Mimo Lives!

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As a co-founder in Mimo, the Vietnamese microblogging service that grew to 2 million users before it closed earlier this year, it is great to see the benefits of this guerilla marketing campaign still alive! When our team traveled in taxis for business meetings all over Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), we would make sure to leave a sticker to share the service with others. By the way the sticker was placed, I probably placed this sticker myself in this Vinasun taxi at least two years ago.

I hope to visit Vietnam after I graduate from Kellogg – I wonder if I will still be able to find a Mimo’d taxi then.

(Photo sent to me a couple of days ago by Jin)

Sheryl Sandberg, You’re Wrong [Lean In]

imageForgive the provocative title – I actually liked Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In quite a bit. If there is anything I look back on with pride at my time in Vietnam, it’s that I treated men equally to women. I feel very confident about my track record in making sure that women and men were paid equally to each other, and that they also had the same opportunities to advance and improve themselves.

Back to the book, Lean In gives a great perspective about the issues women face in the workplace, and reading it can provide the empathy to understand the interpersonal dynamics that may be occurring around you. My wife Ha has found it very insightful for her as well as she has just started her MBA at IE Business School in Madrid and many of the situations explored in Lean In are those that she faces in class on an everyday basis.

That said, this one excerpt at the beginning of chapter 4 bothers me:

About a month after I joined Facebook, I got a call from Lori Goler, a highly regarded senior director of marketing at eBay. I knew Lori a bit socially, but she made it clear this was a business call and cut to the chase. “I want to apply to work with you at Facevook,” she said. “So I thought about calling you and telling you all of the things I’m good at and all of the things I like to do. Then I figured that everyone was doing that. So instead, I want to ask you: What is your biggest problem, and how can I solve it?

My jaw hit the floor. I had hired thousands of people over the previous decade and no one had ever said anything remotely like that. People usually focus on finding the right role for themselves, with the implication that their skills will help the company. Lori put Facebook’s needs front and center.

At first, reading this particular passage excited me – it was exactly what I was looking for and I ask people this all the time. My work history had been to always do what was needed to help the company succeed. I personally do not care what I do as long as I maximize my impact. Over the years, I have gone from customer service to ecommerce logistics, to sales and business development, to marketing and digital product management.

Yet, when I was at UC-Berkeley, I failed presentations by refusing to do them, not showing up (I remember letting some classmates down, which I still feel guilty about), or simply reading my notes face down. I absolutely hated public speaking. Who could have imagined that today, as along as I prepare, I am a pretty decent public speaker? I have spoken in front of hundreds of people and taken their criticism, complaints, and questions without fear. I have pitched digital campaigns, sought funding for my companies. Public speaking was something I never imagined I could do, nor was it something I ever even aspired to do. I developed the skill once I started working because it was necessary for the success of the company.

Thus, as a veteran of multiple startups, I recently looked to take Sandberg’s advice and see what kind of demand there was for a flexible manager unafraid to focus on a company’s greater good to create success. Someone, like her friend, who would be happy to do whatever he could to create the most value. My work experience proved that was exactly what I had done in the past, spanning multiple industries and countries.

The verdict, from talking to friends, successful startup founders, recruiting managers, and even staff at Facebook over a few months time? You need to be specialized, you need to say what you want to do, and you need to create a story that shows you know how to do that. Without fail, even when I mentioned Sandberg’s story, no one bit. Kind of like, “sure, that sounds great, but what is it you want to do exactly?”

I then looked to contact Sandberg myself or see if there was a forum for the book to discuss this point. I couldn’t find a good way to do either – I wanted to learn if others had been successful where I had not, and how they had done so. No success.

This is why I believe Sandberg is wrong. Yes, if you happen to know Sheryl Sandberg, this approach could work. But you probably don’t know her. And that’s too bad (for us).

Learning about my Interests, Motivations and Skills through my CareerLeader Profile [MBA, Kellogg]

As part of preparation for incoming Kellogg students, I was asked to develop my profile on CareerLeader. It was an enlightening process, and gives me some things to consider while moving forward. Here are my results:

My Interests:

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Will my interests and scores change over time?

Research shows that by young adulthood, individual patterns of interest are set and remain consistent over time. You may become even more interested in activities you have strong interests in now, and less interested in activities you aren’t interested in now. But, the pattern of your scores is unlikely to change substantially.

Motivations:

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Skills:

This is a measure of your perception of your skill versus the perception that other people have of their own skill. While self-confidence is a powerful predictor of actual performance, we recommend that you also ask for feedback from other people who are able to assess your skills.

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With the items listed above, each has subcomponents of which I feel strong in (able to make decisions) and not as strong (negotiator, motivating others, convincing others).

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Above are the careers I may be best suited for. I can’t disagree with the assessed interest in physical and digital product development. After all, I did write this 4,300 word article on basketball training wearables. With my double degree MBA and Design Innovation program at Kellogg, I am also hoping to major in Marketing as Kellogg is generally considered the best Marketing program in the world and I also need to better understand how to sell any product I work on. Incidentally, I started on this path at Cyworld, and led our team to the largest social media marketing contracts to date in Vietnam.

If you happen to know me, I wonder how much you agree with these assessments. Let me know!

10 Things to Learn from The Start-up of You (LinkedIn, Career)

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The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career (by Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn) was highly recommended to me by Lily Phan, and after reading it, I can understand why – it’s a wake up call to what the world is like today, in terms of the professional career.

It’s a summary of what you need to do in order to thrive in today’s work environment – Hoffman makes the parallel of one’s career to a startup. How a startup survives (hustle in chaos, pivot, etc.) is similar to how you must manage your career. Yes, it’s tough, and unlike what your parents went through, but that is what is required today. Accept and embrace it or fail.

While many of the lessons (you must compete, differentiate yourself, etc.) had been taught to me by my dad (he told me 20 years ago, that for my generation, the bachelor’s degree would be so common as to be meaningless – he was right), and have been taught by me to others, the book reinforced those lessons.

This reminded me of an article in the San Jose Mercury News a few years ago. In it, a young woman, having recently graduated from San Jose State University, told the reporter that she felt she had fulfilled her responsibility by getting solid grades at the school. She did not understand why she did not have a job – she felt that going to college meant that she deserved a job when she finished.

Someone like that would not yet have understood the critical points of The Start-up of You. At times, the book feels like an advertisement for the LinkedIn service. While I disagree about the actual  effectiveness of some of Hoffman’s LinkedIn usage recommendations, they do make sense, at least conceptually, and you can tell that his team has put in a lot of thought and research into activating the social network to foster professional relationships.

Other than that, Hoffman has good advice for adjusting your LinkedIn profile (see mine here: http://www.linkedin.com/in/michaeldinhnguyen/).

I could not export my Kindle notes, so I’ll paraphrase ten notable lessons from the book:

1. The days of lifetime-guaranteed jobs and continual on-the-job training is over. You need to be ready to work when you go through the door. Companies don’t want to invest in training if people are just going to leave in a few years. Companies die too quickly to guarantee a lifetime contract – the average a company stays in the S&P 500 today is just 10 years.

2. Loyalty is no longer to the company, but among your social network.

3. Understand what differentiates you by completing the following thought: “A company hires me over other professionals because….” (What makes you so much better or more valuable than everyone else who wants the same job?) If you cannot answer this, you need to create your answer (not make it up, but work on differentiators).

4. Don’t assume you need a perfect 5 or 10 year career plan mapped out – things rarely work out this way. Successful companies often change directions drastically before reaching success. In the process, they experience near-death and lots of adaption. Your career will be the same.

5. To enter a new industry or new job direction that needs previous work experience that you do not have, not only make contacts with people in those areas, but do work for free on the side. Example, if you are interested in product management, ask if you can write up your ideas (following the proper work structure) and have actual product managers review (and be able to use them without having to pay you) and give you feedback. You would do this new work in addition to your existing work. This would also be applied to learning new skills.

6. The self-made man is a myth – it’s about you and your network that will ultimately define your value and success.

7. Physical proximity (if you live across the country from someone, your relationship strength will suffer) is a strong indicator of relationship strength, networks of strong relationships can be of maximum 150 people at one time.

8. Focus on helping people first. Provide value before seeking it – differentiate yourself this way.

9. If you are not truly pained by the risk in your strategic choices, this is a sign this is not the breakout opportunity you are looking for. No pain, no gain, meaning that amazing opportunities come with a lot of risk (the pay is too low, it’s in a different city than I want to be in, etc.) and disruption to what you want.

10. We are afraid of risk much more than we should be  – we overemphasize risk and underemphasize positives when evaluating situations. For example, dying in a plane crash is virtually impossible, yet people have an irrational fear of it. Learn to absorb risk over time, get used to it – step into the fear.