The coming task

It’s a bit daunting to be looking at 70+ hours of video and thinking about making something useful, clear, and short about it. Wrongly attributed quotes aside, it’s very hard to write a short letter. On advice from a couple friends, I’m going to pick one well-understood question (probably about GMAT preparation), and use it as my strawman for editing, compiling, analysis, and UI. If I can make this prototype work, I think I can make the site work.

I dropped by the new Sloan school before leaving Boston; I wish we had had this many group meeting rooms!

Done! Done! Done! (with the interviews)

I just finished my last interview! 55 interviews total. It has been an incredible trip and I can not thank everyone who pitched in enough. Very helpful MBAs gave up hours of their time, revealed many things on camera, called in favors in their own networks, and sacrificed to make all of this possible. THANK YOU!

All I can offer in return right now is that hopefully more people will write better essays, manage their recommenders, and pick the right cultural fit thanks to all of you.

I’m really happy!

This is my happy face! At a coffee shop in Boston’s Back Bay.

Up at Dartmouth, which is beautiful

Warm fall day, 80 degrees, trees hinting at change, and a campus that looks like a really nice ski village. Nice.

Thanks to Wade Barnes, who agreed to do an interview and got another of his Dartmouth classmates to join this morning. Now that I’m past the target, I’m mainly concerned about a few more interviews to round out the field, including from schools that are underrepresented. Stanford, oh Stanford, where are you?

Overall, I’m very satisfied with the results of these interviews. They have given me all the content and direction I could hope for. Now for the major task of editing 70 hours worth of video. Yikes


I’m getting really, really close to my target. 49 interviews done, 1 to go before I break a bottle of champagne over my car. Well, not quite. I have 2 interviews tomorrow in NYC, a few more interviews up at Dartmouth, and 2 more interviews in Boston before this whole production can be called a wrap. Bouncing around the Northeast has been a ton of fun and I’m continually and happily surprised at how nice people are about dedicating their time.

I have 151 people on my list. At one point or another, 97 of them said “yes” to an interview, 64%. By the end of next week, I will have captured probably 55 of them on camera, 36% of the original list and 57% of my “yes” list. Pretty good ratio. Awesome content. I’m happy! Out with friends in NYC after seeing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.

Meta-mega-theme #01

Normally, my questions and the MBAs’ answers are tactical. How did you prepare for the GMAT? How closely did you work with your recommenders on the content of your letters? All of these tactics will be shown on the website, both quantitatively (in charts & graphs) and qualitatively (through the videos). However, I’m developing some sense of major meta mega themes that are universal (or nearly so) to these successful MBA applicants.

#01: Genuinosity to the extreme

Throughout the essays, resumes, letters of recommendation, and the rest of your application, be as genuine as you possibly can. First, the admissions folks can smell fake like yesterdays eggs. Second, everybody else who is applying is in the same boat; they are not magically better than you are or have started 10 of their own companies. Third, lying is bad. Fourth, the essays are a lot easier to write if you are just being yourself (well, the best version of yourself). Be genuine. Fried oreos at the San Gennaro feast in Little Italy in NYC are definitely *not* genuine Italian.

#34 and enthusiasm

34 interviews done! It’s feeling really good to be productive and collecting the interviews. And most importantly, I’m still really enjoying myself. I look forward to doing the interviews, have fun in the interview, and feel good when they’re done. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of headaches (more logistics than even I’m comfortable with), but the headaches seem really minor. All of this is to say: I thought it was a good idea at the time, and I think it’s an even better idea now. Good stuff. While wandering Brooklyn, the Willoughby Window project caught my eye

The Wharton class of 2013 will be the best class ever!

Huge thanks to the Wharton Class of 2013, specifically: Will, Claudia, Claudia, Jay, Dan, Venkat, and Mars. Getting 7 interviews from any one institution is rare, but the quality of those interviews was also really high. Everyone was engaged, interesting, and had great stories to tell about themselves. THANK YOU

31 interviews down, 1 month to go

I’m about to head out to San Diego for a few days for Labor Day. Thankfully, I have passed the 30 interviews mark with 1 month to go. I’ll need to pick up the pace a little bit, which should be easier given the concentration of MBAs in the Northeast. Huge thanks to the Wharton Class of 2013 (and specifically Will Conkling), who gave me a chance to cram 4 interviews into one day. Great content and your cohort is going to do really well.

It’s interesting to see the progression of generations of MBAs. I’ve interviewed a ‘99 and a group of ‘13s. There hasn’t been a whole lot of change in the answers over those 1.5 decades: the patterns are similar, the questions are similar, the fears/concerns are similar. Blurred out lights of downtown Philly.

...back to our regularly scheduled programming

Hurricane Irene came and went. Truthfully, I’m disappointed. It passed through in the early hours and I wasn’t even awake for the worst of it. We prepared like crazy: food, water, board games, candles, and friends. Ah well. In the end, I’m glad that NYC turned out to be just fine. Other parts of the NE are suffering more, unfortunately. I was captured saying all of this (including that I was “disappointed”) on camera; I have no idea if the footage was aired, but I’m sure I’m now the Reviled Californian That Wanted NYC to Drown.

This regularly scheduled programming is being interrupted by...

...building security and a hurricane. Apparently, in the World Financial Center in NYC, they’re a bit shy about having cameras in the building. For one of my interviews, I couldn’t get past security to get up into the offices because of the camera equipment. When we tried to do the interview in the lobby of the building, a security guard was there within 2 minutes saying that I couldn’t use a tripod. Why draw the line at a tripod? Hurricane Irene is approaching, also foiling plans of doing interviews. I may have to hire a boat to float me down the streets of NYC to get to my interview. NYC after Hurricane Irene (and/or Chicago lakeshore on a gorgeous day).

Video equipage and expertise

A lot of people have been asking about the video equipment. How much was it? How did I learn how to use it? The video-taping equipment is pretty simple: a $700 Canon camera, $100 lighting, miscellaneous cables/boxes/converters, $150 lavaliere mic. The video editing equipment is a bit more: mac laptop, 8TB RAID hard drive system, two other backup hard drives (I’m paranoid about losing irreplaceable content). Caveat: this setup is *very* unprofessional. Someone who knew what they were doing would probably have convulsions looking at this. I learned to use this stuff a little bit in high school, but mostly I’m self-taught. Had some great advice from radio/tv/film friends Adam & Cindy. Read a bunch of articles on the net. Experimented. Which mic is best (built-in/lavaliere/shotgun)? Try ‘em all! 3 point interview lighting on the cheap: mobile, easy to set up

Call for interviews in NYC, Boston, Philly, D.C., and all the northeast

Hi everybody - it’s that time of the week again, where I implore you to reveal any contacts you have who might be interested in doing one of these interviews. I’m going to be shuttling around NYC, Boston, Philly, D.C., New Hampshire, and Timbuktu. If you know any MBAs in those places, please let me know! While in Chicago, I have to have 2 things: deep dish pizza and a Chicago style hot dog (pickle in the bun)

On memory and relaxing

Two things became obvious to me during interviews today.

1) Most people have a far better memory than I do: they can recall the subjects of their essays with clarity, conversations with admissions folks, and even details about their recommenders. I’m lucky to remember that I got into school. Maybe it’s because my essays were so bad I needed to block them out.

2) Jeff had good advice that few of us take: relax. Yeah, I know, it’s the last thing you want to hear when you're stressed, so I’m telling you now before you start your application process (or it’s already submitted). Relax. You’ll write better essays if you take a deep breath and enjoy the process. I’ve been able to do that same thing with Fat Envelopes and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. My take on the forest of hanging clay and lights at the Denver Art Museum’s /Overthrown/ exhibit; I really want this in my next house.

6,000 miles, 20 interviews done!

Getting interviews in Chicago has proven a little tougher than I expected, but with a lot of help from Gaurav, Jeff, Mike, and Anjali, I’m pulling together a good set. Of course if you know of more, please let me know! I’ve put more than 6,000 miles on the car in the first month, which is particularly amazing since I’m only in Chicago. I estimated 8-9,000 total, which could be correct if I go to the Northeast and park there for a while. :-) I have 20 interviews wrapped up and done. I’ve been doing my own interview during the boring stretches on the road, with Nevada, Utah, or Iowa in the background.

Call for Chicago interviews

Hi everyone - I’m in Denver for a few days, then headed to Chicago. If you know anyone there who would be interested in doing an interview, please let me know! The race across the Utah national parks: Bryce Canyon at moonrise/sunset

Best interview location yet? On a boat...

I’m back from the Redwoods, Lassen Volcanic Park, and the vastly-empty-yet-inspiring northern Nevada. For an introvert like me, having time to be alone, think, and hike is a useful counterpoint to the wonderful extroverted intensity of the interviews. Speaking of interviews, Jay Palace (great name, founder of Group Experiential Learning, takes the cake so far for the best interview location: his boat in the Sausalito harbor. He also had terrific and meaningful stories to tell about the people who encouraged him to apply to Harvard and the essay he wrote about his days as president of his fraternity while leading an anti-hazing movement. Yet another fascinating character on this road trip; thanks Jay! We did the interview on the back deck of Jay’s boat floating in Sausalito, CA

Sausalito and the great unknown

I’ve crossed the Golden Gate into Sausalito - one more interview to do today, then I’m headed north and east to the Redwoods and Denver. Huge thanks to everyone who created connections or did interviews here in San Francisco!

I’ve been thinking more and more about uncertainty. Like my previous job at Sapphire (algae biofuels), there is a lot of uncertainty with this Fat Envelopes project. For me, that uncertainty is now a required element of my professional career. I’m happier on the side of not knowing if something is possible, of tackling challenges by jumping in and wading through. Enjoying uncertainty has required a concomitant change in my personality, which has in turn opened up a host of new opportunities. Uncertainty is good

Hold, please...

I’m back in Michigan for my Dad’s 65th birthday and retirement party. Interviews start up again in San Francisco next week. Still looking to fill a few more time slots, so let me know if you know someone there. Also, I’m driving through Denver in mid-August. Thanks! La Farine bakery in Oakland, CA - greeeeatt morning rolls

Networking among MBAs

It is true that MBAs are helpful folk. Everyone I interview offers to connect me to another small group of people, whoever they can think of. This was one of my main concerns with this project: getting MIT folk was going to be relatively easy, but could I connect to other MBA programs? I’m now on to third generation connections (me->helpful person->helpful person->helpful person). It’s a nice feeling. If you have MBA friends in Seattle, Denver, Chicago, or anywhere in the Northeast, please let me know! Thanks to Joel, Danielle, and Lucas for hosting me!