Our IBD Experience

arrgghh….blogging is tough. To get myself going again, here’s a post I promised long long time ago (darn, it’s almost a year now!) – my experience in Finland during our IBD project. And to make things even easier, I’m pasting what me and my teammates wrote on the Haas IBD blog. Haha!

Team Dragon Panda Reminisces (By Michelle)

After arriving back in the US, Team Dragon Panda was immediately swept back into the craziness of MBA life with summer internships, backyard barbeques, prep for recruiting, clubs and activities, and of course, school. But recently, Elad, Bernie, Emily and I all got together to think back to another time, an out-of-world (ok, out-of-North America) experience, when we were transported out of the craziness to focus wholly on a single project, in a country that we would learn to call home over three weeks. We decided it’d be best to take turns giving providing you with a glimpse back into our IBD trip.

Our Projects (by Elad)

Our team was assigned to a project funded by TEKES, the Finish Funding Agency for Technology an Innovation, a publicly funded expert organization with the goal of financing R&D activities and fostering innovation in Finland. Specifically, we were assigned to a program named TULI, which financially supports research projects throughout the Finnish academic sphere, aiming to build sustainable businesses based on this academic research. Our main goal was to analyze existing research projects within the TULI portfolio and build a concrete and actionable plan for commercializing the IP generated in these projects, based on extensive market research and insights gain from our proximity to the bay area network of innovation.

After several iterations we eventually focused on two such projects. The first was created by researchers from VTT, Finland’s largest research institute and was focused on Location Based Services (LBS). The second, developed by researches from TKK – Helsinki University of Technology, was focused on innovative ways for controlling devices with gestures. Naturally, we were very excited to work on such projects, both dealing with state of the art technologies which are also two of the hottest topics in the mobile devices world.

We started our part by extensively interviewing experts from the innovation ecosystem at the bay area – IP experts, Venture Capital firms, Startups and established companies – both about the specific technologies at hand and about the various pathways to successful commercialization. With the extensive information we’ve gathered in the US, we traveled to Finland, to meet the researchers and learn first-hand about the technologies involved. While at Finland, we also had the opportunity to get a deep exposure to the local innovation ecosystem and gain a first-hand understanding of the extensive intellectual power-house in the country. We eventually synthesized our learnings into two sets of recommendations presented to both the researches and the business managers escorting both projects.

Life in Helsinki (by Emily)

Helsinki is a great place to live in summer.

The girls lived in a small apartment in great style. Simple but neatly fitted living room, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. The boys shared a bigger apartment within 20 minutes walking distance from the girls’.

We lived very close to supermarkets, which had all sorts of things ranging from produce, meat, seafood, diary, to bakery. We almost walked to get fresh food and cook at home every day after work. It’s kind of weird and blessed to change from the American shopping habit – to shop a big chunk of food once a week – to shop freshly and daily at the neighborhood with just a small bag.

The public transportation is super convenient in Helsinki. Most people commute by it. We took the Tram (cable bus) from where we live to the central train station, and then transfer to take bus to our client’s campus in outer area. The bus pass works universally on every public vehicle, including ships to nearby islands. To get around is very easy.

Moreover, there is free Wi-Fi everywhere (except boy’s place) in Helsinki. Whenever needed, we literally sat down at a random spot and opened our computer to send an urgent email or make a skype call.

Besides the above modern facilities, Helsinki is a good place for nature and outdoor activities in summer. There are parks and big trees everywhere, some close to the water where people go sailing after work. Our apartments are close to the water and therefore we sometimes joined the jogging / cycling / dog running crew along the waterfront. Why not enjoy more sun when days are long?

Travel in Finland (by Bernie)

While the team was in Finland, it wasn’t all work and no play. I mean, how many people get a chance to go to Scandinavia, let alone live and work there for 3 weeks! The Dragon Pandas definitely took advantage of this opportunity and did some traveling during the weekends while we were there.

After the first week, we decided to go to the famous Helsinki Fortress Island “Suomenlinna” via a short boat ride from the Helsinki port. As you can see in our photos, we had a good time walking around the 2km long island, basking in the beautiful sun (there was a LOT of it!), breathtaking scenery, ancient ruins, and of course, sitting on the edge of the water, enjoying nature’s tranquility.

As a day trip, two of us went to Tallinn, Estonia to check out the old town. The first thing we did was to check out this church near the northern entrance. We cluelessly followed a bunch of tourists to see the top of the church tower, not knowing how many steps and how crazy narrow the stairwell was. After barely making it to the top, we were treated to some pretty spectacular views. The rest of the day was filled with music, good beer/food, and some crazy Viking hats.

In our 2nd weekend there, three of us took a weekend cruise to Stockholm. Let’s just say the ship’s reputation of being a “party boat” was well earned, haha. Stockholm was a beauty! The architecture, the people, and the festivals (we arrived on Swedish National Day) definitely made the trip a memorable experience. A couple of us even went to a smaller replica of the Absolut Ice Bar to enjoy some drinks from shotglasses made out of ice. How cool is that?!

All in all, working in Helsinki, Finland for IBD gave us a chance to not only do some real consulting work for a foreign company, it also afforded us the chance to enjoy the food, culture, and people of Scandinavia that most of us otherwise would never have experienced.

Starting up

One of the great things about an MBA in general, and at Haas specifically, is that it is one of the most supportive environments for starting new initiatives or exploring new business ideas. This is how, a few months ago, we started Puzux.

An Idea

When I was traveling to Finland for my IBD project (which I WILL post about. soon.), I naturally took my Kindle with me. One day I felt like solving a crossword, which I quite enjoy doing, and was surprised to find out that the Kindle doesn’t offer such interactive games (or interactive content in general for that matter). I started contemplating doing something about it.

The team

First thing you realize when at Haas, is that you have access to top-notch talent – not only within your class but also in the greater Haas community. I shared my idea with a classmate with vast experience in sales and Business Development in tech, a classmate’s spouse who is a brilliant developer and another classmate’s spouse who is an IT wizard. Together, we started turning this idea into a reality.

Haas

CET In addition to talent, Haas (and Berkeley in general) provides numerous tools to support entrepreneurs. It stars with the Lester center, which hosts the Berkeley Business Plan competition, and there are many other, smaller, startup competitions where you get a chance to present your idea and get feedback from experienced entrepreneurs and investors. There is also the Life as an Entrepreneur Speaker Series in which every week successful innovators come and share their experience from starting their business. Naturally, there is also support for such activities in the curriculum, such as the Entrepreneurship Workshop which I’m taking next semester, and is providing students with ongoing guidance, support and access to resources during their company’s  first stages.

Puzux

AssortedSudokuCover After several months of hard work and constant technological improvements, and forming partnerships with content providers, we launched puzux.com with a set of three crossword books and four Sudoku books for the Amazon Kindle. We are the first to offer interactive crosswords for the Kindle, and the first to offer advanced Sudoku capabilities (such as note-taking) for the device. Ultimately we aim to become leaders in providing quality interactive content to eReaders, as well as to establish a vivid community of people who enjoy mind puzzles and want to share this passion with others. So far, our books are selling extremely well on the Kindle store, and while the hard work is far from ending (and will hopefully never end), it is an absolutely fantastic (and highly recommended) experience.

Concerts

Inspiration comes in different forms…One of the biggest perks of coming here to the US is having access to the world’s greatest musicians. Although most of the musicians we really love are already dead, the wealth of shows offers something for everyone, and so we got to see some pretty awesome shows so far.

We started off with Pearl Jam at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival. The band re-recorded it’s debut album Ten and went on a tour following its release. Since we arrived a little late, at some point – about a quarter mile from stage probably – the crowd got so, well, crowded, that it was impossible to get through. Nice thing about shows in the US though, is that the sound is so absolutely excellent that you can hear every note and every drum bit from everywhere within the golden State park, where the festival took place.

Last month we had an amazing week which started with the Pixies on Tuesday and ended with Leonard Cohen on Friday. The Pixies are on a Doolittle tour, which – as the name implies – include all their hits from this masterpiece album plus some of their greatest hits from other albums.

And what an unforgettable show it was! It’s hard to describe how four (not so young) musicians can deliver such power, such energy and such authenticity. The band performed the songs just as they were recorded, with only the extra boost of a live show. The sound – as already noted – was immaculate, and the entire show was accompanied by fantastic video art, mostly in Sepia, moving between old movies and footage of the band members making faces at the camera. Sweet and sweaty 90 minutes passed in a snap.

Some Pixies love for your viewing pleasure:

Here Comes Your Man

Hey

Wave of Mutilation

Where Is My Mind?

Leonard Cohen visited Israel in September and we were quite upset we didn’t get to see him there. Fortunately, we found out he is closing his tour not far from here, in San Jose. So we went, and – well, it was fantastic. Unsurprisingly, very different from the Pixies. Cohen introduced a group of super musicians all wrapped in a flawless musical adaptation. Classic even. I don’t think I have ever heard backup vocalists getting so much air time in any other show. Cohen captured the hearts of the people by playing every song in his repertoire, standing, running, jumping, kneeling. 3 full hours, and the crowd just refused to go home, going into standing ovation four or five times throughout the evening.

>play Conference @Haas

Last year I wrote about organizing the Gaming panel for the 2008 >play conference. Loyal to my infrequent-posting policy, I never got to write about the conference itself. And so time went by and – surprise, surprise – >play 09 came knocking at the door.

Our Panel

Remembering the great time I had last year, I volunteered to organize a panel for this conference as well. Part of a great team of first and second year students, we succeeded in attracting an excellent lineup for our panel, which included Arash Amel (moderator) , Screen Digest Research Director, Digital Media; Stacy Nagata, NBC Universal, VP, Digital Entertainment Strategy & Operations; Franz Kurath AT&T, Executive Director, Broadband Content; Kevin Yen, YouTube, Director of Strategic Partnerships; and Danae Ringelmann, CFA, IndieGoGo, Founder, COO/CFO.

Having such great panelists guaranteed a vivid discussion on future business models and monetization opportunities for media providers. Gather Your Crowd posted a great review of their impressions of the discussion.

Other Panels and Keynotes

Other than the Panel I was directly involved with, the conference also featured two Keynote speakers: Opening the event was John Lilly, CEO of Mozilla, who was interviewed by Om Malik and provided some intriguing statements including a mention of a Mozilla app for the iPhone (more on this keynote from GigaOm). The closing keynote was given by Brad Horowitz, VP of Product Management at Google (responsible for Apps – including gmail, docs, calendar, voice and more). This keynote held no surprises or announcements, but rather an overview of Google’s offering in the apps space.

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Bard Horowitz’s Keynote

The Expo

An extremely cool part of the conference is the Expo, where many startups and established companies showcase their product. This year we hosted companies such as Boxee, NeuroSky, StumbleUpon, SugarSync, Brightkite and many others. Basically this means lots of LCD screens full of cool stuff!

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Preparing the expo Trying NeuroSky
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Hanging around at the expo, trying cool stuff…

Sign me up for next year! Any early-bird discounts?

10 Weeks Later…

Another major milestone in the MBA experience is now behind me. Summer internship – Done.

Needless to say, it was one exciting experience. For ten weeks I got to work as a Product Management intern on one of the most exciting, innovative products out there – the Amazon Kindle, which is almost single-handedly responsible for creating a vivid eBook industry.

Lab126

Kindle is developed at Lab126, an Amazon subsidiary located in Cupertino, California. While small, it’s hard to miss how passionate and smart are the people who work on the Kindle. It was a fascinating experience, moving from reading about a product and see how product decisions are interpreted from the outside, to understanding how and why such decisions are really being made.

On the personal level, it was an opportunity for me to get exposed to many new aspects of product management – Hardware, B2C, Consumer Electronics and many other topics that I was not familiarized with during my years at B2B. It was also a great opportunity to get exposure some of the cultural differences not only between countries (yes, working in America is different), but also between two very successful companies.

Seattle

Another great aspect of the summer was having several opportunities to visit Seattle. Apparently, I am still a sucker for big cities (New York anyone?) and Seattle definitely delivers its share of tall buildings, ongoing activities, excellent restaurants and a vivid music scene. Moreover, I visited Seattle for four times, during March, June, July and August, and not even once had it rained. I feel deceived…

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Seattle from the sea A friendly Seattle puppy

Anyhow, that was fun. Full-time job search – here I come!

The First Haas Talent Show

Every semester, the Haas MBA program office approaches the students and invites ideas for new initiatives. These student proposals are then reviewed by the program office, and some of them get funded based on various criteria. Emily from our class (who is also in my awesome IBD team) proposed to hold a talent show celebrating the many talents in our school on various areas such as music, dance and comedy.

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As expected, the program office loved this idea and granted a small initial  funding to get the initiative up and running. Like all great managers, Emily immediately focused on recruiting her supporting team that will turn the event into a success. I volunteered to coordinate the musical part of the evening (I figured that that’s the best way of forcing myself to start a band actually perform on the evening).

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With a great team of people involved, we started planning the event. Soon enough, we were getting more and more people on the lineup, with performances ranging between rock bands, acoustic singers (including our dean!), a variety of dancing acts (Indian, Latin, Salon), classic pieces, opera and even a comedy act. It was clear to us from the beginning that we want a professional evening, one that is taken seriously by both the participants and the audience, therefore we urged the participants to practice and nominated some talented MCs to lead the event.

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and what a night it was. The 300 people who packed the auditorium we rented were very absolutely fascinated by the amount of talent that was discovered on stage. Even those of us who were involved in organizing the event could hardly imagine how wonderful this night turned out to be. And for me personally, it was an opportunity to remember how awesome it is to play on stage with a real band.

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It is now at the hands of the incoming class of 2011 to make this a lasting Haas tradition. We count on you, guys!

(pictures taken by the talented Chris Quek)

First Year? Done!

It finally happened. Like all great writers I am also the victim of a brutal writers’ block. And – just like all great writers – there’s no better way to deal with one than to write about it.

I’m writing this post from my apartment in Finland, where I am currently working on my IBD project. This project, of course, will get several posts of its own once (if?) this block condition is finally resolved.

In the meanwhile, I am proud to report (with quite a surprise) that the first year of school is over. Two of the four semester of school are behind us and the next months are marked by returning to work after almost a year of being a student. While I am extremely excited to start my work on the Kindle, I still find it hard to believe that I”m no longer a first-year.

Allowing my writers’ block getting its full attention and respect, here’s a small slideshow with highlights of the first year in Berkeley. Many of the events on these pictures are still waiting for their appearance in the famous “blogging the past” feature of this blog, which will be written – well, you know when…
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City of Angels (or Lost in Traffic) – Part I

Last week DMEC (Haas’ Digital Media & Entertainment Club) held its annual trip to LA, which for me was also a first visit in the city. We had a packed agenda, courtesy of many club members who utilized their networks to assure an awesome trip (and orchestrated by our ultra-capable co-VP careers, Richard).

DAY I – Time Warner, Blizzard, Alumni, Traffic

DSC01719 We started the first day visiting Time Warner in Burbank. We met with people from various departments – from the DVD catalog marketing, to Content Acquisition; from DVD Production to Digital Marketing. One of the key takeaways from this meeting was the immense impact that new content delivery method and the digital channels have on the thinking of everyone in the industry. These forces are highly acknowledged by the industry expert and raise tons of fascinating questions related to the existing business models. Two initiatives that the Time Warner people mentioned that are highly impacted by the digital content revolution are the inclusion of digital copies of movies with the purchase of standard DVDs and the Warner Archive – a new online service that allows users to select rare movies from the WB archive and have them specially burned and delivered to them personally (instead of going into mass production as was done in the past).

 DSC01726 Our next station was Blizzard Entertainment. We were extremely excited about this unique opportunity to visit their secretive labs and we weren’t disappointed. Our visit started in a screening room where we watched some of the new trailers for Starcraft 2, followed by a presentation by HR and Marketing managers, moved to a tour in the company’s museum and R&D space (which is probably the coolest working space I’ve ever seen) and ended with an open discussion at one of the cafeterias. DSC01744The most impressive thing about Blizzard is their focus on their brand equity and the clear emphasis on maintaining this high quality perception. Not only that, but it seems that the people in Blizzard really know their target audience and take great care in listening and meeting their expectations.

 

DSC01749 The day ended with a free-food-and-drinks (yay!) mixer with Haas Alumni at the Bodega Wine Bar. Oh…and there was traffic…it seems as if every road in LA is completely blocked between 5am-11pm. no matter which road you choose, it takes hours to get from one part of the city to another. It was the first time I really understood those parts of The Entourage where Ari needs two hours to get to a meeting at 12pm. I mean, what place on earth has traffic jams at 12pm? At least for us it was a great opportunity to bond with our DMEC car-mates.

Coming up next: NBC Universal, UCLA mixer and a Beverly-Hills brunch!

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Web 2.0 Expo Impressions

Reception Sponsored by Palm One of the perks for tech-savvy people like me studying here at Berkeley is the proximity to some of the most exciting conferences of the industry. When Amir, our VP Academics, arranged the DMEC club members free pass for the Web 2.0 Expo that happens this week in San Francisco, I immediately took this opportunity and went to hear and see what’s new in the web 2.0 arena. Mr. Elop mentioned that Microsoft is going for a converged approach and will offer free, ad-supported lightweight versions to complement the more rich standalone products. He also mentioned that Microsoft is aiming to become the most interoperable company in the world. My favorite quote: “I love my Kindle, I wish we (MS) had such a device…”

The Keynotes

There were quite a few interesting keynotes opening the conference. They can be divided into 3 main categories:

  • Speakers who specifically addressed the developers on site, such as Mark Carges from eBay who pitched developers to use their platform (and specifically PayPal’s) and Michael Abbott from Palm who encouraged the community to start developing applications for Palm’s new WebOS which is running on the new Palm Pre (if this device actually delivers what the demos promise, it is one awesome gadget)
  • Speakers who discussed the impact of web 2.0 on art, design and society, such as Amanda Koster from SalaamGarage and John Maeda, president of the Rhod Island School of Design (RISD), who talked about simplicity and about creative leadership.

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  • Speakers who talked about the future of web 2.0 – first Tim O’Reilly that made a point about  the power of less and argued that we should try and apply Moore’s law to problems outside of the tech industry (make things smaller, not bigger). He also talked about Web Squared – the co-impact the web and the real world have on each other. He then interviewed Stephen Elop, head of the Business Division in Microsoft and the guy responsible for products such as Office and SharePoint. They had a very interesting discussion about the impact the cloud will have on traditional software licensing models. Mr. Elop explained that Microsoft is taking a converged approach and will offer free, ad-supported light-weight versions of office to complement the richer stand-alone desktop applications. He also mentioned that Microsoft intends to be the most interoperable company on the planet. My favorite quote, however, was “I love my Kindle…I wish we (MS) had such a device”

The Expo

Many companies presented in the main expo hall, and unfortunately I couldn’t even begin going through all of them. I did stop by at some that raised my personal interest, such as:

DSCF3252 ProtoShare – Developed a prototyping tool for rapid creating of UI mock-ups. This intrigued me since I was working on a similar tool in the past and I was really impressed with their product (well, the demo, at least). They basically allow non-developers (let’s say, Product Managers) to create a fully navigational web-application that can be the basis of further discussion and can easily changed as necessary. Once the prototype is ready, it can be handed to the development team who now have a clear picture of the product (rather than communicating via word files, static ppts etc.). Another use case would be for startups in the initial fund raising phase who want to give their potential investor a feel of the final product.

g.ho.st – A fully functional online desktop environment, based on Adobe Flash that offers a desktop that goes with you everywhere. While the company has been around for sometime, they greatly improved performance, added lots of applications that are now available on their environment and increased the storage offered (5GB for files + 3GB for mails, and extra storage for every friend you bring to the service). It seems to me that Microsoft Live Mesh will pose a big threat on these guys, however, the company also bears a social vision as its R&D is done by joint teams of Israeli and Palestinian developers and is a living proof of the potential that technology has to bridge over differences and conflicts.

ooVoo – An interesting video chat application that allows up to 6 different people to conduct video calls online. Although it seems like nothing new initially, after talking to the people in the booth it seems as if they have quite a few ideas regarding monetization (such as SMBs) and they also provide an extensive API for developers to build online video-heavy applications.

Meanwhile, in the real world (just outside the expo)…

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Personal Blogging Aids

Disappointed with myself on my poor blogging rate, I’ve decided to add two new features to my blog: Blogging the Past posts will allow me to post on events that have long happend and I never found the time to write about. Bloglets will be shorter posts, where I can share thoughts that go through my mind quickly without the fuss of a full-blown post.

This is actually my first Bloglet. Weird.