China Lab and India Lab students study economy and business in modern China and India and collaborate with entrepreneurial companies facing business challenges. Follow along as they blog their project experiences in March 2013.
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I can’t believe that it’s already been a month since we returned to Boston from Delhi. I sometimes close my eyes and I still hear the sounds and smells of India. The soul of the place has captured me…
Before the trip I remember myself in Boston thinking about India and how it would be like. It was like a puzzle, which I was trying to create from images I saw or I created in my head from stories my friends told me. Now I am back in Boston and I have the REAL picture in my head and not only that… Before it was just a one-dimensional picture. Now it’s a movie with characters and a story, with sounds, tastes, smells and emotions.
This journey however goes beyond that. We learned about ourselves and from the people we met. Do you remember arriving in the city seeing the challenges its people face day after day? Then you meet its people who start to talk about how they are driving growth and innovation? We also learned so much about ourselves, when we were put in situations we never anticipated and we had to push through! Let’s not forget this experience and let’s revisit this journey and any such journey in any way we can.
Wherever I travelled, no matter how beautiful, surprising, shocking the place was, it was the people that made me remember it! I wish we find a way to maintain these relationships…I feel there is more to learn from them. It’s up to us!
Has it already been two weeks since I left China? Time has really flown!
I found campus unchanged when I walked into E62 on Monday morning after getting back. It was the longest I’d been away from E62 since I started business school, and I was surprised at the warm fuzzy feeling I had when I saw the view of Boston from our green glass building. It was a confirmation that after six months—complete with academic and professional ups and downs—Sloan has at last become “home.”
The experience of living and working in China – rich on its own – became all the more meaningful when I reconnected with classmates who had been elsewhere for spring break. For me, the most important lesson from our comparative experiences was that we each learned how to apply our education so far at Sloan to create real impact. My time in China was not a business school case study (though those are sometimes stressful too!). Rather, it was a real opportunity to add value to an organization, with high stakes for an entrepreneur half-way across the world. Rather than theorizing about all the possible things that could be done, I had to focus on prioritizing a mission-critical solution. In the process of applying my b-school education so far, I not only learned about doing business in a different country or being a consultant, but also came to understand how to prioritize the various learning opportunities available at Sloan.
You know a trip is impactful when people break out into impromptu mini-debrief sessions right when they see each other again. It seemed like everyone knew they had had an important experience, and all wanted (or perhaps needed) to process it. Here were a few thoughts that came out:
We thought that we would learn about new cultures by joining an Action Learning Lab, but who knew we would also learn so much about ourselves?
Our onsite research is approaching to an end. Two weeks passed by very quickly and we gathered some relevant information about tourist behavior in general and in India.
AudioCompass travel app is targeted towards independent tech-savvy tourists who enjoy discover new places on their own. Besides brand awareness and sales targets, AudioCompass’s marketing campaign should focus on customer behavior changing to position itself as a leader in audio guide apps in India. According to a 2012 study done by Google 44% of travelers have downloaded a travel related app. Being on top of mind of customer who will eventually use audio guide applications frequently is the key for AudioCompass.
Social media and app reviews have one of the highest impacts on tourists. According to Think Insights, 40% of personal travelers and 46% business travelers use social networking to share travel experience. Additionally, according to Econsultancy, high product rating will increase likelihood of purchase for 55% of consumers. Our next task is to figure out the expected return on investment on marketing channels chosen.
Our visit concurred with President Rafael Reif speech in Mumbai and we were cordially invited to a MIT alumni dinner to Mr. Adi Godrej’s residence after this event. It was great catching up with fellow MIT Sloan visiting students and meeting local alums.
I will miss Mumbai with its great weather, beautiful sights, very welcoming and entrepreneurial people and convenient daily tea time at the office!
White noise, you never seem to notice it until it stops. After Delhi, Boston feels decidedly sleepy.
There are no perpetually honking cars, everyone uses sidewalks (for walking), and most food isn’t spiced with curry. It’s at once refreshing and a little sad. I will miss the energy of India.
Serendipitously, The Economist put India on its cover this week. The article focused on India’s military, but the theme is consistent with previous articles about India: the country lacks strategic focus and performs below its potential. A few weeks ago, I would have agreed that these are terminal problems for India.
I now predict that India’s rise will defy expert opinion. Such opinion has been formulated by financial, economic and business leaders, most of whom got where they are because they enjoy being in control of their environment, which they can order to their liking.
Doing business in India requires a cession of control that is uncomfortable for most of these people. There are simply too many factors beyond a leader’s control, from the quantity educated professionals she needs to staff her company to the consistency of the power grid. Further, India’s growth story is not one that lends itself to a concise explanation. Whereas, say, China’s economic rise enjoys a tidy explanation that is tangibly evidenced by manful physical capital, India’s story is one of incrementalism. A traveller to India could be forgiven for asking “where’s the growth?” because it happens one bit by bit, 1.2 billion times over.
After working with One97, I realize just how much opportunity there is in India for people who are comfortable with India's pell mell economy. One97 achieved market leadership and financial success in a line of business that would raise eyebrows in Western boardrooms because it wasn't intimidated by its marketplace. However, I also realized that the value of my MBA transfers globally. While India certainly required a shift in attitude, the frameworks I learned in class were enormously helpful in helping One97 pursue its goals.
I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in India Lab. I have learned things I couldn’t in a classroom. However, I have also learned and just how valuable my coursework is.
Over the past few days, our ChinaLab team wrapped up our on-site work at the client and presented our findings to an audience of Tsinghua professors and business professionals. Looking back at the work that not only my team – but also the other ChinaLab teams – completed in the past
two weeks was exciting indeed.
Our project focused on how a local Chinese company could use its technology, which allows more accurately surveying oil fields, to be commercialized abroad. Its technology has the potential to produce more accurate information around (1) if there are commercially viable hydrocarbons on
a particular plot, and (2) where drilling should be conducted.
In two weeks, we managed to build a robust financial model that would allow the company to look at investment cashflows through time based on more than fifty variables (including oil price, production curve, timing lags, surveying costs, etc.). We also produced an implementation plan for what legal structure it should adopt, how it should structure oil deals to mitigate risk, and how it
could develop a compelling investment case to raise funds.
One of the other Beijing ChinaLab teams worked on helping a Chinese packaging company expand into other emerging markets. Another worked on helping a microcredit lending company optimize their outreach efforts in China to entrepreneurs.
I’ve previously had the opportunity to work with major companies in China in my professional life before business school. But ChinaLab – which let me and my classmates work with smaller, nimbler companies was a much different experience indeed. It was a first-hand view into entrepreneurship, doing business in China, and working across borders.
Panda diplomacy – where China gives gifts (or loans) of its impressive Panda bears – was regarded as a way to both show goodwill and also spread a cognizance of an important Chinese symbol as the country opened up in the 1980’s.
As I took the taxi from my hotel to the airport today to fly out of Beijing back to Boston, I had a particularly talkative taxi driver. My Mandarin was just good enough to have a reasonably interesting, if basic, conversation with him. We went through the basics: what terminal was my flight from, where was I from, what I was doing in China, how the country has developed so much in recent years and the like.
And then, having extended those first few subjects, there was a temporary quiet before he said in Mandarin, “I really like to watch the American NBA?”
From there, much of the rest of our ride was him talking about the players and the teams he liked. He started talking about Kobe Bryant, Jeremy Lin, and many of the other well-known US players.
He talked about a few recent games and how the NBA was increasingly popular in China. He lamented Yao Ming’s injury which took him out of the game. Even his tone of voice demonstrated his interest in the NBA.
Shared interests – be they financial, cultural, or otherwise – can be a powerful way to catalyze interactions across countries.
For instance, Dennis Rodman’s recent visit to North Korea – which came at a time when there is increasingly hostile rhetoric between the U.S. and North Korea – was an odd occurrence but a powerful reminder of how sports or shared interests can bring people together.
Who’d have thought following the NBA would help me make conversation with a taxi driver in Beijing?
And, for good measure a few pictures of the Beijing ChinaLab team:
Representing MIT on the Tsinghua campus...
Getting some tasty Peking Duck...
And on Tsinghua campus...
“Evil happens and to conquer a superhero is born.
Life has its moments. Moments that put us on the edge, at a point of no return, challenge us to take that leap of faith. A few of us choose to overcome and fight back. It’s these moments that make us a superhero.”
These are Vijay’s words (CEO of one97) inscribed inside the official handcrafted company calendar - themed “superheroes”, which he gave us as a gift at the end of our interim presentation to him and the management board. What a way to end our two weeks in New Delhi, realising the inspiration only a few people draw from different facets of life to create and succeed. I am really proud to have met and worked with this excellent group of people and to have had the opportunity to learn about their country and their day-to-day life in India.
This week was shorter with Holi celebrations being the highlight! A very colourful holiday where people ‘play’ with each other by finding ways to paint one another with different colours of paint. We joined the big party of course, but we must have not played very hard, because we were able to clean up with no ‘scars’; in the office, days later people still carried stains of purple paint on their fingers and hair!
It is now time to return to Boston and I have to say I will miss Delhi’s vibe and soul. The interactions with constantly friendly and happy people from all walks of life; our routinely daily commute which had nothing routine about it; the spicy Indian lunch and dinner feasts; and the miracle of so many people from different backgrounds, religions, languages and cultures living together in unity.
Finally I cannot emphasize enough how valuable this experience has been, not just now but for the years to come. One of the reasons I joined the India Lab was to get to know fellow Sloanies in a more challenging environment. This is when true bonds are formed. Matt, Taylor and Yuichi it was truly an honour and thank you for teaching me so much…till our next trip together!