Q: This is the first day of HBS. Introduce yourself to your section mates. 6 days to go.
A: I'm not giving details around my background because it's the first day at HBS and I want to know if this is interesting and if you'd want to sit beside this person in class.
I had just landed in Berlin, alone and unprepared. It had been raining and I didn't have a map or a working phone. I took off from the airport, mistakenly in the wrong direction, on a wrong bus. A few minutes later, I smiled. In being lost in a new city, I found comfort in the realization that the prospect of possibilities can be exciting if I decided not to be intimidated by it. Recently our 7 member team had been told that the Debt business that we had built over the last few years - one relationship at a time, was no longer going to be funded by (XX), our parent company at the time. The news came at a time when growth was accelerating; we were finalizing plans to deploy additional capital as fast as we prudently could.
Through the next 15 months, the team successfully executed a management buyout and brought in (big investor) as the majority investor. In this journey from (Company 1) to (New company), from being part of a large global organization with a 30 year legacy to a new brand whose reputation relied only on the individuals in the team, I found my inspiration - to embody the spirit of a startup - humble in glory, agile when momentum is solid and pragmatic yet unwavering when the going gets tough.
Startups often have no assets or success track record which is what makes lending to these early stage ventures counter-intuitive and challenging. This etched in me an important lesson - to look beyond past performance or the lack of it when assessing potential and to give credence to vision. Enabling entrepreneurship has also been a gratifying experience for its eventual impact on the society. When new products, services or organized markets are created by these startups, it results in jobs, commerce and prosperity too and I am thrilled to have made a contribution, in my own way.
My reverence for entrepreneurship took form when alongside college I assisted my father at his niche advisory firm that specializes in rehabilitating sick industries. It is the best formative training I could have had on business realities for it exposed me to the troughs a business could find itself in and how one bounces back from failure.
I have spent the last four years working alongside entrepreneurs and investors who are disrupting the way we do everyday things in India - in how we shop or pay or learn or commute. I have had a great ringside seat at the startup gala in India but I am now keen to get involved more closely and strategically with innovation across the world as an early stage equity investor. I see Harvard Business School as the accelerator that will launch me into the next phase of my career and growth, and the eminent faculty here as my mentors. I am excited about the prospect of undergoing this stimulating intellectual journey with all of you, learning from your brilliant and diverse experiences in class and outside, and sharing my perspective along the way.
I'm confused by the prompt and your answer. Are you choosing not to introduce yourself to describe your future?
Shuhani, your response does not provide any sort of introduction of yourself to your classmate. I believe that you are talking of yourself in future form in this essay while you should be introducing yourself to your classmate in present and immediate past form. Who are you, where did you come from? What are your interests? What led you to this course? What do you hope to learn in this class? How do you make friends? What can you do to help people feel comfortable around you and vice versa? Those are some of the topics that you should be presenting in the essay.
In response to your question, no, I would not be interested to sit next to someone in class who can't introduce himself properly to me. I don't even know and understand who you are at the moment and you expect me to give you my friendship and consideration as a classmate because you can talk about who you imagine yourself to be in the future? It doesn't work that way. First let me get to know you from your past and present. Then we can talk about being friends in the future :-)
You have to deliver the specifics of the prompt requirements. Don't discuss something that is not required nor relevant to the instruction. If you want your classmates to want to get to know you or sit next to you in class, then you have to give them current information that they may be able to relate to in terms of shared interests or career ideas. Don't jump so far into the future that nobody has an idea where you came from so they can't understand why your future would be such.
These aren't future stories. These are past stories that happened with me - Berlin, the sale of business, Why is entrepreneurship so important to me, Where did this begin. Only the last para is aspirational.
I get your point on other things I can include. The idea was for people to take away that I am passionate about entrepreneurship for a few reasons. I guess one theme makes it very very one dimensional.
I think it's great to tell a story, but before telling the story it's a good idea to respond directly to the prompt by introducing yourself in the way they expect. People who read these essays often look to see if the prompt is answered directly, because they feel a sense of responsibility to use a methodical approach to deciding which applicants to favor and which not to favor... and they sometimes might automatically choose not to favor someone who SEEMS to misunderstand the prompt. I know you understand it, and your writing is inspired, but it's best if you cordially introduce yourself in the first few sentences and then transition naturally into telling the story.
If you introduce yourself and then give a poignant, memorable sentence to express an idea that the reader can associated with you -- that will establish a great introduction, and when you tell the story the whole story will support and reinforce that main idea you introduced to the reader.
As I read the last paragraph, I think it is a VERY strong introduction. It's clear and interesting, and... I recommend moving it to the top so it can be part of the way you initially introduce yourself. If you do that, I think this will be a very impressive response. The trouble is when you immediately start with a story. The story is okay, but let it come later, after this introduction. My best advice is to move that last paragraph up to the top and revise the essay so that the story is given as a way to elaborate and explain the main idea you're sharing.
Thanks, Kevin. I'm working on improvising already but thanks for telling me that the story has some differentiation, some surviving chance. I just really needed to hear that. I'll get back to all of you in some time with something better.
Really appreciate all your feedback!
Is this better? >>>>>
Passionate. Relentless. Ambitious. That is a startup and that is also me.
Throughout school, college or work - I have often been chosen as the one to lead fronts. It didn't matter whether I had the best talent for the job at hand, but I would win each time on initiative, sheer energy and enthusiasm to learn. The constant fervor with sporadic adrenaline rushes was akin to spikes and skews in a young business. In one testing instance: a few years ago, a swine flu pandemic brought Mumbai, my home city, and XX, our college cultural festival to be held in 2 days, to an abrupt halt. Logistics, budgets and the spirits of the 450 students who had been working tirelessly so far went haywire. As Vice Chair then, I chose to lead by example. I stayed in college for as long and till as late as anyone in the team did and ensure pre-emptively that everyone be tested and vaccinated. I am proud that together, we pulled off an even grander event in 2 weeks but I am more gratified that I emerged a leader who cared, could motivate the team and kept momentum going even through limbo.
Startups fail too, a sign that a startup is taking risks and going in directions that are unchartered. In the same spirit, alongside college, I decided to pursue Chartered Accountancy. It requires one to clear three levels of exams which typically demands several months of dedicated preparation. The toughest part was not clearing the exams; it was surviving the lack of dynamism inherent in an exam-oriented coursework that did not involve a classroom learning format or interactions. I knew this was the time for me to be relentless and fortunately, the perseverance paid off. Now was the time to pivot, to adapt and to take chances again.
Risk-taking is the virtue of a startup. Like any ambitious startup, I refuse the commonplace too. I turned down an offer from a Big 4 consulting firm and continued to train at my father's niche advisory firm to experience entrepreneurship. Despite holding two commerce degrees including the most prestigious one in the country, I chose to intern with a small team that was trying to establish a market for Venture Debt - an unprecedented funding model at a time when even equity Venture Capital was barely understood in the country. At a meager $250 stipend, I didn't take that chance for money but for the opportunity to be a part of the thrilling entrepreneurship ecosystem that was unfolding in India. The risk paid off when I was offered the Associate role and along with that a permanent ringside seat to the startup gala in India. Over the last four years, I have evaluated over 150 ventures that have cumulatively raised equity funds of over $6 Billion in India and that too across a variety of sectors including Internet, SaaS, Enterprise Tech, Clean Tech and Healthcare. This experience is unique for I am probably one of the few 25 year olds who can say that.
Startups do not deserve debt arguably for lack of credibility or collateral. This is the notion I have been trying to dispel and in the process, realized that while past performance is one way to determine probability of success, venture capital predominantly relies on the credence of the vision. Entrepreneurship has also had an impact on the society on how we did everyday things in India - how we shop or pay or learn or commute. I have spent the last 4 years, borrowing the understanding of industry trends, from my peers and the ecosystem builders I have come across but now it's time to make your own.
Incubated by my parents, seed funded through my education and angel funded at (workplace), my workplace then. I now see HBS as my accelerator that will launch me in the next phase of my growth, the faculty as my mentors and all of you as my ecosystem. I have had a great ringside seat at the startup gala in India but I am now keen to get involved more closely and strategically with innovation across the world as an early stage equity investor. I see Harvard Business School as the accelerator that will launch me into the next phase of my career and growth, and the eminent faculty here as my mentors. I am excited about the prospect of undergoing this stimulating intellectual journey with all of you, learning from your brilliant and diverse experiences in class and outside, and sharing my perspective along the way.
Humble in glory, agile when momentum is solid and pragmatic yet unwavering when the going gets tough. That is a startup and that is also me.
Su, your revision is actually quite touching to read. it engages the reviewer and offers a well rounded introduction to who you are, your strengths and weaknesses as a person, your dreams in life, and where you are looking to for your future. This is a the kind of introduction essay that works to your benefit in a manner that your previous version did not.
The strength of this essay lies in the heart of your story and your conviction in your beliefs. The weakest part of your essay is the stand alone two sentence paragraph at the very end. It sounds really out of place and doesn't merge well with the previous content of the essay. Your conclusion would be much stronger if you ended the essay on this line:
I am excited about the prospect of undergoing this stimulating intellectual journey with all of you, learning from your brilliant and diverse experiences in class and outside, and sharing my perspective along the way.
The paragraph after that just sounds forcing through and doesn't really do much in terms of wrapping up your discussion. The previous sentence to that does a better job of closing the introduction.
Thanks, Van! I had you in mind as a section mate when I was writing after your candid feedback earlier :-)
Agreed on the last line. Will be refining language further but I'm glad or mostly relieved that the spirit came across.
Any more feedback, please?
Okay, a thought just occurred to me as I reviewed your essay for the possibility of more feedback. Can you pull back a little on the seriousness of the introduction by offering up some fun information about yourself? The way I see it, you can actually halve this essay so that you can present both your academic, serious side and your casual, fun side. So you will basically present yourself as the serious student, then the fun-loving classmate that any section mate of yours will want to hang out with after class.
While it is good that you have a serious outlook in life, you also need to let your classmates know that are the kind of person who knows how to have fun and could even be the instigator in some instances. Offering information about who you are when at work / university and who you are off campus/socially will balance your character representation within the essay. Don't you think that such an introduction would help your professor and peers better understand the kind of person that you are and quite possibly, help you create more friendships in the process? ?
My suggestion above is just that, a suggestion. If you wish to keep the serious tone and focus of your essay throughout then I am good with that as well. I am merely offering you an option for a second version of your written work :-)