Check out the latest video from the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, shot and edited by yours truly. Also, if you are in the Boston/Cambridge area, don't miss the sexy pitches of this year's MIT $100K finalists during the Business Plan Contest Finale (May 12 at 7pm in MIT's Kresge Auditorium).
With my wedding coming up this weekend, I've got marriage on the brain. I'm designing ceremony programs in my sleep. My feet start spontaneously waltzing on my walk to work. I see seating charts in my Excel spreadsheets. Salesforce.com is looking suspiciously like my Crate & Barrel registry. Basically, I'm finding parallels with marriage in everything I'm doing, so it seems only natural to draw some connections between my upcoming nuptials and another huge committment in my life, b-school.
(sidenote: I hope my wedding cake looks as delicious as these cupcakes, courtesy of CleverCupcakes)
Parallels between B-School and Marriage
- The application process is long and hard: The seven years I dated my fiancee were far more enjoyable than the seven months I spent preparing my b-school apps, but required about seventy times more work.
- Leaving halfway through is frowned upon: There's really no such thing as a transfer or leave-of-absence in b-school. Like marriage, you're stuck with what you've picked so make sure you love it!
- It's really expensive: B-school costs a lot. I'm told that it is a good investment. Weddings cost a lot. I'm told they aren't such a great investment. My wife will cost a lot. I'm told that she is a fabulous investment.
- You marry the whole family: There's a saying that when you get married, you marry the whole family. When you pick a b-school, you also get the whole family. You get the broader university and its resources, the alumni network, the employer relationships, the geographic location, and the stereotypes. Make sure you like the "extended family" of your MBA program. It will have a major impact on your level of happiness.
- The benefits last forever: While my MIT Sloan MBA may not be as attractive, caring, or talkative as my fiancee, it will also make a terrific life partner. For the rest of my life I'll be able to enjoy the career and network benefits that come with being a Sloanie, just like I'll be able to enjoy the companionship that comes with marrying the most incredible woman I've ever met.
Most MBA summer internships come with their fair share of cool opportunities. Many interns get to enjoy baseball games, lunches with senior execs, weekend boondoggles, and company swag, but it isn't everyday that an intern gets to star in a music video.
Thanks to Rebecca Corliss and the Marketing team at HubSpot for letting me break out my inner b-boy in HubSpot's latest inbound marketing video "Baby Got Leads."
With the venture community abuzz over Netscape co-founder and serial entrepreneur Marc Andreessen's new venture fund, I happened to fortuitously stumble upon Marc's personal blog. I'm glad I did, because I discovered the best collection of career advice that I've ever read. Marc's advice should be printed, bound, and placed in the career development office of every university in the country. The "Pmarca Guide to Career Planning" is honest, insightful, and a must read for any entrepreneur, undergraduate, pre-MBA, or MBA student.
I've done my best to distill Marc's "Pmarca Guide to Career Planning" down to its golden nuggets, along with my personal takeaways. Marc's original articles are linked from each section.
How to Approach Your Career(Original Pmarca article: Part 1, Opportunity)
Part 1 of the "Pmarca Guide to Career Planning" presents an opportunity-oriented mindset from which to evaluate and take action on your career.
Favorite Quote: "The world is a very malleable place. If you know what you want, and you go for it with maximum energy and drive and passion, the world will often reconfigure itself around you much more quickly and easily than you would think."
- Don't plan your career, instead plan to take advantage of opportunities as they arise or you create them.
- Great opportunities are rare. When a great opportunity finds you, count yourself lucky and jump on it. Do not let it pass you by just because it is different or risky.
- Have the energy and drive to create your own opportunities. The world will adjust to your ambition.
- Listen to your gut. If you don't like what you are doing, look for something else. If you see an opportunity to do something you think you'd love, DO IT!
- Jobs are like investments. They have a potential return and a specific risk profile.
- Know the amount of risk you can handle at a given point in your life.
- Taking a risk is a good thing, especially when it is tied to a great opportunity.
- Taking the "safe" career path of working for a big company can be riskier than you think due to the threat of layoffs and the danger of pigeonholing yourself into a skillset that is only useful at other big companies.
- Understand the opportunity cost of your decisions. Every decision to pursue one opportunity is a decision NOT to pursue another opportunity.
Personal Takeaway: As Wayne Gretzky said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Early in my consulting career I didn't take a lot of shots. I worked hard and hoped my hard work was noticed. It wasn't until I started being proactive in seeking out new projects, relationships, and leadership roles that things started to pick up big time. I found better projects, was promoted early, got into bschool, became a leader of the MIT $100K, and secured an awesome summer internship. Some of these opportunities were risky, stressful, or completely overwhelming, but the returns were invaluable.
Where and What to Study(Original Pmarca article: Part 2, Skills and Education)
Part 2 of the "Pmarca Guide to Career Planning" tackles some controversial topics around where to go to school, what to study, and what skills to acquire.
Favorite Quotes: "Graduating with a technical degree is like heading out into the real world armed with an assault rifle instead of a dull knife"
"Get into the real world and really challenge yourself -- expose yourself to risk -- put yourself in situations where you will succeed or fail by your own decisions and actions, and where that success or failure will be highly visible."
- Pick a practical major that is useful in the real world. Engineering, hard science (chemistry, biology, physics), economics, math, or computer science are good. Liberal arts degrees are useless if you want to have an impact in the real world.
- Graduate degrees are unnecessary if you have a practical undergrad degree.
- If you don't have a practical major, get a graduate degree in something substantive (business, economics, hard science).
- Go to the best school you can. Don't worry about being a small fish in a big pond. Get in the best pond possible and surround yourself with the best fish. This will yield the best opportunities.
- Get practical experience while you are in school. Get a term-time job. Pursue internships and co-ops. Real world experience will be invaluable during your job search.
- Learn communication, management, sales, finance, and international cultures.
- If you are young (in college or recent grad), from an upper class or upper middle class background, and especially if you are at a top-tier school, you have probably never really challenged yourself. You have worked hard, but you have led an orchestrated existence free from failure. You need to fail ASAP. You need to botch a project, be screamed at by your boss, or even be fired. And when that happens, you need to pick yourself back up and keep on going.
Personal Takeaway: I had a hard time with this section, mainly because it rang so true. It is slightly insulting when someone calls your undergraduate degree a "dull knife" or accuses you of living an "orchestrated existence" but I think Marc is right on-the-money. I studied History in college because I had a romantic notion that college should be spent on intellectual pursuits. History didn't help me get a job. History didn't help me get into bschool. In truth, I barely remember any of the dates, wars, movements, or theories I studied. Entering the workforce was like a cold shower - I had never actually created anything of value to the real world and didn't really know how to go about doing it. So, I learned the hard way - by failing. Some memorable failures included botching a presentation to a client's CIO and getting screamed at for missing a project deadline. Learning to recover from these failures were some of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my career.
Where to Work (Original Pmarca article: Part 3, Where to Go and Why)
Part 3 of the "Pmarca Guide to Career Planning" provides advice on how to pick the right industry, company, and city.
Favorite Quote: "As an industry ages, the vitality drains out until all that's left is a set of ossified remnants in the form of oligopolostic entities of which you would find being a part to be completely soul-killing."
- If you want to have an impactful career, pick an industry that is young, growing, and rapidly changing.
- You know an industry is young when the founders of its key companies are still alive and actively involved.
- Sometimes old industries have become so old and out of touch that there are fantastic opportunities to reinvent them with new companies and new practices.
- Be at the center of your industry. Do this by working for the best company in the industry or starting a company focused on the biggest opportunity in the industry.
- Be at the geographic center of your industry. Live in the city where there are the most compelling opportunities for your industry. Examples: technology in Silicon Valley, politics in DC, entertainment in LA, financial services in NYC.
- There is a tradeoff between the current importance of a company or city and the impact you can make in a company or city. This is the tradeoff between an established industry leader and an emerging startup, or between an established industry center and the potential for international expansion.
- Working for a young high-growth company is the best way to get experience. You will do more stuff, get promoted quickly, get used to an environment where change is the only constant, and hopefully have a game-changing company on your resume. Marc points out that having Netscape from the early 90s, eBay from the late 90s, or Google from the early 00s on your resume is a career maker and easily as valuable as an advanced degree.
- Don't go to a young high-growth company just to bail when the company hits a bump in the road. Learn from the hard parts and then don't make the same mistakes when you are in the same position.
- Once you've cut your teeth at a young high-growth company, go to an early stage startup or start your own company. Be the next young, high-growth, industry changing company!
Personal Takeaway: I would argue that consulting is also a good way to kick off your career. You will learn a lot, do a lot of stuff, get promoted quickly, and build a great network. But, a word of caution, consulting is still not quite like the real world. While you may create something valuable during your project/case/engagement with a client, at the end of the day you will leave that client (and whatever you created) behind. I'm not sure that you can have a real, tangible, meaningful impact on an industry as a career consultant... but that is a topic for another blog post.
Let me know if you found Marc Andreessen's "Pmarca Guide to Career Planning" and/or my take on it helpful. Even though I'm not sure that I would have had the foresight to listen to it, this sort of advice would have been incredibly helpful as went through college and then embarked on my career.
Image of Marc Andreessen from:
Today my summer employer HubSpot launched their latest viral video, a hilarious twist on the ED ads from Viagra, Levitra, Cialis, and others. I was fortunate enough to take a bit role, providing the doctor-esque voiceover at the end. Check out the video. Who knows, you may start to experience overwhelming lead flow!
UPDATE: I'm (officially) a HubSpot Viral Video Star
A few days I ago I wrote about my mission to return to the first page of Google results for my own name. The Facebook profile of an anonymous Brian Cantwell had risen to the top of the Google results, knocking my Twitter page page to the purgatory of SEO: Google's second page.
Well, the mission was shortlived, and successful beyond my wildest dreams. I'm happy to report that at some point over the weekend, my Twitter page made it back into the first 10 results. Also interesting was that the anonymous Mr. Facebook Brian Cantwell fell off the face of Google entirely, and results for more deserving Brian Cantwells like Mr. IMDB Brian Cantwell and Mr. Brian Cantwell-Smith took his place.
Even more encouraging was that today my Facebook profile arrived on the first page of Google results, surpassing my Twitter page to be the top result for this Brian Cantwell (maybe that vanity url was a good idea?).
What have I learned from this Google whirlwind? Here are my three takeaways:
- Keep the content coming - My Twitter page's slip from the first page of Google results coincided with a few days where I wasn't tweeting as often. Frequently posting interesting content, whether as links on Twitter or as posts on a blog, is a must for getting found on Google.
- Open up your Facebook profile - Until this past weekend, my Facebook profile was closed off to Google. This made sense back in the earlier days of Facebook when their privacy settings weren't very robust, but now you can customize the privacy settings for every aspect of your profile. You have nothing to lose by making your Facebook profile available to search results and simply restricting your public profile to the information you want to show the world. For example, my public profile is limited to my goofy photo and things that I like (am a fan of). It looks like this:
- Don't Get Caught Up in the Day-to-Day - I know this seems like major hypocrisy since I clearly got caught up in the day-to-day last Friday and decided to take on an internet full of Brian Cantwells as a result. But, I've learned that it doesn't pay to obsess over the daily shifts in Google rank, particularly for infrequently searched terms like my own name. A much better use of time is developing and sticking to a content creation and SEO plan that works over the long term. As long as I can get a page related to this Brian Cantwell on the first page of Google results for "Brian Cantwell" on most days, then I am not going to sweat the occasional day when someone like Mr. Facebook Brian Cantwell grabs my spot.
Dear Brian Cantwell,
Yes, you Brian Cantwell. The one with the Facebook page
and the friends named Alfio Previtera, Jillian Scarangelli, Sam Fran Scavuzzo, and Lydia Hernandez.
I don't know you Mr. Facebook Brian Cantwell, but your recent presence as the number two Google result when someone searches for "Brian Cantwell"
has not gone unnoticed. I don't remember you ever showing up before when I've self-Googled
, yet you have miraculously risen from the depths of Google to take the number two spot and (incidentally) knocked me from the coveted first page.
Since I started using Google in 2001, information about me has been relegated to the far reaches of Google page results. I was ok with that, because the folks at the top of the "Brian Cantwell" ranks seemed like they deserved the honor. This past April, my twitter profile finally made it to the first page of Google results
for "Brian Cantwell." One of my goals over the past year has been to expand my online presence, and the self-Google page rank is one small (albeit self-indulgent) indicator of my progress. My current effort is this blog, B-School with Brian
, which is still very much a work in progress. I'm working hard at creating and optimizing interesting content for current and future b-school students, as well as folks interested in entrepreneurship and marketing.
There are many Brian Cantwells in the world. On Facebook alone there are 27. I've come to grips with being less accomplished and less interesting than several of these Brian Cantwells. Some of my favorite name-mates are:
- Mr. Stanford Brian Cantwell is a very accomplished Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford. He is literally a rocket scientist, and entirely deserving of top billing on Google.
- Mr. IMDB Brian Cantwell looks like a pretty skilled digital artist in the movie business, bringing his talents to blockbuster films like Iron Man, Wall-E, and The Matrix Reloaded.
- Mr. Brian Cantwell-Smith, a CS genius with multiple MIT degrees, has several publications on computer science, metaphysics, epistemology, and other things that I can't begin to understand. I'm proud to share an MIT connection with Mr. Brian Cantwell-Smith and, despite the hyphen in his last name, I happily cede my Google rank to his accomplishments.
- Mr. Political Donor Brian Cantwell gave $9,300 in political donations in 2008. As a cash-strapped MBA student, I can't afford $9 in political donations, much less $9,000, so Mr. Political Donor Brian Cantwell has my respect for his political involvement.
- Mr. Travels with Brian Cantwell writes fantastic travel posts for the Seattle Times. My favorite post is one where Mr. Travels with Brian Cantwell actually discovers Mr. Stanford Brian Cantwell through Google and the two Brian Cantwells go to Ireland together to reconnect with their shared ancestry. Coincidentally, I'll be in Ireland for my honeymoon this summer and I plan to visit the same ruined church and Cantwell Fada statue in County Kilkenny that these two Brian Cantwells explored two years ago.
Which brings me back to you, Mr. Facebook Brian Cantwell. How have you risen to number two so quickly and with seemingly minimal effort? Where is your remarkable content? Where is your personal website, your blog, your twitter, your vanity url? Why, of the 27 Brian Cantwell profiles on Facebook, is your profile tops? Please accept my humble apologies if you are, in fact, any of the Brian Cantwells mentioned above. Yet, for some reason I doubt you are.
So, Mr. Facebook Brian Cantwell, I am writing to inform you that your unintentional challenge has been accepted. Inspired by the tremendous accomplishments and remarkable content produced by my name-mates Mr. Stanford Brian Cantwell, Mr. IMDB Brian Cantwell, Mr. Brian Cantwell-Smith, and Mr. Travels with Brian Cantwell, I will be employing all the weapons in my inbound marketing arsenal to take you out. I am on a mission to regain first-page status and I have you in my sights.
As a summer intern at HubSpot, I've been drinking a lot of "inbound marketing" kool-aid over the past few weeks. For the uninitiated, inbound marketing is a new way of looking at marketing that focuses on getting found by customers through the web rather than putting tremendous effort and expense into finding customers through direct mail, TV, magazines, etc. There is a great article on the topic on HubSpot's blog. This paradigm shift in the marketing world has been generating some press and HubSpot (a startup that sells software to help small businesses with their inbound marketing) is at the center of the conversation.
The son of a lifelong marketer, I was skeptical about the efficacy of inbound marketing. As a kid, I had loved checking out the TV and print ads my Dad brought home. These ads were placed on TV shows and in magazines where my Dad's company was hoping to find customers. The ads were funny or catchy, and the whole process seemed to work pretty well. I didn't become an inbound marketing convert until we put it into practice this past year at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.
The MIT $100K is similar to the small businesses that HubSpot serves. We have a tiny marketing team and extremely limited resources (the vast majority of the money we raise from sponsors goes toward cash prizes for winning teams). In order to get the most bang for our marketing buck, we need to make sure that our marketing efforts will be successful in connecting with the right audience. We faced a particularly difficult challenge this past year in promoting and raising money for an Entrepreneurship Competition in the face of a financial crisis.
Sombit Mishra and I, now Co-Managing Directors of the MIT $100K, got our start on the $100K's Elevator Pitch Contest marketing team. One of our first projects was to create a series of promotional videos that we posted to Facebook and YouTube in an effort to drum up excitement for the event.
The videos pulled in hundreds of views and were very successful in increasing the number of participants and attendees at the Elevator Pitch Contest. This experience drove home one of the core lessons of inbound marketing - create remarkable content. We continued to create funny, inspirational, or informative videos throughout the year. I've created a WebVoter with links to all the MIT $100K Videos. Check them out and vote for your favorite!
Once we had remarkable content, whether in the form of videos or relevant contest information on our website, we promoted it through multiple channels. Over the course of the year, we increasingly relied on social media channels like our Twitter account to publish information and notifications. We also created landing pages for individual contests (Elevator Pitch, Executive Summary, and Business Plan) and optimized our website so that mit100k.org is the top or near-top result for Google searches related to MIT, entrepreneurship, and business plan contests.
Thanks to our inbound marketing efforts, the $100K enjoyed a record year. The 2009 MIT $100K Business Plan Contest had 260 entries, the most ever in the contest's 20 year history. But, we still have a long way to go. The $100K could do a better job of creating remarkable content to help student entrepreneurs at MIT and beyond build and launch their businesses. In the next year look for the MIT $100K to re-launch our website, start a blog, post relevant elevator pitch, executive summary, and business plan resources, and of course continue to roll out more hilarious videos.
As I was writing my post on why I use Twitter, I was curious to see if the Twittersphere shared my views. Do most twitterers use Twitter to find and filter information? Do they use it to connect with friends? Do they use it as a content distribution platform?
In true Twitter fashion, I tweeted my question and got several enlightening responses. Keep the conversation going, either in the comments below, or on twitter with the hashtag #whytwitter.
Ten Reasons to Use Twitter
@LoriOnTwitter: To obtain skills for becoming social media marketing specialist, meet and listen to experts, find webinar learning opportunities
@timlawton: makes me feel like I have friends
@annverbin: To keep up with friends and find out about interesting links
@mgeorgieva: because you become more creative in coming up with new ideas to attract followers. You actively look for news and events!
@MikeNorman22: So many reasons! As a centralized news aggregator, a platform to publish new ideas, and a vehicle for social change.
@elizaburke: I use twitter to get news and information in real time
@hmryan72: I tweet because often the replies I get, make me laugh out loud when I really need a break in my day.
@nonprofitadvice: to try and get ahead of the technology curve. It's about what is next not what was.
@matthewglidden: Top Twitter reason: Close-to-instant tackling of problems
@DhruvMehrotra: Twitter is part educational part entertainment for me. As a supplement to news, it helps me quickly learn happenings in my area of interest
Yesterday my MIT Sloan classmate @amandapey (check out her b-school blog) tweeted about a study that compared click-through rates on links posted to Twitter and links posted to Facebook. Twitter blew Facebook away with nearly double the click-throughs, despite having 7x smaller test audience. That got me thinking about why I use Twitter and what I find so useful about it.
One of the biggest problems I have as a b-school student is information consumption. When I was working as a consultant, I could focus my information consumption efforts on general news (NYT) and sources relevant to my job - mainly marketing (AdAge, Colloquy), consumer products (GMA Smart Brief), and the 5-10 weekly newsletters and research findings that my company sent out.
For me, the whole point of b-school has been to broaden my knowledge base and experiment with multiple areas of expertise. In order to stay on top of the most relevant information I need to consume information on a much wider variety of topics than ever before. RSS feeds, daily emails, article aggregation sites like Digg and Reddit, and the major news media outlets are either overwhelming or insufficient. In this age of distributed information, there really was no one-stop-shop source for the best content... until Twitter.
I go to Twitter to click on links. By following people who represent all of my interests (entrepreneurship, the MIT $100K, business school, social media, web/tech, marketing, the red sox, boston events, wine, and, of course, my future wife) and setting up saved searches for my favorite topics, I get a real-time stream of relevant information so that I can stay on top of trends and the latest news. I'm not surprised that Twitter had a much higher link click-through rate than Facebook, because that is exactly what I use Twitter for. I log in to Facebook to see what my friends are up to. I log in to Twitter to find and filter information - and information usually comes in the form of a link.
As I've mentioned before, I wish I had known about Twitter before b-school so that I could have engaged with the MBA community before setting foot on campus. If you are in b-school or heading there in the fall, I would definitely recommend getting active on Twitter. Hopefully you'll find it as useful as I have.