We’ve reached the last installment in my blog reflections on my MBA classes at Boston College. I have been floored with the reaction (about 600 views as of my writing) and hope that they have provided some value. In addition to the rundown of my classes, I will also include some closing thoughts at the end. If you missed my earlier posts you can find parts one, two, three, four, and five here on my blog.
Second Year: Second Semester
Pricing Policy and Strategy
Another go round with marketing guru Jerry Smith, this class was condensed into three weekends over the course of half of a semester. Similar to his Brand Management class, we walked out with tons of new tools and frameworks to help do pricing. The most poignant take-aways, however, where more thematic:
- It’s not about the feature, it’s about the value of the benefit it enables- We tend to want to charge more for something because it is packed with more features, but do the features add value? Are they the right features? Instead we want to price based on the quantifiable and explainable value of the benefits certain features provide.
- Pricing is a conversation with your customers- Rather than telling your customers what they should pay, or having them tell you what they are willing to pay, the best pricing results from a conversation with customers about what benefits they value and what formulas accurately represent the value of these benefits. Once you have done this, you can strategically construct your pricing having already secured customer buy-in.
- It’s all about setting the right frame of reference- You have to communicate to your customers how they should think about your product because the sphere in which they place your product will determine what they are willing to pay. If you let your customers or worse your competitors determine the frame of reference, you will have to adapt your pricing (and profits) to a different (and generally lower) point.
- Never unitize a fixed cost- Without getting into cost accounting here suffice it to say some costs (fixed costs), like rent, must be paid as a whole regardless of how much or little you do with them, while others (variable costs), like pieces of material, are incremental and directly correlate to the amount of units you produce. To explain all costs, accountants like to spread out the fixed costs across all the units but this is misleading and can lead to poor pricing decisions because it implies linear cost changes where there are none. (I’ve already written more than expected and hardly succeeded in clarifying-if you want to understand further, leave a comment and I’ll reply in detail).
Product Planning and Strategy
This class was a bit up and down for me because, as a product manager, much of it was review. The class took a hands on approach, with a semester long team project that involved thinking up and actually planning a product. I was doing this as part of the BC Grad Tech Club and personally at the time so the value of the exercise was slightly diminished in value but still pretty cool. As I reflect on the class there are two things that really stuck:
- When it’s user feedback vs your own bias, go with the users- Part of the project was doing a significant amount of user research in the form of expert interviews, surveys, and prototype walk-throughs. It was easy to get defensive or tell a user why they are wrong, but in the end unless your market is one person (you alone), it makes sense to defer to your users.
- Write it down- Even if you have something perfectly worked out in your head, writing down things like your value proposition, your use cases, your marketing strategy, etc. forces you to articulate them and fill in any gaps. I was always surprised about the things I had overlooked or couldn’t explain when I tried to write them down, that I really thought I had figured out until I put pen to paper.
Independent Study: Entrepreneurship
For a while now, I have been kicking around the idea of an end-to-end service that would perform, ancestry research, give it historical context, and turn it into a personalized travel itinerary. As I entered my final semester, I needed 3 classes to complete the degree and the classes I have described above fulfilled my last two specialization requirements. I could have taken another elective but I decided instead to attempt to apply my learnings by starting a business. This decision has led to a spot in the Soaring Startup Circle and the launch of Radici Travel. It’s early to do a retrospective on the business but there are a couple big takeaways I learned from the experience:
- Working from home and being your own boss is hard! We all dream about it, but in reality the discipline needed to be effective is challenging to impose and the lifestyle itself can be rather lonely. One can save money by not paying for an office or coworking space but having a social environment of working people is empowering.
- Even if you’re a solo founder, find people to talk to about your business- Being engrossed in your business 24/7 is par for the course for entrepreneurs. While this can be an asset, it can also cause you to live in a fantasy bubble and you need to talk honestly with others a lot to keep you grounded in reality and cognizant of what’s going on in the market.
With that I have summed up the most poignant takeaways from each of the classes that I took at BC during my MBA program. That said, however, there was so much more to the experience than just the classes. While I could do a whole post (or even series of posts) on general takeaways from the program, I’ll keep it to three here:
- The value of the program is directly proportional to the effort you put in. Another version of the it’s what you make of it mantra, this was particularly true for the MBA experience. While at BC I met with no less than 50 CEOs and top Executives from companies ranging from startups worth a few million to those topping the Fortune 500 list. While a handful came from class visits, most were because I showed, up, networked, and availed myself of any opportunities whether they were expressly designed for MBAs or whether I was the only student of legal drinking age in the room. There’s always an excuse not to do something, but as Dale Carnegie said, “If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it, go out and get busy!”
- Community comes from mutual support, giving back, and paying it forward- BC has an amazing community professors like Pete and Carolyn Wilson (Accounting) or John Gallaugher (TechTrek) who absolutely set the bar high for what it means to be a part of that community. Time and time again, this strength and willingness to help has benefited me and it is a great motivator to get to a place where I can help others as well. For me, the power of a virtuous circle of community is certainly a key takeaway from the program.
- It’s all about the people- It’s so easy to label people prematurely or to fall in with a group early and get comfortable. Either case can lead to losing out on some pretty amazing relationships with interesting and surprising people. Taking the time to have 1:1 conversations, to take advantage of opportunities to learn about people (like reading all 100 personal wiki pages we had to do for IT), or to mix up normal groups to work with people you don’t know well were among the things that really made my MBA experience great.
That’s as good a point as any to close on, so I’ll wrap up the series there! If you have any thoughts or want to hear more, let me know in the comments. I’m always happy to chat! Thanks for reading!