Monday, May 28, 2007

Iceland, Anniversaries, and Google

My branding class is on break right now, so I thought I'd catch up with the blog a bit. Last weekend, while most of the class was at the MBA tournament at HEC Paris, I went to Iceland. I've always wanted to go and sort of imagined it as a souped up Switzerland; lots of rugged mountains and gushing streams, but with the added bonus of natural hot springs dotting the landscape. Well...not quite. Turns out that Iceland is rocky, sparse, and windswept. The island is huge, but most of the surface is craggy lava flows, so it's not that lush. However, I still had a great time and got to see a place that's truly unique in the world.

Immediately after landing I headed straight to the Blue Lagoon. That place is amazing. It's far out on a windswept lava flow in the middle of a rocky peninsula jutting into the Atlantic. The winds was blowing in gales, kicking up a spray of rain that stung your face like a cold slap. However, the facilities were great and once you sunk into the warm, milky blue waters you could escape the cold. I soaked for about an hour, then grabbed a snack and headed to Reykjavik.

Reykjavik is a really small town, around 200k people out of a national population of around 300k. The city is essentially a blend of a fishing village, ski lodge, tourist town, and urban center. There's lots of graffiti everywhere, but it's fun and stylized. This would be a great town to be a graphic designer, but not so much for a bored teen. Speaking of style, it seems that everything is brightened up to fight against the harsh environment. Clothing was stylish and playful, houses were a bright pastel, and modernistic sculptures dotted the urban landscape. All in all, its a nice little Nordic town.

The real fun begins outside of the city though. I went of two tours; a small, off road tour that followed the southern coast then detoured for some hiking in the mountains and the tourist trap golden circle tour. The first one was good, but I wasn't a fan of the downtime spent driving out to the country. Iceland is really huge, so it took a good two to three hours to reach our trail head. However, I did get to hike around some amazing waterfalls and take in some great views. The best was a hike up a narrow canyon, where the walls rose 100 ft above my head and closed in to a narrow gap. We hiked into the gap to find a spectacular waterfall hidden away in the crags.

The next day was the golden circle tour, which is sort of the typical tourist route on a big tour bus. I've never been a tour bus kind of guy, but I didn't want to rent a car, so this was really the only option. Parts of the tour were nice. I got to see some huge waterfalls, lakes, and geysers, as well as a volcanic cone. Unfortunately, there was a lot of time spent on the bus and the tour ate up around 10 hours.

My final full day in Iceland I just relaxed and meandered around Reykjavik. It was a nice break, but soon I had to get back to the reality of the Oxford MBA.

This past week has been especially hard. I've got five assignments due this week, and my head is about to explode. The good news is that I'm now done with three and only have two to go, so it should be downhill from here.

In other news, my fiance and I celebrated our second anniversary. We've been apart for a while now, but hopefully we'll be married and settled in a house by this time next year. I can't wait to graduate and start our life together.

I've also finished reading The Google Story. It was a good book, but it really points out how idiosyncratic Google is. I think many entrepreneurs believe that you can just wake up one day and be a Larry Page or Sergey Brin (if you want to go old school, Bill Gates). However, these really are exceptionally bright guys in the unique environment of Silicon Valley/Stanford who solved a fundamental problem of a massively growing market. Not only that, they were able to sign a very unusual venture capital deal that gave them effective control of the company while bringing in Eric Schmidt, a fantastic CEO. It takes a truly exceptional organization to take the wind out of Microsoft and I look forward to seeing how Google develops over time.

For now, back to class.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Oxford Media Summit

Today the business school is hosting a series of guest spreakers from Disney, CNN, Forbes, the BBC, and the Wall Street Journal to discuss the customer experience of media and communications. I dropped into a presentation by Lawrence Aldridge, SVP of Disney's Corporate Alliances.

He gave a nice talk about Disney's strategy of leveraging creative content, technology, and global distribution to grow the company. There were also a few interesting questions from the audience about piracy. His response was essentially that Disney is preempting piracy by using technology to provide legal, convenient routes for consumers to purchase media. What he did not mention was Disney's use of digital rights management tools such as traceable watermarks embedded in content.

As for Disney's stance on youTube, they seem somewhat neutral at this point. They haven't joined News Corp and NBC in their deal to provide content through AOL, Yahoo, MSN, and myspace, but they haven't inked a deal with youTube either. Perhaps they're taking a 'wait and see approach' or counting on iTunes to satisfy consumer demand for Disney content. He did highlight Viacom's $1billion lawsuit against Google for copyright infringement, which points to the ongoing war between Google and content providers over who will capture the revenues of ads tied to streaming video content. Billions of ad revenues are at stake, but some big players like Disney are still sitting on the sidelines rather than to throw their lot in with unproven, but industry backed channels. The user base of youTube is large enough to grant some leverage to Google in negotiating ad revenue deals, but it's by no means settled that Google will secure a place as the mediator between the content providers and the consumers.

I asked Lawrence to address why ESPN withdrew from mobile and why the content didn't resonate within that channel. His answer was pretty cookie cutter; they weren't reaching scale and users weren't will to pay for premium content, so they pulled the plug and moved to a licensing model. He also pointed out that Disney Mobile is doing great, which it is. I was clumsy in my phrasing, but I was really wondering what the limits of leveraging across media platforms are. Does anyone besides compulsive gamblers really need sports scores second by second? Does the nature of ESPN make it a silo within the Disney family? When should content providers license and when should they go it alone?

Disney has historically taken the licensing and alliance strategy. Perhaps the failure of ESPN mobile was a lesson in sticking to your core competencies; in this case, creating content.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Oxford goes to MootCorp!

It's been a while since my last post, since a lot has been going on. I went to Austin two weeks ago to compete in MootCorp, an international business plan competition at the University of Texas at Austin. I expected Texas to suck, but it was really, really fun! Everyone in Austin was super friendly and the food was insanely good!

We were competing against teams from 32 other Universities. On our first day, we presented our business plan and got some really positive feedback. The second day, most of the judged just didn't seem to get our product. We didn't come in first or second, so we were out of the running for the grand prize. However, we did great on the third day. The judges loved us, and we beat out four other universities to win the NASDAQ Stock Market Challenge and a $1,000 prize. This is the best that an Oxford team has done at MootCorp in the six years we've been competing!

Far more interesting than the competition was the time we got to explore the town and relax. Every other team seemed really uptight and serious, but the Oxford team just had a great time!

We went to countless restaurants and hit almost every bar on sixth street (including the Coyote Ugly). The best place was Pete's Dueling Piano Bar. There's two pianos on a small stage, and local musicians just come up, play for a while, then hand off to the next guy. What's really impressive though is how smoothly the players incorporate rock, country, rap, and improvised lyrics to create a non-stop happy drunk dancing vibe. Needless to say, Austin was a blast!

I was pretty dead after getting back to Oxford, so most of the past two weeks has been spent trying to catch up in my classes and get a million little errands done. My summer internship is all set to go now. I booked a room at Extended Stay America, bought my plane tickets, and arranged to buy a 2007 Scion tC on the day I land. This'll be my first new car, so I can't wait. Dania's birthday was last week, so I ordered her something nice. Right now she's scouting around for an apartment in LA, were I'll join her after I graduate. I think she's settled on a place in Burbank, so we'll see how it all comes together.

These next few weeks will be totally crazy as well. I'm going to Iceland next weekend, then come back to four assignments and two presentations. Normally we'll have one or two assignments due per week, so this will really, really suck. It's 2AM now, so I suppose I should get some sleep. Busy busy busy.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

All clear

It looks like my internship is a done deal. It looks like I've made it. I'm moving in to a corporate career and all the doors now seem open. Soon, and for the rest of my life, I'll be an Oxford MBA. This will be a nice life.