MBA Frontier: Anatomy of an eBay Collectables Craze

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)

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MBA Frontier: Giving Back

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)

MBA Frontier: Risks and Side Projects

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)

MBA Frontier: Book Reading Goals and the Personal MBA

books collection

Getting started with my MBA Frontier project, I’m going to make sure I have a plan for the low-hanging fruit activities. The core of any course of study whether instructed or not would be the published literature and reference material on the subject. This is going to be no different for me and my goal, and through any number of books I’ll be able to tout my knowledge as enclosed under some in-your-face or epic sounding title -matching up pretty closely with my mission there.

Fortunately, a lot of this work about the best MBA-substituting books has already been done for me (us!) via the Personal MBA Reading List, administered by Josh Kaufman. Updates for the 2012 version of this list were completed as of a month ago. I reformatted this into a crude spreadsheet / checklist doc if anybody else is interested (PersonalMBA-ReadingList-2012.xls). At first glance of the list, there are absolutely some titles I’d expect to find, and even some I’ve already got under my belt. I’m definitely looking forward to getting into these topics, and work through such works that have already gone through many iterations of scrutiny.  This year the list has been broken into categories as follows:

  • Business Creation
  • Value-Creation & Testing
  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • Value-Delivery
  • Finance & Accounting
  • Productivity & Effectiveness
  • Problem Solving
  • The Human Mind
  • Behavioral Change
  • Communication
  • Influence
  • Decision-Making
  • Negotiation
  • Management
  • Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Systems
  • Analysis
  • Statistics
  • Corporate Skills
  • Corporate Strategy
  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Design
  • Consulting

The reading list is at the same time exciting as it is daunting, particularly with some of my other reading goals that I’ve already got on tap (and which I’d like to write on later). At least for the time being, I would like to get through one PMBA book in a month. This will be bolstered by my other reading, and another book I’ll spin up on my car stereo over my daily commutes. It’s not high academia rigor I’m putting on my plate, but as Leo Babauta mentions in an entire chapter of the PMBA recommended The Power of Less: “Start Small” and you’ll be setting yourself firm footing for true habit formation.

Please speak up for any tips that could help me, particularly from the students who already have overcome their deluge of reading.

photo credit- “Bookshelf” by heipei

MBA Frontier: 7 Motivations

Overlook

Who doesn’t love a sense of adventure?  Branching westward, the early citizens of the new United States tested themselves against harsh terrain, limited infrastructure, and a life without the safeties of political and societal institutions.

Present day, I look out at my idea of a frontier wilderness… Can I go through the rigors and learning activities brought on by attending an MBA program, only without actually attending one? Will personal laziness, be the pack of wolves who eats my trusty mule? Will a lack of clear ending credentials weigh on me like the carrying of six spare wagon yokes that were never needed? Will a lack of curriculum be as emotionally wrenching as the stereotypical dysentery contracted by my pioneer sibling? For all the reasons not to set off on such a perilous journey, there stands the reasons that I hope will keep me going.

Here are the 7 motivations for my self-study MBA project. Let me know what I’ve overlooked, oh fine interwebs mentors!

  1. The subjects studied as part of an MBA are true interests of mine and I would have been reading/doing these things anyway. Think of the blogging as a way of sharing them with others, and having a place for reminding myself what I’ve accomplished.
  2. I’d like to be in a confident position to start my own business one day. How many people go to business school with the predetermination they would be using the education to start their own business anyway? When the on-campus recruitment is valued less significantly, and truly takes a back seat to the education, the thinking by many is that self-teaching can be just as beneficial.
  3. This project is nearly free, especially in comparison to the costs of tuition and on-the-job opportunity costs foregone by attending a full-time MBA program.
  4. Maybe a self-study MBA won’t be as difficult as it could be. There is more material available than ever before to those who want to pick up learning MBA topics. There is an established movement and accompanying reading list for MBA self-study that goes by the name of the Personal MBA. Through that outlet and others, there is also great potential for a community of people, both virtual and in-the-flesh, to give help and encouragement.
  5. The blog, itself, acts as a credential for others to get a view into my efforts. Even though there is no degree at the end of this project, this web presence will hopefully serve at least a fraction of what a transcript could hold.
  6. MBA Frontier gives me the excuse to write. Writing is something that I’ve enjoyed in the past, but also something that I always need work on.
  7. Lastly, a chance to try out all the great tools and Web 2.0 concepts, besides just sharing with the world wide web what I ate for lunch! Tweet me back!

Until the next canyon break.

–photo “mt walker overlook”. by goodmami

Introduction

With prices of higher education escalating to previously unforeseen heights, the decision of undergraduate concentrations and graduate degree enrollment has become more critical than ever.  Job availability  in the U.S., especially to recent graduates is dismal.

Are there alternatives available to traditional colleges and universities that will still lead to professional success?  For those already enrolled in a degree program, what are ways the most value of that degree can be realized?  For recent graduates, those of the Millenium/Generation-Y age, there may be more questions than answers at this point in time.  Emerging changes should be viewed unavoidable, driven by the rising costs, changing demographic and political landscapes, and continual advances in technology.