Life After Business School

I wrote my last blog post four months ago, and a lot has happened since then. This post will be a reflection on the last four months and an update on where life has taken me after business school.

Business School
In June, I graduated from Chicago Booth. My time in b-school brought with it many firsts. I lived in a new city. I traveled to six different countries I’d never been to. I started a company. I made new lifelong friends. I learned new skills that will make me a better worker and manager. And I eventually landed my dream job building drones in Silicon Valley.

Looking back on the whole experience, I feel like it went by way too fast. People often jokingly refer to business school as a two-year vacation. But for me, it was much more than that. It was my time of reflection and self-discovery. A time of figuring out what made me most happy, and what I really wanted to do with my life. I had a great finance job before school, but it didn’t fulfill me in the way I had hoped it would. I felt driven to create something useful that didn’t exist in the world, and I needed time to figure out what that something was.

Business school gave me that time. Given my passion for videography, it’s no coincidence that I started a company to help people create amazing videos. It’s also no coincidence that after school, I joined a company that builds flying robots designed to help people capture amazing videos. My two years at Booth gave me the time, network, and skills I needed to weave my passion into my career. For that, I am very thankful.

Some of you are probably asking, “What about Activid? Are you still working on it, or shutting it down?” It’s a good question, and I’ll try to answer it as best I can.

I launched Activid 18 months ago with the idea of connecting talented freelance editors with people who wanted their video edited. For most of my time at business school, I dedicated myself to creating this marketplace, hoping to one day help thousands of people create amazing highlight videos of their vacation, wedding, or other life event. Within the first three months, I recruited dozens of talented freelance editors, led a team of ten web developers from initial design to product launch, and started accepting paying customers. It became clear early on that finding talented editors (the supply) would be easy, while building a large user base (the demand) would prove much more difficult.

Activid grew quickly in the beginning, but did not experience the sustained, accelerated growth that every founder hopes for. The company was unable to find a solid product-market fit, and Activid’s growth rate did not support the personal and financial investment going into it. So when I received an offer at the end of school to join one of my favorite companies, 3D Robotics, I knew I couldn’t say no. The opportunity cost was just too high.

It’s for these reasons that I chose to shut down Activid and pursue new challenges. Even though Activid did not become the huge success I had imagined, I’m certain that a business like Activid will exist in the very near future. It could be another startup, or it could be a big company like GoPro, which has a vested interest in getting people to share their videos online. Either way, I hope someone builds this marketplace soon, because I will be their first customer!

3D Robotics
One of my biggest interests since college has been videography. I’ve said this many times before on my blog – I believe that video has the power to tell a story in a way that pictures simply can’t. Video taking and video editing is my form of art. And I almost always take video with a GoPro.

When the first DJI Phantom drone came out a few years ago, it became my ultimate GoPro accessory. Discovering totally new ways of capturing video led to my avid interest in drones. So when I thought about what companies I wanted to work for, 3D Robotics (the largest U.S. drone maker) was at the top of my list.

I joined the Operations team at 3DR three months ago and have loved every second of it. I’m building products that I love, growing and managing a global supply chain, and learning from some seriously talented people. So far, I’ve spent roughly half my time in Asia helping to develop the company’s supply chain from scratch. People in China do business very differently than they do in the U.S., and understanding how to work in this new environment has been a challenging but fun learning process for me.

Conor Jabil
(At our factory in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province.)

Like I said, a lot has happened to me in the last few months. A new job, a new city, and many new challenges. I’m extremely happy with where I ended up, and I’m excited to see where this next stage of my life will take me.

Golden Gargoyles Video

A few weeks ago, I filmed a short video as part of a cohort competition at Booth.  Ten cohorts each made their own video, and the top three will be shown at a school-wide Golden Gargoyles party this weekend.

I had a lot of fun making this video.  It was the first time I’d ever had to play a character in front of the camera.  At times, it was a little embarrassing to act in a completely different way than my normal personality, but once I got past that embarrassment and fully embraced my new identity, it got much easier.  Acting is just another version of public speaking – you need to find the best way to tell a compelling story and connect with your audience.  When I think about it like that, acting is probably a great form of leadership training.

Learning with Stories

It’s been awhile since I’ve gone to school.  I had forgotten what it was like to sit in a classroom and take notes.  Yesterday in the middle of statistics class, I caught myself daydreaming.  After spacing out for about five minutes, I started listening to the professor and realized I had no idea what he was talking about.  It didn’t worry me too much, though – I wrote down his notes from the board and plan to look over the readings before doing next week’s homework.

In my Competitive Strategy class (a case-based class), I almost never daydream.  Each lecture, the professor tells a story about a real company and constantly calls on students to give input.  I am engaged in the class because the stories help me understand how business strategy theories are applied in the real world.

I don’t see any reason why the same can’t be done in my statistics class.  I learn and retain far more when a concept is explained in the context of a story.  It helps paint a picture of the concept much better than if a teacher simply describes it by using variables (in the case of statistics) or other means.

I think that the majority classes should be taught this way, especially math, economics, and other quantitative classes that utilize conceptual theories that are inherently hard to visualize.  Stories have the power to keep students focused and engaged because they can actually see how a concept plays out in real life.  In my opinion, that gap between teachers and students severely degrades the value of time spent in the classroom.  When teachers fail to relate information in an engaging way, students stop paying attention, which means they stop learning (or retain information just long enough to pass an exam).

If I were to build a high school or a university from the ground up, I would require nearly every class to be taught by storytelling.  I would hire teachers based not only on their qualifications, but also on their ability to tell stories in an engaging way that excites a classroom full of students.  And while we’re on the topic of my imaginary curriculum, I would also require every student to take both an acting class and a public speaking class.  These are classes where students can practice how to tell stories and engage their audience.  In an earlier post, I talked about the importance of developing effective writing skills.  The same goes for speaking – the ability to persuade listeners is an asset in any profession, not to mention life in general.

I hope to see this teaching strategy play out one day.  Maybe it will happen with the advent of online course offerings and websites like Lynda, Skillshare, and Udemy.  Students who want to take an online course will all flock to the teacher who presents his or her material in the most effective way.  Hopefully, this will also democratize education by making it cheaper and easier for people to find the best teachers.

Why Am I Keeping a Blog?

There are three main reasons why I decided to start a blog.  The first reason is because I want to become a better writer.  One of my favorite blogs is written by Fred Wilson, a very well-known venture capitalist in New York City who blogs about startups and entrepreneurship.  You can read his blog here.  Becoming a better writer was also one of the big reasons Fred started blogging, as he explains (quite eloquently) in this post.  I have a lot of the same feelings Fred had when he was just starting out.  Writing has never been something I enjoyed doing.  In college, I mostly wrote history papers that weren’t very creative.  At work, I wrote very formulaic company and industry descriptions that lacked originality.  Now that I’m older, I have come to fully appreciate the power of persuasive writing.  The ability to tell a story that’s clear, concise and entertaining is a skill that not very many people have.  I want to develop that skill as much as I can, and I think that blogging is a great way to do it.

My second reason for starting a blog is to stay better connected to my friends and family.  I try to call my parents at least once a week, but many times I get distracted and forget.  This blog is certainly not an excuse to stop calling them, but hopefully they’ll stay more connected to my daily life by reading this.  Same goes for my sister, cousins, and friends.

The third reason for keeping a blog is to record all the interesting ideas and things I learn during business school.  This is an exciting time for me – I am surrounded not only by some of the smartest professors in their respective fields, but also by other students who share my interests.  I’ve met so many people who have amazing ideas for new businesses, and some who have even started a business already.  It’s exciting to talk with these people, and I am constantly learning new things and coming up with new ideas.  I want to document as much of it as I can, and I think this blog is a great place to do it.

My Journey to Business School

(Most of my future posts will not be this long, but since this is my first, I felt that some context would be helpful.  Happy reading.)

I’ve been interested in technology and entrepreneurship for some time now.  It first began in earnest when I started working for a private equity firm in New York City.  I studied all sorts of companies in all sorts of industries, and the more I met with motivated entrepreneurs who had started successful businesses, the more I wanted to be one myself.  I loved my private equity job – over the course of two and a half years, I basically received a primer on the American economy by way of studying small to medium-sized businesses in almost every industry.  However, I eventually came to a conclusion: finance people help people build things, but they don’t actually build anything themselves.  Don’t get me wrong – the finance person’s role is an important one, and vital for many businesses that need to reach the next level of growth.  It’s just not the job I want to have.  I want to build something.

Before deciding to leave my job in PE and enroll in business school, my choices up until that point had been mostly made for me.  Though not because I was incapable of making choices.  I simply hadn’t found a passion strong enough to dissuade me from making a decision different from my peers.  Let me explain what I mean.

I’ve been a competitive person my entire life.  I competed in almost every way imaginable with my younger siblings and cousins during our childhood.  I would break down on the tennis court if I felt my opponent had made an unfair call.  And I always practiced enough to ensure I performed my piano piece better at our recital than the other kids my age.  When I arrived at Dartmouth, most of my friends decided to major in economics.  I’d always been good at math and possessed a genuine interest in economics, so I followed along.  When senior year rolled around and I asked myself, “What’s the most competitive thing an econ major can do out of college?” my answer was banking.  For most of my econ friends, that was their answer, too.  Two years later, when I asked myself, “What’s the most competitive thing I can do out of investment banking?” my answer was private equity.  Same answer as my competitive banking friends.

The banking/PE path out of Dartmouth was a very common one, so my first four years after school almost seemed like an extension of it.  I didn’t have to make any tough career decisions – I just figured that if I worked hard and got those jobs, everything else would fall into place.

After my second year in PE, that well-worn finance path ended.  My friends started doing different things.  Some wanted to stay in PE, others wanted to go back to business school, and still others seemed just as lost as me.  I had to make a choice: should I stay at my well-paying job, even though it wasn’t my true passion?  Or should I follow this inner voice telling me to explore the exciting and completely unfamiliar world of technology and entrepreneurship?

I chose to follow the voice.  But I faced another problem – deciding whether to apply for a business development/strategy job at a tech firm in the Bay Area, attempt to start my own business, or apply to business school.  That internal debate ended quickly after a phone call with Jeff Crowe, a parter at Norwest Venture Partners and the father of an old Dartmouth classmate.  He suggested that I try for a biz dev or operations role at a leading Silicon Valley tech company like Square, and when I told him I hadn’t heard of Square, he nearly laughed me off the telephone.  That’s when I knew that despite my interest in the tech world, I hadn’t done nearly enough research.

So, I decided to apply to school.  While the prospect of sitting in a classroom for two years wasn’t that appealing, I realized there were certain knowledge gaps I could and should fill if I wanted to switch careers and industries.  Even more appealing was the prospect of surrounding myself with like-minded entrepreneurial types who I could potentially collaborate with if a great start-up idea came to us.  Which brings me to my last point.  Business school would serve as a two-year safe haven where I could concentrate on starting a business.  At the end of the day, my dream job is to start and run my own company, and deal with all the ups and downs that inevitably come with (I’m sure I’ll get into this more in later posts).  Business schools have a wealth of great resources for start-ups, and it would be foolish of me not to taken advantage of them if given the opportunity.

That’s the story of why I came to business school.  This long journey I’ve just laid out before you has brought me to Chicago, where I am thrilled to be studying at Chicago Booth for the next two years.  I have no idea where I will be at the end of those two years.  But that’s the exciting part, isn’t it?