A call to action…

Disclaimer: Overly dramatized and laced with Indian Bollywood style-masala (spices) for readability and boredom prevention.

“Third place to the team with the fantastic ideas on investing in mobile payments” – I heaved a sigh of relief on hearing the announcement by the judges at the 2010 Apple Technology Challenge organized by Haas Technology Club. We were still clinging on to the hope of finishing in the top two at the competition whose question was to suggest a strategy for Apple to invest its $51B cash reserves.

“The second prize goes to the team with a great array of ideas on re-investing in the current Apple ecosystem and further developing the current market”. There was just one prize left, the first prize. Instinctively, my head turned down towards the floor, recollecting the three near-all-nighters our team had spent that week working on our idea’s presentation to the Apple product marketing executives.

Two weeks earlier, our team, Sam Kanakamedala, Shone Tran and I, Archit Lohokare, had been selected as one of the five finalists at the Apple Technology Challenge for the seemingly flabbergasting (not my words) proposal that Apple should spend a part of its $51B cash reserves acquiring Tesla Motors, the electric car company. The idea was a product of some very animated brainstorming over a few cups of coffee at a Starbucks between a software engineer, a product marketer and a technical salesperson.

Flashes of those all-nighters came back to me as I stole a glance at my team members. We knew our idea had strong merit, but backing up ideas with hard facts and data was important. Pouring over 20+ research reports on car telematics, infotainment, electric vehicles, Apple and Tesla from sources like Gartner, IDC, ABI research, Consumer Electronics Association, Frost & Sullivan, iSuppli, etc, we had managed to develop credible projections of the total addressable market, future market growth, opportunities, competitive analysis and a whole slew of consumer survey analyses to support our proposal.

Our team’s debates about how to organize the presentation started playing in my head. Focus on the strategic aspects, not on tactical considerations. Answer the fundamental questions with conviction and simplicity – “Why Car?” and “Why Tesla?” Obsessively working on each slide figuring out how it was transitioned into, and transitioned out of. What kind of questions could we expect on each point, and how could we credibly and honestly answer them. We had to remember that this was, for all practical purposes, a strategy presentation to the product marketing executives at the largest technology company in the world. And we were first year part time MBA students.

The night before the presentation then flashed before me – 3 a.m. and we were midway through rehearsing our presentation. By the end of the night, each of us knew the presentation by rote and had the numbers in the slides on our fingertips. And we were dead tired. I closed my eyes for a bit.

On opening them again, I was back in the O’Neill room at the Haas Faculty Club looking down at the floor. The world was seemingly at standstill and the only sound I heard was the judge saying, “The winner of this year’s Apple Technology Challenge, is TEAM TESLA”! That was our team’s “Miss World” moment – the moment where you stand up instinctively, round your lips into an “O” and then cover them with the palms of both your hands. We had won!

To end on a more serious and heartfelt note, yes, there was a lot of work and a lot of luck involved. I am not, from even the remotest perspective, an authority on b-school competitions. However, the purpose of this post, in all honesty, is to educate our blog readers that Haas and b-school competitions in general are serious business, and to be treated just as you would treat your job. Ideation and out-of-the-box thinking is great and absolutely needed, but as in the corporate world, these competitions will see probing questions from the judges on the validity and coherence of your ideas. Lastly, and probably most importantly, the team, its enthusiasm and its synergy make a monumental difference.

My EWMBA brethren, this is a call to action. So spread your wings, form your teams and attack these competitions head on. I promise you’ll enjoy every moment of it and come out, at the very minimal, with strong friendships, new confidence and great business analysis skills!

For those of you interested, here’s the collateral (slide deck, executive summary, and an acquisition strategy pitch-book) we developed for the competition. We were also helped greatly by a fantastic video developed by Blue Penguin Pictures run by Shone’s close friend Alan Chern, who we cannot be more thankful to. Comments and critical review welcome!