favorite professor by our cohort. This accounting class specifically covered Financial Accounting (as opposed to Managerial Accounting).

Personally, I didn’t appreciate the difference between Financial and Managerial Accounting until we dove into the subject matter – but now I get it. Financial Accounting focuses on production (or analysis) of financial reports – whether for internal or external (e.g. shareholders, creditors, banks, public markets, regulators, etc.) consumption. You’ll get brief exposure to GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) and how financial reporting contents can be used to determine the behavior and health of a company.

Incidentally, one of my favorite GSB electives was Prof. Lee’s ACCT 340: Alphanomics: Informational Arbitrage in Equity Markets – even though I was probably poorly prepared for this class… This was probably my most quant-focused elective. If you think you will take Alphanomics, make sure you pay particular attention to the core Financial Accounting class – you will definitely see that material again!

Finance: For me, this was by far the most difficult MSx core class. I knew just enough of the subject matter that I went into the class rather cavalier about learning the material, but clearly didn’t know Finance well enough to truly excel in the coursework. This class really focused on valuation of financial assets, how to choose between debt and equity and how financial markets affect the operations of a given firm.

Prof. Strebulaev always started the class with a story, joke or brain teaser exercise – this made the class fairly lighthearted and enjoyable. But I also know that many of my classmates feel like they didn’t learn as much as they wanted. This is truly different from the experience of the Sloan Class of 2013 – in contrast, that class voted Prof. Strebulaev as their most-favorite professor of the year. In particular, this curriculum was useful to me because I will undoubtedly need to use it when raising capital for future startup endeavors (e.g. Hinted).

Organizational Behavior: Prof. Frank Flynn is a favorite lecturer across the GSB. He is probably one of the best and most charismatic speakers we had in class. He clearly achieves this through careful scripting and meticulous crafting of his lectures – both his message and delivery are likely to be 99.5% identical from one section to the next. He also makes the effort to learn every student’s name – he will ask you to remove your name cards so he does not become reliant on them and by the second or third session, he will know everyone by name. Impressive

He should definitely be a presentation role model – but that comes with some obligations on the students’ side… DO NOT BE LATE to his classes. He absolutely hates tardiness and would prefer that you not be there at all. Don’t expect to get an H in this class unless you can nail the final exam. He (or his graders) will expect you to remember and quote the frameworks and other materials studied in class.

This class covered the psychology of how people work with each other in organizations. Learning how organizations communicate and function can help managers understand if their companies are well-functioning or in need of repair. For startups, it is probably more helpful in the growth stages than in the really early formation stages – but this will certainly help us design the right corporate culture as we move forward. A lot of what we covered in class is also the basis of the “Feedback is a Gift” mentality that we embraced for our new startup.

Strategy: Due to the retirement of Prof. Roberts, this class is currently undergoing a curriculum revamp. Prof. Oyer will undoubtedly take this class in a different direction, hopefully updating the examples used in the class to more modern case studies. While it was a great class taught in a very practical method, it would certainly make the class more interesting and engaging to have more current examples.

In this class, we mostly learned using group projects to get a little “hands-on” experience, researching globalization opportunities and how our selected companies would hypothetically enter new markets. My group opted to investigate Square and a hypothetical international expansion into Mexico. This class builds on MSx summer courses Strategy Beyond Markets, Marketing, Accounting, Finance, Microeconomics and introduces a few Macroeconomics issues – which makes this into a pretty good “bring-it-all-together” kind of experience.

GSB Electives: The number of core classes in Autumn Quarter makes it very challenging to insert electives from “across the street” (e.g. non-GSB classes). There just aren’t large enough blocks of contiguous time to easily fit classes with widely varying start times. If you’re trying to add just one across-the-street elective and no GSB electives, you can probably make it happen. But keep in mind that the core classes also have a pretty heavy workload…

Formation of New Ventures: This might have been my single-most favorite class — and teaching team — at GSB. Unlike the core classes, many of the electives are taught by Lecturers (e.g. industry practitioners instead of PhD academics) instead of full-time faculty. My section of this class was taught by Rob Siegel (Stanford MBA ’94) and Scott Brady (Stanford Sloan ’00).

Rob and Scott make a fantastic teaching team – both of them have “been there and done that” with every respect to technology startups. Hearing their perspectives – and finding ways to apply that to my past experiences – was particularly useful to me.

This class is taught in the Stanford case-study + guest speaker format. The case study part is not terribly different from what you would experience in any business school. You read a case study before class and discuss the merits, with respect to the lesson objectives, in class with the professor moderating a mostly student discussion. However, the big departure and the unique Stanford GSB value-add is the guest speaker portion of the class. After an in-depth discussion of the case (in front of the entrepreneur who was featured in the case study), the guest speaker is invited to address the student discussion points, present their own unique POV or address the class in their own style. How often to you get the chance to not only read about how to become a billionaire, but then have the chance to talk directly to the entrepreneur who did it, ask them what they would do differently and tell them all the things they did wrong?

In a nutshell – great class.

Angel & VC: The primary difference between this class and STRAMGT 353 is the POV. While STRAMGT 353 is taught from the perspective of the entrepreneur, FINANACE 385 is taught from the perspective of the investor. Prof. Ilya Strebulaev (yes, same instructor as my core Finance class) co-teaches this class with investor extraordinaire Theresia Gouw (Stanford MBA ’94, Aspect Ventures, previously w/ Accel Venture Partners). This partnership works incredibly well – you get a mixture of approaches from both an academic and a real-life practitioner. I think this class puts the core Finance class in perspective – all the lessons learned about capitalization, valuation, etc. all come into real practice as you analyze real-life term sheets and see the different options preferred by different investor styles.

This class is equally engaging and also taught in the Stanford case-study + guest speaker format – but the guest speakers are angel investors, venture capitalists, startup attorneys and bankers. Again, you get the opportunity to read a case from the investor’s POV, then interact with actual investors to see if they came to the same conclusions.



Re-re-starting blog…

I had no appreciation for how difficult it would be to maintain a regular blog. Clearly this is in itself a full-time job!

So many of the current cohort (MSx 2015) had said it was useful to read what I had wrote, so I’m going to try and complete my original vision of documenting my year at GSB.

But, before I do that, here’s the latest:

June 14-15 was graduation weekend for Stanford Class of 2014. As far as I know, everyone in our Sloan / MSx class graduated. Since then, many of our international classmates have returned to their home countries, with only a few staying here – several have found jobs all over the US and have started their new adventures.

There are at least 4 startups that I am aware of from our class. These startups cover the following industries:

  • Luxury Food
  • Medical Devices
  • Education Technology
  • Social Feedback (the team I am working on)

I’m working on with 2 classmates. We are creating a platform for users to give and receive feedback from their professional and personal social networks. Working through the Stanford Venture Studio, we were able to secure office space and are now working to complete our first public version.

I’m also getting ready to launch my first Kickstarter campaign. During Winter quarter, I spent a huge amount of time in the Mechanical Engineering Product Realization Lab for ME 318 – Computer Aided Manufacturing. While this class was a huge distraction from GSB studies, it was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study with some of the brightest Engineering students. As part of that class, I designed and developed a new type of wallet made from a single piece of milled aluminum. I’m calling it the Decadent Minimalist.

Ironically, Kickstarter just posted this article: Why are there so many wallets on Kickstarter?

Stanford and PRL methods encouraged me to look at this problem from a completely different angle – so I really think I have the first revolutionary wallet design to hit Kickstarter. Most of the front-pocket wallets projects involve two metal plates held together with rubber bands – that was exactly what I was trying to avoid making.

Drop me a line if you find this idea intriguing – or, better yet, support my Kickstarter campaign when it launches. I’ll post a link here to keep you updated.

No longer a student, but always a Sloanie… 


On-stage for Class of 2015

I’m presenting to the incoming MSx Class of 2015!

I remember being here a year ago and soaking up everything they had to say… Today, I’m the alumni sharing my experiences with Herbert Yang (Sloan ’13), Michelle Morris (Sloan ’14) and Mary Jacobsen (Sloan ’14).

I only hope that I said something useful to the incoming students.

In general, my advice to incoming students would be:

Take your obligations to your classmates seriously, but don’t take yourself very seriously

It is important to realize that study groups (summer quarter in particular) are often pre-set groups that you have no control over. Work hard to make it an enjoyable experience for everyone in the group. You need to quickly understand that you are not the center of the universe – so being late or missing group meetings is not acceptable behavior. I happened to be very lucky summer quarter – our group was very easy going but also was very serious about getting our assignments done with high quality results and projects were always completed on time. Not everyone will be this fortunate, but even if your group doesn’t gel quickly, don’t be the guy that makes the group unnecessarily unpleasant.

Front-load your GPA

Let’s be honest – GPA is not terribly important at Stanford GSB and is particularly not important in the Sloan / MSx program, unless you don’t make the minimum GPA to graduate. The entire GSB is graded on a forced curve – so professors must balance grades in the class. Sure, everyone can get a “P” then no one needs to receive an “LP” – but it never works out that way. It is actually quite easy for them to spot the high and low performers in the class – but the middle gets very mushy. And occasionally, grading will feel entirely arbitrary… So, to avoid that becoming an issue in your last quarter (when you might not have the flexibility to add a class you really want to take because your GPA is in the toilet), make sure you get as high a GPA as possible in the summer quarter. Then, you can relax and never worry about it again…

Plan, plan, plan all the classes you want to take for the entire year — but remain flexible

The Stanford GSB registration process is not entirely terrible and has a few interesting twists (like super-round) that works pretty well in helping you get a least a couple of your most wanted classes. However, you need to consider that several “must have” classes are only offered in one quarter per year. Also, if you are incorporating classes from “across the street” in other schools (such as Engineering, Law, Medicine, etc.), class times / days often don’t align neatly with GSB schedules. So, if you have a “must have” Engineering class, be prepared to deal with schedule conflicts that couple wipe out 2 or 3 possible GSB class times.

After planning out your entire year, remain flexible. It is impossible for you to learn the entire course catalog and understand your educational priorities with 100% accuracy in the first few weeks of class. Inevitably, you will learn of a class that you might want to take – don’t be afraid to reexamine (and possible rearrange) your entire schedule when that happens. Take the classes that you will find most useful and enjoyable – don’t take classes just because they fit neatly into your schedule.

Get over FOMO as quickly as possible

The Class of 2013 told this to us, and I will repeat it to future classes. You need to understand that you will NOT be able to do everything. During the summer quarter, the pace is quick – but the MSx’ers are the only students at GSB, so it seems like you’ll be able to join every club, drink at every FOAM, get “H”s across the board and take 3 Engineering classes per quarter. WRONG!

As soon as the MBAs and other students around campus arrive, the pace of events will be unbelievably fast and will inevitably conflict, forcing you to decide which is more important. The first couple times this happens, you will be devastated that you can’t make both events. Or worse, you’ll leave one event early to run to the other event.

AVOID THAT TEMPTATION!! The sooner you get over FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), the sooner you will be able to rationalize and prioritize your schedule and get real value out of these events. And it will be far less stressful too!

Strongly consider getting across-the-street

Some of the best classes I took last year were not even in the GSB. The selection of across-the-street classes will be very individual – so don’t try to convince your GSB classmates to take Engineering classes they have no interest in taking. But DO decide which classes you might be interested in taking as early as possible. Many graduate classes have a long list of pre-requistites – these can often be waived if you just take the time to go speak with the professor.

Enjoy yourself

The one thing that I never forgot – I was here to have the time of my life. It was a short 11 month journey back to topics, classes, discussions and opportunities that I would have no other way to explore. Stanford is an unique place – take advantage of it! But most importantly, make sure you’re having a good time – otherwise you’re probably not doing something right.

PRL Gets Nods

Ok, here’s a great article talking about Mechanical Engineering’s PRL – Product Realization Lab. It is a full blown machine shop, wood shop, foundry, welding shop, fab lab and design loft. Very cool place. Students can buy a full-academic-year pass for $100. prototype-stanford-product-realization-lab

I will also be taking the following ME classes next quarter:

ME 203 – Design & Manfacturing 

ME 103 – Engineering Drawing and Design 

ME 318 – Computer-Aided Product Creation

ME 110 – Design Sketching

These classes certainly are not the typical coursework for a GSB student, but they are right up my alley and core to my startup. We’re currently allowed 22 credit hours per quarter (we are charged by the quarter, not by the credit hour) – and, for now, I intend to take as many classes as I possibly can. 


Summer Study Trip

No idea if next year’s cohort will conduct the same study trips that we did / will, but I can certainly describe what we did and plan to do for the rest of the year. Like the prior year cohort, we participated in a mandatory East Coast Study Trip between Summer and Autumn quarters. The trip started in Washington, DC and ended in New York, NY. We were responsible for our own airfare (to Washington and back to campus from New York), but hotel and transportation for all official functions were covered by the MSx program.

Some people chose to arrive early or stay an extra day to explore on their own – this is allowed, but hotel is not covered for the extended days. Also, if you require your own hotel room, you can pay a surcharge to get a solo room. We visited most of these speakers on site, but a few came to speak at our hotel.

Here’s our itinerary (expect the itinerary to change every year):

Sunday, Sept 15: Arrive in Washington DC – no activities planned

Monday, Sept 16:

  • Breakfast briefing
  • Pew Research / Alan Murray, President (Stanford SEP 2005)
  • AARP / Barry Rand, CEO (Stanford Sloan 1972 / MBA 1983)
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace / Jessica Matthews, President
  • Free evening

Tuesday, Sept 17:

  • Continental breakfast (at hotel during first speaker)
  • UnitedContinental Holdings (United Airlines) / Nancy Van Duyne, VP Government Affairs
  • Bus Tour / Group Photo / Free Time @ Smithsonian
  • US Treasury Department / Mark Mazur, Asst Secretary of Tax Policy (Stanford PhD 1986, AM 1983)
  • Free evening

Wednesday, Sept 18:

  • Bus ride to NYC – yes, they really put us on two busses…
  • NYSE Euronext / Joe Mecane, EVP US Equities
  • NYSE Tour of Trading Floor (great photo opportunities!)
  • Bus to hotel (unbelievable long bus ride)
  • Free evening

Thursday, Sept 19:

  • Ogilvy & Mather / John Seifert, Chairman & CEO North America (PR Firm)
  • AIG / Steve Miller, Chairman (Stanford MBA 1968)
  • Bonobos / Andy Dunn, Founder & CEO (Stanford MBA 2007)
  • BlackRock / Robert Kapito, President
  • MSx Group Dinner (business / semi-formal dress code)

Friday, Sept 20:

  • Stanford GSB Alumni Mixer & Breakfast – be sure to talk to as many alumni as possible, you never know who will be there!
  • Prof. Jennifer Aaker (Stanford PhD 1995)
  • Time Warner / Jeff Bewkes, Chairman CEO (Stanford MBA 1977)

As you can see from the itinerary, the list of speakers was quite varied. In retrospect, we should have expected this, but the DC speakers were mostly about government (Beyond Markets) and lobbying. Whereas the NY speakers were all about business. Clearly, you will have your preferences, but try to enjoy both. For those of you not familiar with US politics and lobbying, you will get a pretty good understanding from the Beyond Markets class – this will give you plenty of context for the DC speakers.

My personal favorites were the NYSE Trading Floor visit and the session with Steve Miller. He is simply an incredible leader with deep experience in turn- arounds. He went to AIG at their worst and helped turn them around so they could repay all their federal assistance loans. Jeff Bewkes also gave a very interesting view of the media – a great way to cap a long week.

This trip was a great opportunity to spend time with classmates – both folks that I had already made deep friendships with, as well as other students who I had not really had a chance to get to know yet. Try to get to know as many folks as possible before the end of this trip – your free time will be in short supply once the Autumn quarter begins…

Summer Classes – Nothing’ but core…

Ok – I will try to make sure I break down these classes with a little more granularity in the future, but for now, I’ll cover the Summer Quarter at a very high level and give some advice to future MSx’ers (e.g. Sloan Fellows). By the way, even with the rebranding, it will be difficult for us to not think of ourselves as Sloan Fellows. Class of 2014 were admitted under the label of Sloan Fellows and most of the Stanford community knows us as Sloan Fellows… For future cohorts, hopefully the MSx brand will start to gain some recognition…

Summer Quarter started in early-July in a flurry. The pace was very brisk – not only academic, but there were many workshops scheduled for Wednesdays (traditionally, very few GSB classes meet on Wednesdays so they are available for group meetings and one-time events). We were assigned to static “sections” (half the cohort in each section) and “study groups” (between 4-6 students per group). Every student in a given section had an identical schedule and took all classes together. The static sections allow for rapid familiarity at the cost of not getting to know the other section quite as well – same with the study groups. Some groups were less functional than others, meeting only two or three times the entire quarter.

My group happened to get along reasonably well, so we met two to three times per week (usually for 1 – 3 hours per meeting). The thing to realize: depending on your group composition, your group experience could vary widely. Don’t expect to be able to dictate a work ethic to your group-mates – they will already be predisposed to work hard or not – simply quickly identify what you’re dealing with and find a way to get along. That being said, if you see something you don’t like, don’t brush it under the rug either – discuss frankly, openly and without too much emotion and people will either change or not.

Executive Modules (one to two day short sessions – not for credit, but mostly mandatory):

  • Team Building
  • Critical Analytical Decision Making
  • LEAP 360 Assessments & Coaching (much better than you will fear)
  • Joint SEP / MSx dinner/social (read the SEP bios and be interesting!)
  • Center for Entrepreneurial Studies / Center for Social Innovation info sessions
  • Career Vision Workshop / Career Management Center info session
  • Executive Coaching Workshop Communications Coaching (optional, but not really optional)
  • Executive Mentoring Workshop
  • Delivering An Effective Elevator Pitch Workshop
  • Student Government info session
  • CES / Startup Garage info session / info session
  • Leading Innovative Teams Workshop


Ethics: The ethics class covered both Behavior Ethics (what you do and why you do it) and Moral- Philosophical Ethics (study of ethical systems and frameworks). Frankly, I think this course is too short. But it is a good introduction to the material with a professor that occasionally forces you to really explain your positions – without being judgmental about them. If this subject interests you, read up on Kant and Friedman before Summer Quarter begins.

Microeconomics: Ok, for those of you out there who have not taken Micro before, you will have a much more enjoyable summer if you get some basics down before you get here. I was an economics major as an undergrad (granted, it was 20 years ago) and I found the pace of this class very challenging. You will cover 2 semesters worth of material over the summer. Make sure you have a decent grasp of supply, demand, price elasticity, supply elasticity, short-run – vs- long run, etc. Prof. Oyer has an excellent sense of humor, but it doesn’t always come out in this class – he’s much more interesting in the Strategy class (Autumn Quarter) so try to get him to laugh / tell jokes / talk about his online dating experience! Word of advice – in both this class and Statistics, do not fall behind…

Organizational Design: Here, you’ll think about company culture, policies, practices and leaders. This is a fun class and gets you in the practice of talking about B-school cases. You’ll read the cases and find that class discussion will vary widely – your classmates will surprise you with the varied perspectives that come from reading the same article. People talk about how the GSB is a “safe place” for you to experiment with your style – this class helps give you structure for exploration (e.g. helps you decide what you might want to change and how it might be perceived).

Negotiations: You’ll probably either love or hate this class. Personally, I thought this would be an area that I would need to learn a lot. But, in actuality, it turns out you just need to learn a little and practice a bit to drastically change negotiations outcomes. Prof. Neale is a larger-than-life personality in the classroom – but she’ll explain how she is really an introvert and puts on her “teaching persona” for class. This class is highly experiential – almost every class will require you to exercise newly developed negotiations skills against (and sometimes in collaboration with) your classmates – the challenge is that you never will know when it is a zero-sum or collaborative exercise. Perhaps that’s the most valuable lesson of the course.

 Statistics: Well, good news and bad news… Good: Prof. Hasan is the best statistics prof I’ve ever had. Bad: I’ve taken statistics 3 times now and still only barely get by… The pace of this class, much like micro, is also relentless. Unless you know this material well, DO NOT fall behind… If you’ve never taken stats before, make sure you learn some basics before you arrive: mean, median, variance, standard deviation, hypothesis testing – you will be at a serious disadvantage if you do not understand these concepts before class begins. When I took stats as an undergrad, it took an entire semester to learn these topics… You’ll cover them in 3 lessons and be expected to apply them regularly. Almost all the calculations can be done in MS Excel, so no need to get super fancy. Mac users will need to install a free plug-in: StatPlus LE for Mac

Beyond Markets: This class is all about the things that are not within your immediate control as a manager. Government regulations, political groups, the public, etc. Some of this will be a bit difficult for foreign students if you’re not familiar with the US system of government. Concepts that are helpful to know in advance: USA is a Federal Republic, not a pure democracy – with jurisdiction split between the Local, State and Federal governments. Federal government is comprised of Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches. Legislature is split into the House of Representatives (based on population size) and Senate (2 per state). Lobbyists / Special Interest Groups / campaign contributions to candidates are all legal and are used in various ways to influence politicians. If you like politics, you’ll probably enjoy this class. If you dislike politics, you’ll probably not enjoy it so much… If you’d like to get a taste of what the class will cover, you can watch some TV and get a dramatic version of it here: House of Cards on Netflix

After the Summer Quarter is completed, the entire cohort went on a sponsored trip to Washington, DC and New York, NY. We met with business leaders and lobbyists that really put a nice cap on our Beyond Markets and Organization Design classes. But I’ll discuss the trip in a separate post!