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Delaware recently announced the creation of a “Public Benefit Corporation” with a dual responsibility to its shareholders and stakeholders in its business (like customers and suppliers).  27 states have since followed suit.  This fascinating new option for socially conscious business between non-profit and for-profit models offers new options for MBAs to consider when evaluating their career goals.

 

Social enterprise is hot.  In the past 20 years, according to Minnesota Bench Bar, it has blossomed into a full-fledged sector of the American market.  Social enterprises today are estimated to produce nearly 3.5 percent of United States GDP,1 and employ more than 10 million Americans, not to mention the roughly 5 percent of all Americans who report being involved in social entrepreneurship in some capacity.2   The growth of this sector is likely to continue increasing exponentially as pressure from stakeholders, entrepreneurs, and investors has grown tremendously since the 1990s.  In this socially conscious environment, the emergence of a corporate form designed to spur social innovation, the benefit corporation,3 was inevitable.  As of the summer of 2014, benefit corporation statutes have been passed in 27 states, with another 14 legislatures actively considering such legislation.4 

 

The first ninety days of PBC implementation have shown some interesting trends, according to this Georgetown Law study.  For instance, the paper concludes that 30 percent of these companies could have incorporated as non-profits instead, and that a very large percentage (3/4ths) are early stage companies with an obvious ‘green’ or ‘organic’ angle to them.  All of this is pretty much in line with what one would expect in the early going, but it’s nice to have it quantified nevertheless.  From an MBA standpoint, this probably means that you wouldn’t use the PBC status for your new Walmart-staple consumer goods business, but you might use it for your Whole-Foods targeted synthetic beet startup.

 

The fact is, however, even though this is where PBCs are beginning, there’s no reason to believe this is where they will ultimately wind up.   The possibilities are considerable.  For instance, the hot new social network Ello assumed a PBC status in order to guarantee that it would never be required by any future purchaser to show ads.  This is a great example of how PBC status can be a huge leg up for a business trying to enter an already saturated market like social networking, and would be well worth considering for MBAs trying to find an innovative way of framing their entrepreneurial goals.

 

So which schools are likely to be the most receptive to PBC-oriented entrepreneurs?  Well, of course, there are the usual suspects when it comes to Social Enterprise like Stanford, Kellogg and Ross – but your application will stand out far less in an environment where do-gooderism is almost de rigeur.  On the other hand, schools like Wharton and MIT Sloan have exciting initiatives in this area but are often overlooked by socially conscious MBA-seekers.

 

No matter where you apply, remember that a socially conscious business is still a business.  You’re not applying to the Kennedy School for an MPA here.  Don’t try to sell the committee on how good of a guy you are, or how your idea is going to make so many little children happy – instead, focus on sustainability and benefiting all parties involved roughly equally.  Make a thoughtful, sensible pitch instead of trying to tug on a committee’s heart strings.  And consider whether PBC status might add to the case you are trying to make. 


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UC Berkeley Haas's goals essay this year is tricky.  It is going to trip up a lot of applicants.  Don't be one of them.

By Evan Forster

Earlier today I received a call from Brenda about the Haas MBA goals essay—

What is your desired post-MBA role and at what company or organization? In your response, please specifically address sub-questions a., b., and c.
a. How is your background compelling to this company?
b. What is something you would do better for this company than any other employee?
c. Why is an MBA necessary and how will Haas specifically help you succeed at this company?
(500-600 word maximum for 3a, 3b, and 3c combined)

Brenda’s amazing—a transportation industry titan-to-be. So why was her essay so flat?

We have been writing about the archetypal MBA goals essay (and other professional why Law, Med, Architecture, etc.) for years now.  After a while, it all starts to sound the same.

“Start with a story about you, followed by the difference you want to make in your short and long-term goal—and be specific. Zero in on why that School or program is right for you and how you’re a fit. Close by bringing at all around to your short and long-term goals, blah, blah, blah….” Zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Anyway, Brenda sends me this response to Haas’ prompt #1. I can easily spot the fact that she’s being vague and cautious. There’s not a lot of power in telling an adcom, “I can help manage the way that X company deals with changing guidelines and law…” I suggest making it more “active”, but I’m not seeing a way to squeeze my square peg methodology into this round hole—Still, I’m trying. God forbid I should contradict myself, after all.  I’m supposed to be the expert!

After our call, I think more about the question.  Desired post-MBA role and company.  Simple enough.  McKinsey? Bain? Accenture? It’s just another goals essay.  And yet

And then, BAM!  I fall in love with the question. It’s not about locking yourself into the right company (although it should be reasonable given your industry background), but revealing your ability to spot needto figure out what stands between a company and unbridled success.  Get it?  They are looking for people to take on making a difference … WITHOUT PRIOR APPROVAL!

Sneaky, huh?                                                                    

For Brenda (and you) to ace this Haas goals essay, you have to be the guy who, without ‘permission,’ finds a way to make a team work better.  Brenda did this naturally as a college volleyball playerand somewhere, at some time, you did too.  So dig down deep.  Find the version of you that is fearless.  Decide to expand the transportation division of McKinsey, improving how it handles its infrastructure and government clients.

 Don’t worry about being wrong or seeming arrogant.  There are no Haas goals police. Declare your intention.  State the change you will make. That’s what leaders do, and that’s what great programs like Haas are really looking for.

Like Haas itself, this essay is about a way of being. You see what’s missing in a company. You (because of your particular background) and leadership-ability can usher in that change. And you recognize that you need help, what you need help in, what skills you need to bolster and—in each one of thesehow Haas specifically can help you.

So in the end, this IS just another goals essaywith added specificity, asked in terms that only a few people will get. Be one of them.

Auntie Evan’s 5 steps to Haas Goals Dominance

A)     Look at your current history/industry and remind yourself of what you’re best at.

B)      Decide where you can be of service to that industry.

C)      Know which companies are missing out on a possible growth area (you should know this because it’s your professional background)

D)     Figure out where you are in need of growth

E)      Invite Haas and its community (via specific classes, clubs, etc.) to join you in your endeavor. 


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By Ben Feuer

Wharton, like most schools, has trimmed its essay offerings this year.  They are down to just one, and it is a variation on the time-honored goals essay.  Some things about Wharton from previous application years still apply in this one, though -- campus visits can still be a difference maker, as can any demonstrated interest in the target school.  Wharton wants to know why if selected, you will attend.

Required Essay Questions:

  1. What do you hope to gain both personally and professionally from the Wharton MBA? (500 words)

This is a lot to cover in just 500 words.  First and foremost, in order to properly answer this question you must identify what your professional goals are, and the way to do that is by starting off with a goals essay.  Write (briefly) about your short (immediately after business school) and long (~5 years after graduation) goals, but do not get bogged down in the details, and do not waste a lot of space talking about why you are a super qualified to attend, or all the awesome leadership experience you have had, or any of that -- Wharton didn't ask for it.  Instead, the second half (or more than half) of the essay should be focused on Why Wharton is the ideal fit for you.  Do research and campus visits, reach out to alumni and current students, whatever it takes to get interesting information about Wharton -- then tie those tidbits to your goals and ambitions.  And don't forget while you are doing this that Wharton asked about your personal goals as well -- don't shortchange those.  Talk about friends, family, and any social benefits you expect from your two years at Wharton.

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What's new in the world today?  How about a kitchen appliance for vitamins, bioprinted leather and a global exchange for Bitcoin?

By Ben Feuer

One of the many fabulous services we here at Forster Thomas like to provide is an occasional snapshot of the innovation landscape -- a few carefully chosen examples to highlight the diversity and sophistication of global thought.  Why do we do this?  To push you to think beyond a conventional, one size fits all goal, and start thinking about how you can have a real and meaningful impact on the world around you.

Our first innovation of the day comes from a well-established company, Nestle.  Simply put, they want to make the replicator real -- but they're starting a bit smaller than that, focusing instead on nutrition.  Nestle contends that most people are deficient in at least one of the 30 nutrients the human body requires and cannot produce, and is building a prototype gadget for your kitchen that would build your own nutritional supplement.  So what about replicated hamburgers?  Nestle says that's at least ten years away still.

A rather fancifully named startup, Modern Meadow, raised a big chunk of change on its idea of using vat-grown leather for clothing.  Eco friendly and stylish!  This one is a few years away as well, but provides an insight into how more and more startups have a physical (real-world) component to them -- after all, there is a limit to how many internet apps one person can really use.

This Forbes article about one of Europe's most popular Bitcoin exchanges is particularly intriguing because of its founders, a couple of 20something Slovenians named Kodrič and Merlak.  The young, delocalized nature of modern entrepreneurship was never more evident than now, with these two fast on their way to being the richest Slovenians around (except that they are actually relocating their company to London).

So if you are writing your essays now (and you better be!), keep your mind open to exciting new possibilities.  The world is evolving more rapidly than ever before, and you get a front row seat!

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When setting career goals, go to what matters in your life.

By Ben Feuer

Yesterday, your humble blogger spent a fascinating day at YCombinator's Startup School New York, mingling with students of every imaginable discipline and thinkers of every age range and walk of life.  What most of the folks I met had in common was a mutual fascination with making the world work better, usually in some small way.  Some were interested in online education, others in improving the job market, still others in sharing opinions on world issues.  The focus was on what I would call microentrepreneurship, small improvements in the way we work and live.

This morning, I awoke to a fierce, pointed screed against 'upstarts'/'startups' from a traditional media outlet.  It's not that I disagree with Lehore's argument (which is, simply put, that disruption is overrated as a predictive agent of change, and is more useful as a way of reflecting on what's happening all around us, and that ultimately more conventional measures of business greatness such as a truly useful product and sound management are more important) so much as I dislike the shrill tone of the debate.

There's plenty of room at the table for traditional finance guys AND sneaker-wearing disruptors, even if the one is never going to attend the other's tea party.  And there are truly vital innovations to be found in BOTH areas, improvements in honesty and efficiency that can make the world better, if we remain focused on what really matters.

So if you are applying to school, looking for a goal, trying to sort out what the heck you're doing with your life -- what IS that really important thing?  What is that touchstone?  The answer is simple, if elusive.  You have to believe in what you are doing and understand why it matters.

Apoorva Mehta, the CEO of Instacart, tried twenty startups in a year before settling on the one that worked for him.  It addressed a problem that he himself faced every day.  But there's no reason you can't have the same experience working for Goldman Sachs -- it's just that your improvements will take longer and probably be smaller scale (although potentially higher impact).

Belief and comprehension.  This simple, centering message can carry you past hollow debates about whether a particular theory is "true" (which is impossible) and lead you instead to what you know better than anybody else -- your experience, your feelings, and the future you want to live out.

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Fab Labs, AirBnBs and DonorsChoose all begin as somebody's bright idea.  What's yours?

By Ben Feuer



If you are planning to apply to graduate school, you are probably spending some time thinking about how to bolster your non-profit experience on your resume -- perhaps incorporating some elements of leadership, international service, or something scalable that can persist after you go off to school.

You see, volunteering doesn't just mean strolling down to the local Big Brothers, Big Sisters and giving up a few hours of your day anymore (although if that is what you are into, aggregator websites have made this easier than it has ever been).  The rise of dynamic internet startups mean that nearly anything can be experimented with on a small scale.  These days, what starts as a volunteer business can grow into a real one, and it can define what type of role you see yourself playing in your community.

You might be a raiser.  Take Donors Choose -- what amounts to a Kickstarter for teachers.  The founder, who is listed on the website as earning about $240,000 a year from his small business, was a teacher who decided one day to create a webpage promoting all the projects teachers wanted to do for their students and asking for funding from the local community.  It started small and grew from there.  The fact is, an entire economy of giving to new products and causes is evolving, and there are many opportunities outside of Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and Kiva to have an impact.

You might be a maker.  The maker economy is growing fast thanks to the rise of 3d printers, which allow practically anyone to make a product without resorting to factories or assembly lines.  This Bloomberg article talks about a 'fab lab', founded in Detroit for $250,000, that gives inner city youths an opportunity to make their own bikes.  These labs can be built anywhere in the world (India, for example) and cost relatively little to initiate, but can provide both entertainment and employment for locals.  Of course, you might want to make something in the lab instead of making the lab itself.  There, too, you can find volunteer opportunities, collaborating to create a new product like this Nifty Minidrive mentioned in the article.

You might be a sharer.  The sharing economy is getting so big that the (non-sharing?) economy is getting a bit nervous and trying to squelch it, but this way of life is not going away anytime soon.  Beaucoup websites and apps such as Uber, AirBnB and Taskrabbit have each wound up creating disruptive micro-economies of their own.  Not only are there opportunities out there to create local, small scale versions of these types of services (like a neighborhood share shed for power tools or a group time share on boats or a pier) in your own neighborhood, you just might come up with the next big idea that blows up into something much bigger.

So think about which of these roles best suit you -- or come up with one of your own -- our very own founders, David Thomas and Evan Forster, did just that when they created Essay Busters.  One thing's for certain -- there are no shortage of people out there who need your help.

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Thursday, June 12, 2014

So-Fi Student Loan Refinancing

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Now THIS is how to exploit a great business opportunity.

By Ben Feuer


For those of you who have been following this blog for awhile, or reading our book, or working with me personally on applications, or really doing anything at all with me, you know that I am a stickler for having a strong, unique and useful professional goal to go with every application.  Why do I always come back to this point?  Because it is the first, and arguably the most important, thing you do when you attend a business school.  You pursue your professional goals.

So where are we to find these goals?  Simple.  We look for the intersection of opportunity and expertise.  To have a great goal, you need two things -- an underserved group or an inefficiency in the marketplace, and a person (you) with an idea about how to make it better or do it better.

We all know the student loan market is completely bananas.  We all know that tuition is too high.  But most of us don't know WHY.  There are several reasons, but the main reason is extraordinarily simple.  It's a mismatch of supply and demand.  Easy access to student loans has driven 4-year-college attendance through the roof, but not all colleges and majors are equally adept at job placement -- an engineer from Stanford does not have the same job opportunities as a University of Phoenix graduate in Communications.  But the federal loans are deliberately blind to these distinctions.

Enter So-Fi.  This company, created by Stanford graduates, is offering to refinance Stanford loans at a very low rate.  You see, Stanford students default at very low percentages (2% or so) vs the national average (14% or so), so they ought to have less risky loan pricing.  Plus, of course, it puts So-Fi in the very appealing position of having done a financial favor for a bunch of future industry titans, and it's a sustainable business model going forward -- there will always be another incoming class!

So if you're banging your head against the wall trying to come up with a goal, remember this blog.  An opportunity and an inventive way to bypass the problem is all you need.



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Monday, April 07, 2014

MBA Jargon: Globalization

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This is one piece of jargon that is overused not just by MBAs, but by JDs, poll science majors and many others.

By Ben Feuer

In Robert Reich's new movie, "Inequality for All", he talks at some length about this noxious word.  As you can see from the chart below, it has taken off in popularity since 1980, when it was practically unheard of (literally).

Unlike some of the words we feature in this series, globalization does have a unique meaning and can be a very useful word -- in context.  However, that utility is very narrow indeed, and many essay writers attempt to wave the word around, thinking it makes them sound hip and relevant.  Globalization is forcing the world to be more competitive.  Globalization is making it easier for me to sell my doohickey overseas.  Globalization makes my getting an American MBA more relevant.

The sad truth is, globalization has become a catchall, 'dog ate my homework' justification for nearly any entrepreneurial or social ambition.  So take a moment to ask yourself -- does my proposed company, non-profit or initiative actually need to be global in scale?  Local is valuable too!  At Forster-Thomas, we always encourage our candidates to think about who benefits from their proposed idea or business, and to define that group as precisely as possible.  Global communities are, by their very nature, imprecise, and quite frankly, when it comes to 'the world', most of us don't know jack.

So eschew globalization in favor of a more targeted, precise demographic -- no matter what the scale, relevance is what matters.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A new dean at Tuck: what will change?

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Dean Paul Danos is stepping down at Tuck.  What does this mean for future MBA applicants?

By Ben Feuer

After twenty years, Dean Paul Danos will be stepping down from his position at the head of Tuck Business School.  That's some seriously impressive staying power, and we wish him all the best in whatever he chooses to do next.

So what does it mean for the MBA candidates thinking of applying to Tuck this year?  Four words -- all bets are off.  Tuck's questions have barely changed at all over the past three years, sticking to the old B-school chestnuts -- goals, leadership, failure/setback, and sometimes diversity.  And if you don't know what those essay types are, you seriously need to pick up a copy of our book.

But with new faces inevitably come new ideas, and history shows that the dean that replaces Paul Danos will want to stamp the program as his own, probably this year.  Fortunately, even though the questions business schools ask change almost every year, the structure and substance of great essays remains the same.  Tell the truth, be powerful, and limit your word count.

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Oculus Rift Bought by Facebook

This acquisition is yet another reminder of why nothing can take the place of a spectacular, original idea in business.

 By Ben Feuer

 

Remember three weeks ago when I told you about how awesome the potential of Oculus Rift's VR technology was?  Well, Facebook agrees with yours truly, and it's putting its money where its mouth is, to the tune of $2 billion dollars.  Forbes, which misidentifies Oculus as a "gaming startup", but Zuckerberg gets it -- "Oculus has a chance to be the most social platform ever, he says.  Darn right it does.

So once again, we come back to the same point, but it bears repeating.  If you are applying to a top business school this year, have a top business idea ready and waiting for them!  No one is interested in your pay bump or your promotion.  Take a community, small or large, that you know well, and find a way to transform it completely -- that is the path to success.