We are done with our startup presentations and deliverables!
What a whirlwind it has been for all of us! From sustainable footwear to reframing early-stage education, from innovative crop development to customized orthopedic liners, we’ve seen it all over the last four months. With a single mission on our minds; bringing these novel ideas to consumers.
By challenging market segmentation, conducting customer deep dives, and engaging in debates over value propositions, we have moved the needle for these fledgling companies. I know my team has been so vested in the product and concept, it will be a challenge to move on to the upcoming adventures on our agendas. Or perhaps we’re a bit nostalgic since we bonded, and will now need to recalibrate within a new team and create new friendships and memories. Nevertheless, massive congratulations to my peers on achieving this milestone.
And we are not to fear any lack of intellectual challenge … before we know it, we will be in the thick of Innovation Week! But let’s save that for another post.
Onward to a well-earned break. Wishing everyone at IMD Business School and all blog readers a restful and fun Easter! Soak in some sunshine 🙂
It’s been a month since most of us moved and started calling Lausanne “home”. A lot has happened in the last 30 days and there are many ways in which we could measure it. If we go by the calendar, most days were filled with an overflow of information, from great classes with a couple of guest speakers to getting our personality test results and looking at ourselves with new eyes. If we go by meeting new people, we went from names on a WhatsApp group to people with wonderful life stories and a lot to learn from, we went from being acquaintances to classmates and are on the road to become great friends. If we go by changing our routines, this month meant going back to being students (something that was long forgotten by most of us) having classes for 8 hours a day and then spending the night reading and doing homework while trying to have a “life”. Either way, it was an overwhelming month in more ways than one, and it only takes one quick glance at the February calendar to know that January was actually just the beginning and things are about to get tough.
One of the things that will make our lives interesting was officially launched this past week. From day one we were talking about the Start-up project when we got the list of the 15 companies that the MBA 2019 class will be working for and were asked to select our favourite four. It also meant that we were being assigned to our study group, the groups of six that will be spending a lot of time together for the next couple of months. We got a few weeks to get to know each other and our work style before we met with our start-up at the end of the month. The day of the meeting you could feel the anxiety in the room, all of us wondering what it will be like, what are they expecting from us and what could we do to help them.
Meeting our start-up turned out to be less stressful than many of us expected, it meant meeting really passionate people working for an idea they really believe in. It also allowed us to bring all our experience to the table and start thinking outside the box, looking at problems from different angles while thinking how are we going to do this on top of all the classes, readings, homework, leadership and career exercises. Time management will for sure be something we are all tested on in the upcoming weeks and as the stress rises, is going to be fun to see how our dynamics change.
I close this post sharing this picture of one of the class speakers we had this month. The reading for the marketing class was about Tag Heuer and we had the pleasant surprise of having the protagonist of the case, Jean-Claude Biver, talk to us about his career. As my classmate Adrian puts it:
Jean-Claude Biver, former CEO of Blancpain, Hublot and most recently Tag Heuer, along with too many accomplishments to list. It was a masterclass in how to be creative in business and how to find your inner entrepreneurial spirit. Incredibly inspiring!
All in all, it was a great month that flew by and I can only look forward to what is to come!
Everybody in the class of 2019 knew that entrepreneurship forms a core part of the MBA programme here at IMD, but our first lecture on the subject wasted no time in revealing the reality of what today has become almost a mythologised pursuit.
The subject of our first case was Eat Me, a very popular restaurant here in Lausanne and winner of the coveted Best Swiss Gastro Award for 2018. This was the only time a restaurant from the French-speaking part of Switzerland had won the award. As it happens, I was already very familiar with Eat Me, having visited the restaurant numerous times over previous travels to Lausanne. Eat Me offers a novel concept, best described as international tapas. Guests choose multiple dishes to share, each coming from a different region of the world and country within that region. I can vouch that this format makes for a unique evening of exploring and discussing new tastes, with the added bonus that the food is delicious!
Despite Lausanne’s restaurant scene offering a lot more in the way of variety in recent years vs 7-10 years ago (so I’m told), I found myself going back to Eat Me again and again. So imagine my curiosity at learning how this amazing place came about and indeed who better to hear from than the founders themselves, Serena Shamash and her husband Mark Brownell, who put in a surprise visit towards the end of our lecture. To describe in full the many insights Serena and Mark shared with us would fail to do them justice, not to mention make this post a little lengthy, but some key messages resonated with us.
Do not live the Deferred Life Plan
The deferred life plan (all creative rights to Mr Randy Komissar) is simple and, not surprisingly, signs up not-so-enthusiastic participants everywhere. It goes:
Step 1 – do what you have to do Step 2 – do what you want to do
…..or so they tell you. But Serena Shamash had no such intention after completing her MBA at IMD in 2007 and knew her real passion lay in building things. Specifically Serena had a passion for creating and developing concepts. She also had a passion for travel and food. During a stint at BCG in Zurich, Serena realised that those two passions could be united to address what she assessed to be a significant problem in Switzerland – a lack of restaurant variety and uninteresting customer experience at most restaurants of that time. She decided to do something about it.
I think this message resonated with all of us. It is easy to fall into the trap, often neatly camouflaged by societal norms, of believing that in order to pursue our passions, we must first pay dues in the form of a reliable job that we may not like. We are here at IMD precisely because we do not intend to fall into that trap.
Do what you love, even if it’s not quite where you expected
Serena admitted that opening a restaurant was not the exact entrepreneurial endeavour she had imagined when thinking where to apply her passion for concept development, but the landscape of the Swiss restaurant market offered a problem that needed solving. This was also a major lesson for us in understanding entrepreneurship: Opportunities may present themselves in forms and places that you never expect, but you nevertheless have the ability to recognise and take advantage of them. Serena believed that her love of travel and international upbringing placed her perfectly for designing small international plates that would allow her customers not simply to consume food, but to discover it. She had gathered evidence from her network in Switzerland that there was a real desire and need for a restaurant format like this and she decided to make it a reality. I, for one, am glad she did…
Starting a business is not hard work, it’s really hard work
After finalising her concept and developing a working financial model for Eat Me, it took Serena two years to find a location. Rather a long time. Over the period Serena learned to become a hardened negotiator and not to let emotion get the better of her logic in pressured situations. Any would-be entrepreneurs would be wise to heed that lesson, for it is in the most highly charged emotional situations that the biggest mistakes are made.
It took two years to find a location, because it took that long to find a price that made sense. Serena might easily have succumbed to a desire to get going and have paid whatever, but I suspect we wouldn’t have heard from her during our lecture if she had. The dedication required to keep going and stay committed to her vision, despite setback after setback, is awe inspiring.
Serena also shared that, after finding a location in Lausanne and successfully opening Eat Me, she worked 9am to 4am, 7 days a week for a year or so. Creating something is difficult, very difficult, and it requires courage and unparalleled work ethic. Anyone who might have believed in the popular portrayal of entrepreneurship as a teenager creating an app in his bedroom and selling it to Google for $30m a couple of months later would have been rudely awoken by the reality described by Serena that entrepreneurship is about being all-in all of the time and taking knocks on the chin as they come…and they will come.
You need support
Everyone needs the support of those close to them, especially entrepreneurs! Eat Me was the creation of both Serena and Mark. Indeed Mark has now joined Eat Me full-time, having supported Serena and helped build the business hitherto while working a demanding job as an executive. This part of the story of Eat Me resonated strongly, for arguably without Mark’s support over the years, Serena would not have been able to become the entrepreneur she has and we wouldn’t have Eat Me. I think the wider point is that people around entrepreneurs and the support networks entrepreneurs have are often overlooked in popular accounts. We all need support to have courage. Mark and Serena now run Eat Me together, which is in itself an admirable feat for a married couple (I’m not sure I could work with my wife…!).
We are deeply grateful to Serena and Mark for sharing their story with us and imparting just some of the passion and dedication required to create a business. This was a fascinating introduction to entrepreneurship and, looking ahead, our start-up projects will be kicking off imminently. The 90 of us are looking forward to getting stuck in.
For anyone in Lausanne or Geneva, my advice would be try out this place called Eat Me.
A critical piece of the silicon valley puzzle is Stanford University, and an important part of the Stanford magic is Sillicon Valley. It was therefore fitting that we started our 3rd and final day in the valley at Stanford, with a talk from Adjacent Professor Mike Lyons about the origin of the ecosystem there and how Stanford plays an important part in supporting entrepreneurs. Continue reading “Silicon Valley – day 3”→
Spring arrived to Lausanne couple of weeks ago and with the warm rays, suddenly everyone’s shoulders seem to be less bended under the workload. Perhaps also because we are ticking the check marks on the MBA map, delivering presentations and closing projects, maturing throughout the program.
One of the major events this week here at IMD were the final presentations on our start-up projects to a panel of venture capitalists and business angels. Over the past four months, we tasted the life of the brave ones, who are coming with answers to industrial and societal problems, the visionaries, the inventors, the disruptors: the entrepreneurs. As our favourite Entrepreneurship Professor Benoit Leleux says: “These are totally different kinds of animals, but it makes a lot of fun to work with them.”
My team had the pleasure to confirm Benoit’s words. Our start-up evolved rapidly over the short period of time; here the business development happens in the units of weeks, building upon the information, contacts and networks established in the last couple of days. Beside supporting the start-up with business model conceptualization and financial projections, we rolled up our sleeves and deep-dived into the field work: we conducted market research, defined value proposition and validated it with experts from the industry, designed route to the market, engaged with suppliers, drafted pilot programme documentation, prepared go-to-market materials and investors decks and many more. Thank you, team 9, for your engagement and hard work, it was a great experience working with you!
While learning from one of the best IMD’s brilliant minds, Professor Goutam Challagalla, the past weeks also brought fresh wind and insights into the contemporary businesses based on technology. In his inspirational and thought-provoking classes, Goutam took us to the very edge of today, providing the look over the cliff towards tomorrow. After his crash course, disruption became the new norm of my strategic thinking and stimulated curiosity to explore the digital business models further.
Disruption also stroke on the personal side; keeping the high pace already for four and half months, there are plenty of daily situations when I am off my comfort zone, pushing myself, being endorsed by cohorts or “lured” into the off-comfort situation. This is a highly addicted game: I fail and I get up and I want to fail again to enjoy the getting up. I see things I didn’t see before. I observe myself from a totally new angle. I work with my mind, concentrated. The metamorphose began. Old Me is being disrupted by New Me.
The metamorphose and ongoing change can be a painful process though. And it gets even more painful when life-changing events happen in our lives. On Easter Thursday, Bernard, father of my partner passed away after nine months of combat. It was fast, unexpected, heart-breaking. Bernard was a distinctive intellectual, family lover, whose life colour was auburn. Coming back from the Easter break, leaving my partner back in Germany learning to live the new reality was frustrating. We felt every centimetre of the long-distance relationship. This was metamorphosis from a different perspective, urging the importance of values.
The partner life here at IMD is in general own chapter deserving at least one more special edition of the blog post. Some of the 2018 MBA class moved to Lausanne with their partners and children, who provide a safety base and tremendous mental support throughout the programme. Regardless if they are present in Lausanne or not, the role of our partners is not easy at all. This year is primarily about us. They are part of our decisions to pursue an MBA; nevertheless they are in the shadow while the spotlight shine on us. They changed their lives around our MBA and observe our metamorphose first-hand. Twelve years after their MBA experience, Alumni Rafael Altavini and his wife Carolina Altavini came to IMD to share their experience with partners’ life not only during and but also post the programme. They brought an honest testimony about the challenges they were facing.
Listening to their speech in the Lorrange auditorium, I pondered about big journeys. We set-off on one in January and are in the midst of it. It brought us to places we have never been. This is not the last big journey by far. It is a heart-warming feeling to know that we have life companions holding our hands while walking into the unknowns.