Friday 2 February 2007

Getting a career off the ground... or a business

It’s only the second day of February, 10 months from graduation day, but at 8am Careers Services have us in the auditorium for a 4-hour session to think about getting a job. The intention is to start working out what skills and experiences we have to offer and what our ideal jobs are.

If we contemplate what we really want to be doing, it’s often a far cry from we’ve been doing. For example, I’ve been doing marketing in the financial services industry in the UK. What I’d like to do - possibly - is to set up a business serving the tourism industry in Argentina. What’s the link?

Well, it’s a bit like the theory of six degrees of separation between you and anyone else in the world. Except in this case, it’s only 3 steps. Maximum. So, one option is to do the whole stretch in one leap. It’s more advisable, however, to get at least one common area, be it sector, role or region.

This afternoon, we have a class on entrepreneurship where we investigate the case of a MBA candidate (from another school), who presented his business plan for his entrepreneurship elective, thinking of commercialising the idea in an industry he had at best little knowledge of. He was torn to shreds by the panel. The point is, that Venture Capitalists are more interested in the team than the idea. Clearly, the opportunity must be fairly attractive but the VCs will not buy into the best money-making concept in the world if the wrong person is doing it.

So our MBA went off to get experience at a big name software company, learning everything he needed, while thoroughly re-writing his business plan. This time he attracted the funding he needed and got the company off the ground.

Well, it would have got off the ground if it hadn’t been for a French postal service strike lasting 2.5 months, in which 80% of his catalogues were forever lost. Unable to deal with the backlog, the postal service simply burned all commercial post stuck in the system! The business was all but dead. The money spent. No customers.

But the first 10% of catalogues had got through and produced great results. So he managed to get the same investors to plough another few million to relaunch. The long and the short of it is that there were other critical moments in the history of the company but that today it is listed on the NASDAQ and it’s worth several billion dollars. Our professor of entrepreneurship was one of the original investors. Well, it took 12 years to get a return but it was a huge gain.