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On Monday, the Tech Club brought David Pogue to the Stanford GSB where he delivered a talk on failed consumer devices.  I had the pleasure of driving David from the city where he was keynote speaker at FailCon to the Stanford GSB for the talk.  The talk was exceptionally insightful and also funny in Pogue’s unique style.  I think his background as a Broadway guy really helps when he’s giving talks as he is able to make them very lively and entertaining.

David talked about his problems with the New Office for Mac 2011 (which I had a chance to quiz him on the ride in the car as well) and the first Blackberry Storm that was riddled with bugs.  It was a great opportunity to hear from someone who is an expert at judging the consumer experience on devices.  David seemed to have strong feelings about engineers not being well suited for designing products as well, I was not completely convinced by that argument.

He was gracious, took a lot of time to answer questions and was amazingly nice to every person who spoke to him.  I’m officially a fan.  A lot of things didn’t go super smoothly, we went a lot later than planned, food was late, etc. but David never complained about anything.

Talking about food, I actually served the 200 or so people who showed up Sri Lankan food from Kadupul (Lakdiva Foods).  It was good, only if they had shown up within an hour of the agreed upon time!

I just got home after breakfast with an old friend at Tootsie’s (at the Stanford Barn).  It’s one of my favorite places on campus to just sit back, have some coffee and enjoy the wonderful weather in Palo Alto.  My friend, a second year at HBS was visiting to interview with firms in the area.  I hadn’t seen him in a long time so it was great to share stories about each other’s lives and about going to business school on the two different coasts.

It’s FOAM today, so maybe I’ll take my friend there later on and introduce him to some of the drinking games that are apparently happening today (maybe not a great idea, considering interviews tomorrow!).

Yesterday, I also sat through the S356 session for Energy / Cleantech opportunities.  There were a few students who seemed to have good ideas in the space and were looking for teammates.  I think I’ll be focusing my S356 project for on the technology/internet side but I was curious to see what this session would be like.

Over the weekend, we were at Tainted Love with a Sri Lankan friend who’s in the area.  A few busloads of GSB kids (something like 150 kids!) went up on Friday, but I wasn’t able to make the trip to see them until Saturday.  It was a lot of fun, Tainted Love is a good group.  For those who are not familiar with them, they are a popular 80′s cover band who sometimes perform at the Bimbo’s club in San Francisco.  Bimbo’s seemed like a really cool venue for a music event.

I just got home from a small group dinner that a classmate organized.  The dinner was an opportunity for several of the class to share their key learning from summer internships.  From VC firms in foreign countries to small start-ups, student experiences were great to hear about.  Small group dinners like the one today are one of the key features of the GSB, bringing together students and providing a forum for bonding with each other and sharing information.

 

It’s been way too long since I last posted on here. A lot has happened since February. I probably won’t remember a lot of what happened, but I’ll try to update readers of my blog about a couple of things that have been happening here.

First: you will probably not see me writing too much about two of the things that really interest me: the iPad and the Kindle.  This is because I was lucky enough to get a summer internship with Lab126, the company that makes the Kindle.  In order to avoid possible conflicts of interest, I will try not to talk about e-reading at least over the next few months.

The summer internship process went really smoothly (at least in hindsight). As a career changer, who had spent the last five years working in the Finance industry, to be working at the company that I really wanted to work for, in the role that I really wanted, felt like a dream come true.  It’s also I think a testament to the strength of the Stanford GSB.

Talking about Spring Break, I was on a GER (Global Experience Requirement) trip to Scandinavia (Sweden and Denmark).  It was a wonderful trip and opened my eyes to a region that I had known very little about before visiting.  We were lucky to be on a trip that included a trip leader who was very connected to the region. Because of this, the planning was immaculate, with the right amount of business meetings mixed with things like meeting the Crown Princess of Sweden or visiting the most exclusive clubs in Stockholm.  The most important part of the trip for me was getting to know a wonderful group of people.

At the end of the 2nd quarter there was a peak in terms of work, where both recruiting activities and class work and exams all increased about the same time. The best example was when I interviewed with Lab126, the day before finals at the GSB.  In my mind I think I was able to prioritize what mattered to me, but it was still a challenging time.

3rd Quarter, opens up a whole new world for 1st years because this is when the leadership transition happens for clubs and student groups.  Thankfully at about the same time class workloads get considerably less as well, allowing students to spend significant amounts of time taking meaningful leadership roles in student organizations.  For me, because of my interest in technology, this meant the Tech Club, and the IT Committee within the student association.  Organizing talks, lunches and other meetings with the tech club has I think taught me a lot in a matter of just weeks.  It’s not something that I thought I would really enjoy, but seeing the changes that we are able to make has really got me energized.

In terms of classes, I was sad to see the end of e-commerce, the wonderful class taught by Prof. Mendelson.  Thankfully, we were able to get him to agree to be our mentor for the tech club, which means we still get to talk to him and get his advice with tech club activities.

My dad visited me (all the way from Sri Lanka) over the last three weeks as well. He was amazed by the size of the Stanford campus and the beautiful walks by the dish area. It was great to take a couple of trips with him to hike in the Redwood Forest, down to Big Sur and then to Yosemite.  I realized there were a lot of things I could do in the Bay Area that I had ignored previously.

Lastly, it’s second round admit weekend again at the GSB. Unlike when I visited the campus last year, the weather is beautiful and I’m looking forward to meeting the new admits tomorrow.  I remember how I flew in from Miami last year without a coat and then had to run to buy one because it was a cold weekend.  It was a wonderful weekend though, and I hope the admits will feel the same way this year when the weekend is over.

If there are any specific questions you would like answers to about the GSB please post it on the Questions tab, and I will do my best to answer.

I’ve neglected telling my readers  about life at the GSB, with a lot of my recent posts focusing on technology.  This is an attempt to tell you what life at the GSB is like on an average day.

6:30 AM: Wake-up, scramble to read case for e-commerce class and if there’s time left, read some Accounting too. No reading for marketing today because it’s Industrat day (I’ll explain below). hmm probably no time for accounting.

7:55 AM: Bike like crazy towards the business school, EV Studio where I live is just about 5 minutes away, if you bike fast enough.

8:01 AM: Arrive in accounting. Prof. Jagolinzer is amazing. The first accounting class that I have truly enjoyed. He starts by putting up the name of a student in class who is apparently getting married soon. Interspersed between the discussion of new accounting standards are funny videos and blurbs designed to keep students engaged and awake. Believe it or not, this accounting prof. spent 10 years in the US air force as a T-37B Instructor, Spin Demonstration Pilot and as an E-3 AWACS Aircraft Commander, BEFORE, he decided to study accounting, wow!  The material is about accounting for stock grants to management, a topic that many students have strong opinions about: class debate heats up and gets very interesting.

9:45 AM: Run through Arbuckle cafe for a quick breakfast. Yes, they have more of the breakfast burritos left!  Say hi to friends and classmates as they scurry through the cafe as well.

10:00 AM: Arrive at a room inside the Jackson Library for marketing. The class has two components. One is a case driven lecture and the second day is a competition of sorts. We use a simulator (Industrat) to compete as teams and test out our marketing learning and make our companies the most profitable. Let’s look at the stock chart: wow, our team is doing well and investors like our companies stock! Screen shot of that to look at it later? :)

Negotiate with other team that we have formed a joint venture with, discussing the use of research facilities to develop new products. Looks like we got the better end of this JV agreement that I helped craft last week. Scramble during the last few minutes of session to submit our decisions for processing through the Industrat system. Next week’s report will be an interesting read (we receive a company and market report some time over the week telling us home our company and our competitors performed).

12:00 Noon: Go into a classroom to hear founders of two interesting consumer oriented start-ups talk about their experiences. Recent grads who have built successful entrepreneurial ventures, they talk about how they approached initial vendors, how funding was obtained and what made their businesses successful. I have an interesting chat with a classmate about how it would be great to hear from failed businesses as well, but I can see how that’s hard to do!

1:00 PM: Arrive for advanced IT (e-commerce) with prof. Haim Mendelson. Wow, I’ve never been this early to class. Prof. Mendelson really cares about attendance and after seeing him ask a student to put down his name on the seating chart for being a minute or so late, I have not been late to class!

This is my favorite class at the GSB so far. Prof. Mendelson knows the e-commerce world like the back of his hand. What’s most amazing is that he manages to know the most recent developments as well and every case we read has been written by him and edited with the most recent happenings in that area. On some weeks he also brings successful leaders to class to talk about their businesses (including the president of paypal last week). Today is a case discussion on the gaming space: again a topic that I love. We talk about the evolution of the gaming industry, the battle for supremacy in the living room and Nintendo’s unique strategy. Class discussion is lively and interesting. Prof. Mendelson maneuvers the discussion expertly. Next week we will be talking about mobile gaming world and the future, nice!

4:00 PM: I have a bit of a breather. Check email, going to Tahoe this weekend?, hmm probably can’t make it, too many company meetings on Monday :(, maybe next weekend. Can I swap one of my interview slots with a friend who has a conflict? sure. Company A would like to interview me: great, accept interview invite. Any resumes due soon? Not for a couple of days: procrastinate.

5:30 PM: Meet Stanford GSB admit to talk about the school and answer questions. The alumni center is a great place for this type of meeting. Grab a coffee and tell the admit just how much I love the experience.

6:30 PM: Head to a small group dinner: an excellent system put in place at Stanford where students can meet up for dinner and have the school reimburse them for the cost of dinner, as long as the dinner is publicly announced and the same group has not had a small group dinner before. An excellent way to make new friends and learn more about classmates. A good way to meet MBA2′s as well since the small groups include members of both classes.

8:00 PM: Excuse myself to run home, I just remembered that I have an assignment due at midnight for the iPhone application development class that I’m taking: I love the class but weekly assignments are getting harder to get done on time.

An episode of Caprica to calm myself? I convince myself that it will probably make me more productive as I tackle the assignment! Wow, Caprica is getting really interesting, love this show.

8:30 PM: Can’t watch any more Caprica, get to work coding in xCode. I think it was really nice of my classmate to lend me the Mac that I’m using for the class (since iPhone app development can only be done on a Mac).

I’ve been comparing the VOD services offered by Amazon and Netflix. Both services definitely have value but for someone comparing them, its important to know the key differences.

I used my PS3′s Netflix Streaming disc to check out the Netflix service and used Panasonic’s Vieracast on my TV for Amazon’s VOD: both using the same network connection via wired ethernet.

Interface: Netflix has really figured out a great way to show your queue (on the PS3 streaming disc) and show selected movies available for viewing. This looks almost like the cover flow on an iPod. As long as what you want to watch is in the selection Netflix shows, the interface works well. However, I couldn’t find any way to easily search for movies or go beyond the few shown on screen. Way around this is to add to your queue on a PC before starting things up on the PS3 disc.

Amazon’s interface is not that smooth. Buying a new episode required getting an additional “key” from amazon. But once you had the material on your list, Amazon interface was a breeze, easily utilizing the remote for pausing, forwarding etc. However, I preferred netflix’s approach of showing where you are forwarding to rather than going back or forward by minutes without knowing where you would jump to on Amazon.

Content:

Amazon is a clear winner on this. Netflix has a lot of older, less popular titles and some badly encoded (low quality) starz streams while Amazon has the latest available content and typically what you really want to watch is on Amazon.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that the cost difference is HUGE. Netflix charges as little as $9 a month for unlimited access to their database of streamed content, while Amazon charges individually. $1.99 for a TV episode, $2.99 in HD, $3.99+ for a movie etc. These can add up very quickly. So as I said before, both services have a place in the overall value landscape.

Video Quality:

Amazon at least during my tests came out as clear winner. There was almost no buffering and the experience was just like watching HD TV. Netflix buffered and the actual content seemed to be more compressed, coming out slightly grainy. I’ve tested out Netflix before using a laptop connected to a TV with Heroes and been very impressed with the quality. But high quality content like Heroes or Dexter is few and far between. Starz where you will find most of the things you want to watch on netflix seems to deliberately lower the quality making the content grainy.

Panasonic has still not incorporated Netflix into Vieracast for 2009 model TVs, which is unfortunate. They do have a box labeled “coming soon” but no indication of when Netflix will actually make that transition. Panasonic, get on it!

Look forward to hearing your thoughts on either of these services or any other alternative VOD services you use (except Comcast: long story but Comcast has so many billing errors [some might even be deliberate] that the user experience is miserable).

Amazon recently acquired the New York based start-up Touchco, which was working on a revolutionary new touch screen technology at the time. Coming right on the heels of the iPad announcement, it’s easy to assume what this means for the Kindle: potentially color and a touch screen.  If Touchco’s technology is what it was promised to be, this could also come at a relatively low-cost (apparently the touch screen technology only costs about $10 a square foot and is remarkably power efficient as well). In addition the technology can distinguish between finger touches and pen marks, which may lead to a device that incorporates handwriting recognition as well as gestures.

There’s one catch. As of last year Touchco was a small company with a technology that seemed promising but not quite commercial yet. So, how soon can the benefits of the acquisition be realized? The iPad as we know will be in the hands of consumers in about 60 days.  It’s important that Amazon not give up the momentum that it has built-in the e-reader space and allow the iPad’s ebook marketplace to take market share.

This depends on how Amazon plans to use the acquisition and Touchco’s technology. If Amazon was already working on the next generation Kindle at its Cupertino based Lab126, and is really looking for some final touches and people from Touchco, we could see a new product relatively soon. Lab126 which introduced us to the Kindle and has played a significant role in revolutionizing the e-reader market, has been recruiting aggressively over the last few months. This suggests that something big is definitely in process.

If I were to make a guess though, I would guess that Amazon was not working on the touch aspect and this is an attempt to get up the curve quickly there. Unfortunately, that would put the development of a touch screen based Kindle at least an year away (likely longer).

I think from Amazon’s perspective, it’s important to get this right. We’ve seen what poorly implemented touch screens can do to the reading experience with the Sony reader. I for one am interested to see what the new device looks like. Lab126 has several former Palm and Apple executives in its ranks, so they should be able to come up with something that competes with Apple’s world class industrial engineering and user experience focus.

Amazon is probably also working hard to improve its Kindle for iPhone app to work on the iPad. Although the app should work as is, almost with no changes at all, it’s important that the company focus on the demands of a big screen. Users are unlikely to be happy with the current blog, magazine and newspaper reading layouts when they have flashy competing apps on the iPad. Amazon must come up with something like what the New York Times did with the great Times Reader app which is an amazingly cool way to show newspaper content on a computer screen.

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