pushamerica-logo

Of all the charities that make requests to me to finish out the year, I wish I could contribute to more of them.  To wind down 2013, I made my highest donation priority to help the way for my advisees’ pledges to Push America, which three of them will be riding a bicycle cross-country this summer promoting its mission.

The cross-country trip is called The Journey of Hope, and aside from the physical test of the bike trip, it involves making visits to local facilities along the way that care for people with disabilities.  The fraternity members who participate in the ride must meet a minimum fundraising requirement towards the organization, and most members have a goal greater than that minimum.  The fundraising campaign runs the sensible model of benefiting both the organization and the person who would be getting credit for the funds on behalf of their goal.  Push America provides an easy way for a rider to market themselves and accept donations over the web.  As a result, I took advantage of the service and my very late December charitable givings is well summarized by the below

Dylan Reed  joh-dreed
Jeffrey Gorenshtein  joh-jGorenshtein
Brian Bott  joh-bbott

(  Great video recap of a past ride–   http://sloandickey.com/journeyofhope/?p=468  )

I’m especially proud of the efforts of these young men in their fundraising and commitment to the trip.  There had not been a member of the George Mason University Pi Kappa Phi chapter to ride as part of the Journey of Hope in many years.  Hopefully, they can start a trend for years to come.

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Backyard wilderness.  RIP Wookie

Thanksgiving comes on it’s earliest possible date this year. Even still, having gone through the recent hurricane experience and come out the other side with no lasting damage to house and family, I want to get out my advanced thanks and gratitude. My thoughts especially go out to those who are rebuilding, recovering, and grieving, especially leading into this upcoming holiday season.

This being my first time owning any property during a heavy storm and this past summer dealing with some tragic loss (albeit a pet), it has made it even more clear the importance of caring for each other and sharing that sense of disaster when all of a sudden your home becomes compromised.

On top of the feeling of being fortunate to not have any damage from hurricane Sandy, I do come away with a sense of pride for all the work I put in over the summer to setup a drainage system in the backyard, trim trees, and all the landscaping sweat to minimize issues from the massive rain. The winter may bring some new challenges for me as a new home owner, but from the early experiences of the derecho and hurricane within 6 months, I will chalk it up as just occurrences that I need to be rolling with more as time goes on.

Happy early Thanksgiving everyone.

As much as I don’t buy books all that often, I still do manage to have a decent sized collection of them. Lately, my eyes get drawn to the shelves and piles of them in thinking about having box them up in the not too distant future for my move. For a bunch of the titles, I just have tended to keep them around so I can remember that I’ve read them, and I’d really like a better way to recognize that without so much packing poundage. A great alternative that I found is that LinkedIn has an Amazon add-on for your profile called Reading List where you can track what you’re reading or what you’ve already read.

The LinkedIn app is even better for my tastes, since so many of the books that I read are business/personal development topics anyway, if not directly relating to my day job covering software dev skills. Sure, I could also pop stuff on there like Jurassic Park or some Grishams -haven’t decided yet. Overall, the app is great for jogging my own memory, showing off hypothetical knowledge, and just give profile gawkers more info about me. Apparently, the new figure is that 93% of firms go through some recruitment searching on LinkedIn to try to fill positions. The company is also being upped overall for big results compared to other social networks (Facebook), so I’m guessing my efforts to tome dump on this walled garden is not at risk for abandonment.

If you check it out, you’d see my status marker for The Big Short shows up as ‘Reading’. After having to pass over too many newspaper pieces trying to analyze the sub-prime housing downturn, I decided I wanted a better background of the terms and cast of characters. On top of that, there’s nothing quite like 45 hrs of power loss at your home to cause you to add another physical book to my piles to help pass the time without the Internet.

(photo credit by bandita)

July 15th is probably as good of a spot as any to declare that a college summer vacation is half over. My Pikapp chapter adviseeshave been working and planning for the fall recruitment period that starts up at just the third week of classes. By then, most freshman probably haven’t even been forced to perform their own laundry duties yet, but on campus they will be confronted by people wearing shirts with Greek letters and then asked to decide about joining such and such organization. As much as it requires a share of sales people to try to entice these next ranks, the groups will also need the simple manpower and show of solidarity to reveal their character and culture as well as answer questions about themselves to have hopes of potential members. The internal process may sound simple, but motivation for a group’s own recruitment activities is often times lackluster.

While as an adviser, I won’t be doing any actual sales pitching or activity planning, but I’ve been trying to think of ways to both keep the leaders on track for getting things done on their vacation and also ways they can transfer motivation onto the other members. On this 15th of the month midway point, we have our second, and final, summer check-in meeting to see that the leaders will everything planned for when school starts. Regarding group motivation, one thought I’ve had and need to introduce is to emphasize that the members keep tabs on their competitors. No matter where they fall in the membership size rankings, there’s always going to be that other group who seems just ahead of you in size, or involvement, or sports team record, etc. There is that next-closest competitor who you can act as your measuring stick and who will give the troops a sense of victory if they were matched or exceeded in recruitment intake. For my own undergrad experience, this competitve vibe was always in the forefront for me and my brothers as we went through planning, publicizing, and then execution of our recruitment/rush week. I hope relaying my experience can raise engagement in this new time and place, and give the current leaders some fodder for improving their odds at definitely their biggest priority of the fall.

(photo credit by scazon)

Over the past couple of years of considering the path towards a full time MBA or other graduate degree, it really caused me to look at my priorities. Beyond the clear advantage of the degree, the costs of it is the next immediate thought that comes to mind. As of May 7th, I’m now a home owner, and have exercised one of the big near-term opportunities that I would forgo, had I decided to go back to school.

I am happy with my funds draining decision, and these fruits of the huge (beyond my imagination!) amount of work that comes with both buying a home and overseeing large renovations on a property that I will be living in. The decision to buy a home was not an easy one, but it was helped greatly by the unheard of mortgage rates that are available and finding a good fit property that is in a high value location.

As is key with most big decisions, timing is such a key factor like with the lending rates and home prices, but it’s equally important to have the confidence of projecting where I want my life to go. Not only am I making a deep commitment to living in the DC suburbs of northern Virginia, but also the near-term limitations that I have put on my formalized education. Yet, I am confident in my decision for this huge financial play, and even more determined to continue my personal pursuits and curiosities I’ve set up for this blog to discuss. The home renovations and ongoing transition for my new professional position, have taken so much of my time lately, but regardless of the lack of updates to this page, my mind is full of thoughts that I hope to express here in the not too distant future.

(photo credit: woodleywonderworks )

Unfortunately, over the last number of weeks this blog has been slowed down a lot, but I’m happy to say that my efforts had been switched up in order to go through some recruitment processes and that I have now accepted a new full-time position. My work responsibilities have been picked up quite a bit, and especially in the short term I’ll be learning new a software code base and getting introduced to anew team. As things settle down, I’m looking forward to ramping up the content over here.

As for the new job, I’m very excited for the different opportunity, and I will now be among the growing trend of those employed as a direct result of cloud computing technologies. It will also be an eye-opening experience for me from this business education front, as I now get a view of the realities for a subscription-based software business, as opposed to those that rely on licenses and upgrades for a payment model. Which, by the way, I’ve been brushing up on those topics from the text-book style book Business Model Generation.   Highly recommended, and lots of illustrations, reminding me of the Head First book series.  More topics for another day…

(photo credit “Social network in a course” by hanspodolja)

It doesn’t take long within my eBay initiation to learn how great of a equalizing marketplace it is. Price competition is fierce and there’s only so much you can do to differentiate yourself with such things as customer service. Having a key product is absolutely essential so that you can not get overly commoditized and marginalized, especially from all the established companies who operate at a much different scale for generating profit. Even an item with the most shoddy description from an inexperienced seller can kill it if you’re shopping the right wares.

At first glance, the valuable products that jump out at you are the brands, but even more so comes anything that has some provable sort of scarcity to it. The starkness of this reality is just huge, and can be seen 24/7 in the massive community of collectibles traders that exist on eBay. I’ll admit, I had some not so subtle hinting to check out this area by one who I would dub my eBay mentor. This friend makes considerable cash dealing in sports cards, and between scouring outside message boards and weekend hobby shows, it’s definitely expanded beyond the level of a hobby for him. The thing that truly gave me a sense of how big the collector’s market and the sports collectors market was, specifically, was the eBay reaction to the New York Knicks sensation, Jeremy Lin. The craze began back in early February, and through the end of that month you could still find the eBay home page had a massive graphic, front-and-center, to push his related merchandise. Pretty unthinkable for a site where you can buy nearly anything to focus on something so limited, and for such a long time!

So taking the Lin evidence, the memorabilia market rises and falls off the latest news makers probably more than anything else. At the same time though, I’ve started to wonder if the market as a whole has been seeing some noticeable upward trends in the recent future. The huge popularity of Pawn Stars and it’s many spinoffs (Cajun Pawn Stars, American Picker, Storage Wars, Hardcore Pawn, etc.) does a great deal to bring back perceived collectable value into everyone’s consciousness. That coupled with a gradually improving economy, and people having expendable cash, makes for a great recipe for gain potential on the collectables front. After all, once you’ve got all your necessities covered, who wouldn’t want to brag about owning the one-of-a-kind presidential-shaped Chicken McNugget!

The latest Pawn Stars-esque show to appear even focuses completely on sports memorabilia, as told through a small retail operation outside Baltimore called Robbie’s First Base. The show, named “Ball Boys”, first airs during an afternoon slot on March 24th on ABC (probably running alongside NCAA tournament games). The collectables trend on television is at a hot clip, and I’ll be keeping tabs on how things work out for this maybe not so small segment of the eBay world.

(photo credit: “SILLY BANDZ” by Scot Scoop)

The last broad topic for my MBA Frontier roadmap addresses the management of other people and leadership principles.  Without a doubt, they are two of the key ingredients to accredited business schools and the Personal MBA alike. A quick glance shows at least 14 of the 99 titles related to such interpersonal topics within the PMBA recommendations.  Yet even with 100 books between your ears, a personal style of management will be developed over time and under real life trials. Even within the texts, recommended styles contrast and contention reigns across this topic. While Jim Collins stresses humility, Harvey MacKay speaks of high confidence, but you may never know what brings success until you are confronted with taking action and handling the results.

I will be writing on this topic through my experiences with a volunteer activity that I have just passed over the one year anniversary of.   This student advisory and mentoring post has taught me a great deal about myself, and as I think about my successes and shortcomings it becomes easy to see how it lends itself to my personal development and my fluency of organizational dynamics and management concepts. I’m very happy to be serving this role as a Chapter Adviser for the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity. Helping a group of undergraduates toward achieving their own personal development, philanthropic, social, and campus goals is something that I am proud to be able to offer.

During my time as an undergraduate, outside of classwork, the only other constant/unifying aspect was my Pi Kappa Phi fraternity chapter.  I continually acknowledge my growth throughout the offices I served in and through expansion of my personal network from joining such an organization. Now, I’m in a circumstance where I can help groups of otherwise strangers to also grasp the big experience that I had from such a student group. In future writing I’ll continue to discuss this Chapter Adviser position in more detail, and ideally weave in the key business topics and takeaways from my readings.  Aside from reasons already mentioned, I’ll leave with my growing list of motivations for keeping up with a position, at times, demanding and with usually little fanfare:

  1. Having a front row view of mentees during their own successes and challenges and knowing of my ability to help to guide them through.
  2. Keeping myself intact with some semblance of public speaking skills, hopefully balancing out spending days at the office putting to use technical skills sitting in front of a computer.
  3. The welcome influence from the young crowd -the university age that prompts so many trends and new ideas. Could this be a group that plants an idea in my relatively aged mind?
  4. Not to mention the exposure to diverse backgrounds and strengths that Pi Kapp attracts on campus.
  5. Being able to look back at my own time as an undergrad in this organization and have renewed respect for what we were able to accomplish.
  6. Collaborating with the other dedicated alumni advisers, who help myself and the other local campus chapters within the brotherhood.
  7. Personally growing this network of advisers by identifying, recruiting and engaging them through the needs of my advisees.
  8. Lastly, the list of things at this point in my life that I can consider myself to be an expert in is very minimal. Typically, with a window of four years or fewer to experience being in a fraternity chapter, it feels good to pass on my deep knowledge and enthusiasm I carry from back when I was in their shoes.

Thanks to those friends, other volunteers, and fraternity staff who supported me and continue to support me through my advising position.

(photo credit “Victor Stalberg and Coach Q” -by dtkindler)

rollercoaster before the drop

The MBA Frontier project soldiers on by addressing one of the common concerns about even accredited MBA programs in general: What does any book reading and lecture attending amount to if it isn’t put into practice? As a way of materializing the ideas that I will be reading about I am seeking out side projects and small business opportunities to force exposure to running a business. Time will be spent, and money will be fronted. I’ll resist to call any of this activity an actual small business, since I don’t intend to put the full clout of my efforts into it. Without a doubt it will be nice to know that even if it doesn’t amount to any monetary profits, I’ll at least have an outlet for my experience and my failures to bring me some personal development dividends.

The first outpost I’ve reached as a business side project takes the form of an eBay account. Fantastically late to the game, having never bought or sold anything before on the monumental site, I’m hardly ready to internalize all of the ins and outs of the platform. In this case, that’s really the point. I’m battling my personality and my ingrained standard operating procedures by just jumping in.  My very short history for this venture has already taught me a lot and I’m happy to keep tweaking my approach for the day when these business and marketing maxims will play out in a much greater forum:

  • Auction mechanisms and buyer psychology
  • Properly marketing and cataloging products
  • Serving a paying customer, with an eye toward my feeble initial feedback rating
  • Actually using the snail mail postal service
    AND
  • Understanding that I am thrust into a living marketplace and dueling with plenty of professional sales fronts

There’s loads of material already in print and around the net going into eBay strategy and I’m unlikely to discuss any here. I am expecting to continue to share my thoughts on the overall real-world lessons that this project can bring me. At the same time, I’ll be looking out for a next side project to take on and see if I can escalate my risk/reward factor.

(photo credit- “Get Ready” by hjl)

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