Make The Most Out Of Your MBA & Land Your Dream Job

Early in my career, I went from working on sales compensation systems in healthcare to developing marketing campaigns for Puff Daddy, Mary J Blige, and Tom Petty at Universal Music.540_293_resize_20130501_94c68d7111d55317f498067682f7aa25_jpg

For the last couple of years, I have met with and visited MBA students from the University of Utah to share any career advice or relevant information I might have. Here are some notes I put together for my first presentation.

I received my MBA from Harvard Business School some time ago , but I can still remember with clarity many of the intentional steps I took to get the most out of my MBA and dream job in the music business.

You Have Permission To Pivot
Your MBA program is a great time to pursue things you have always been interested in. You have both the permission and the opportunity to try new things and make radical career changes.

Some great ways to explore your new career include:

  • Summer internship: I thought I might be interested in consulting, so I spent my summer working for an excellent consulting firm. The people were fantastic, but I really didn’t like being a consultant.
  • Sponsored work project: I was able to work on a project with Paramount Pictures that offered a insiders view of the entertainment business, some good contacts, and paid trips to Los Angeles to pursue my dream of working in the music business. The results of our study were published in The Hollywood Reporter – -providing some credibility in my job search where I had no industry experience.
  • Your colleagues: the best information about what an industry or company can come from the students around you. Since most good MBA programs require work experience, chances are you can find someone who has worked in the industry you are interested in.

Network, Network, Network
Good things come to those who hustle and create their own opportunity. Anyone who tells you they don’t is setting the bar too low for themselves. Yes recruiters may be calling, but you should set your own targets and not have a recruiter determine your career.

Getting to know your fellow MBA’s is critical. It’s the strongest component of my network today.  Some of my most trusted professional contacts came during business school. Make it a goal to meet and have quality interactions with 100 people from your business school program. I was very involved in many business school activities including a business ethics forum started by a friend, the b-school musical, and the volunteer consulting group.

Instructors are also an important part of your networking resources. The connection between business schools and the private sector is very strong. These are very well-connected people.  My former classmate works in the commerce department for the Obama administration, the result of an introduction by a former professor.

You are investing a lot of money and time over these two years, get the most out of it. The stronger you make your network, the more you enhance the brand of your MBA and your alma mater — which in turn,makes you more valuable.

During my second year of the MBA program, I worked as an intern at the local branch office for Arista records and helped put up posters, monitor music playlists, and basically do anything I was told. During that time, I went to New York and Los Angeles at least once per month to meet people in the music industry. I had completed over 70 informational interviews with various levels of music industry people. This was an excellent education, but also a huge benefit – because an important part of the entertainment industry is who you know. This was critical in landing my dream music industry job (more below).

Build Your Brand Online
The first thing a potential employer will do is Google your name to find results about you. I do this with every potential business partner or meeting I have with a new person. You need to have more than a Linked in profile because when someone does a search, there is an entire page of results that show up – and you want to make sure that first page of results tells a positive story about who you are.  You can find more pro-branding tips in this article I wrote Mashable.

Plug:  Follow me on Twitter @knakao

Sonia Karkenny
Sonia was the executive admin to the Al Teller, the head of Universal Music which owned MCA, Universal, and Motown records. Al worked out of both New York and Los Angeles where Sonia managed his appointments. For a period of 8 months Sonia tried to help get me a meeting with Al in both offices. On a trip to LA she asked if I wouldn’t mind waiting in a small office for up to 8 hours to get 15 minutes of Al’s time. She got me the meeting with Al and the first thing he asked is what I had done to research the industry. I started rattling off the names from the +70 informational interviews and the work I had done in my internship. I walked out of the meeting with a job.  In the next couple of years I was promoted to a national sales manager managing a team of 8 reps and became Director of Marketing where I handled the marketing campaigns for a roster of artists. It was a dream job that gave me exposure to every part of the music business and the opportunity to work with artists including Tom Petty & BB King (they were already big), Puff Daddy, Mary J Blige, and the Quentin Tarantino Reservoir Dogs soundtrack.

My key takeaways here are to hustle, be persistent, and know that everyone is important in your career.   You never know who will put in the extra effort to make the difference.  In my case it was Sonia, and it underscores the importance of my next point:

Be Nice
You represent your school, and yourself.  MBA’s sometime’s get a bad rep. You are spending a lot of money on this degree and you want other people to value the MBA brand. Everyone knows your smart, but are you likable, do they want to work with you?

On that note, make sure to send a follow-up and thank you note when you interview. It is also an opportunity to bring up a selling point you may have forgotten or stumbled on during your interview. My rule of thumb is that if you want the job send both an email and a hand-written note to the hiring manager. Not many people do this and you will stand out. If you don’t want the job, send an email anyway – chances are good that you may run into the person again. I have actually kept in touch with folks I have met during interviewing that have become valuable colleagues.



The Bridge Between Recognition and Reputation

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Mashable just published an article I wrote titled “You Will Be Googled“.   You are being searched online more than you know — non-celebrity people searches represent over 10% of Google’s search volume.   In the Mashable article I offer some tips about how to optimize your search results to build your personal brand.

At MeritShare, Travis Pearl and I are working to build a service that makes it easy for anyone to give recognition.  We built MeritShare because we know that sharing recognition is one of the most powerful but underutilized practices in business.   We are on a mission to make work better, one thanks at a time.

We are also building a bridge between recognition and reputation by allowing people to provide public recognition online (and discoverable by Google).  Check out this search on Drew Hackleman.  His MeritShare award page shows up in the first page of a Google search for his name.  He told us his mom was Googling him and found this nice surprise.   Who doesn’t like making their parents proud?

On the MeritShare blog today, Travis provides 3 easy steps on professional branding at MeritShare.

So go ahead, give a co-worker some props and make your mom and pops proud.

Cook Like A Man with a Cast Iron Pan

Episode 2: The Manly Cooking Series (Episode 1: Gas is for Sissy’s: Steak Done Right)

I was turned on to cast iron by a kitchen store clerk when I told her my meats and veggies were not getting the caramelized brown and black-striped foodspotting look.  Her answer, cast iron.  American-made.  I left the store with a Lodge Cast Iron Reversible Griddle/Grill.  Lodge has been making cast iron pans in South Pittsburg,  Tennessee since 1896.  I couldn’t wait to throw some meat on this 10 pound beast.  My lamb chops cooked perfectly with beautiful restaurant-quality grill marks.  I finally earned my stripes.

I cook everything but fish on her because she doesn’t bathe with soap.  They call this a seasoned or oiled pan.  The flavor just gets better over time.  Lodge says that if you keep it dry and oiled, the pans will last for a 100 years.  Like a heirloom sourdough starter, families have been known to pass them down from generation to generation.

Fate had me part with my colorful french Le Creuset cookware and a Wolfe 9-burner gas range.  When I went to the store to get a new Le Creuset I realized how expensive they were compared  to the Lodge Dutch Oven.  In the left corner, Lodge $40 in utilitarian matte black.   In the right, Le Creuset , $240 in Hermes orange – she was hot.  Bonjour belle, voulez-vous [cook with me] ?   The Le Creuset is porcelain smooth with enamel inside and out.  She can be bathed with lemon scented Joy.    Some people claim that cast iron without enamel sticks.  However, there was a bigger danger lurking that would reveal itself when things got heated.  Frugality got the better of me, as did boy scout memories of baking biscuits on a dutch oven over a fire.  Le Creuset isn’t the camping type.  I bought American, Go Lodge!

Armed with my new Lodge 8 quart dutch oven, I began to make  the sauce for my signature dish, Arancini di riso (humblebrag ).  The heat was on low and I added the tomato sauce.   Plop. Plop.  Sauce exploded in every direction with tomato shrapnel spraying over 2 feet away.  As I went to put a lid on it, hot flying sauce hit me right in the eye.   Frick that hurt.  I really think I burnt my eyeball.  Who burns their eyeball cooking?  My sister tried not to laugh.  Her kids scrambled like brocoli just showed up.  Later I read that cast iron reacts to acidity.  Tomatoes are really red-colored blobs of ascorbic, citrus, and malic acid.  In  a thick french accent I heard, “fool, we told you dumb Americans you need enamel”.

After moving the remaining tomato sauce to another pan, I wasn’t going to quit on my Lodge — semper fi.  Since the recent emancipation of most of my cooking gear, I only had two pots to piss in.  I needed to cook the Risotto.  My coy Lodge glanced up at me.  I swept her off her feet and buttered her up.   The onions and garlic got wet and brown, the riso danced and skipped.   I added the first cup of broth and she held her heat like a champ.  I followed the careful tango of risotto al dente, backing off with broth until it begs for more:  stir, stir, stir, stir, stir, stir pour…stir, stir, stir, stir,stir, stir, pour..once cup at a time.  This felt really good, it was unprotected, we had no enamel.  Lodge rocked steady.  Her wide girth hid the ugly red face of my not-gas but electrical abomination of a range.

Cooking a elegant risotto with it’s pearly patina in a heavy cast iron pan felt like a unlikely pairing,  but it worked.   She cooks very evenly with no hot spots.  I thought I invented something new.  Google popped my genius bubble and found some Chowhound message boards talking about cooking risotto in cast iron.  There were also heated Lodge vs Le Creuset debates with dire warnings of cast iron reacting to acidic foods.

Last night I called up my pan with benefits to cook a simple risotto with just butter, onions, and garlic.  I was carbo-loading for a half-marathon today (humblebrag 2, one more and I’m out).  The risotto had a light smokey and nutty flavor, no doubt a gift from meals past.  It was delicious (brag 3, I’m out).

Le Creuset may have washed away her past and left me, but Lodge is mine forever.  Time only makes her better…with every savory memory  carried forward.

I’m a man and I cook with a cast iron pan.

Start-up lessons from some Tough Mudders

A few months ago, Media Piston founder Joe Heitzeberg and I had the crazy idea to assemble a team to run in last Saturday’s Tough Mudder race, an 11+ mile obstacle course designed by British Special Forces. (continue to the rest of the article published in Geekwire)

My friend and team mate David Niu also wrote this related article on recommended gear for a Tough Mudder event.  You don’t want to run the course like the guy in the above picture.

Here is a link to first obstacle course racing article I wrote for The Best Thing I Did This Year, “I Kicked A Guy In The Balls”.

Gaza VS Israel: The Arab Spring

Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi

Thankfully a crisis has been averted and a cease-fire will last.  The deal was brokered by Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi.

Mursi’s ascendency to the presidency is the result of the Arab Spring that ousted Mubarak.  Mubarak has been ineffective in the past to broker such deals because he was perceived as too pro-Israel and cold to Palestinian interests.   In previous conflicts Mubarak shut down it’s borders to fleeing Palestinians, Mursi has opened them up.  Mursi comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, which is a parent organization to Hamas.  The Brotherhood has traditionally not had a friendly stance towards Israel, and that quite possibly provided the credibility needed to convince Hamas.

Much of what I write is simply paraphrased from several articles, so this isn’t new information or particularly insightful.  I wrote this mostly as an update to a previous post.

Let’s hope this cease-fire is permanent and Egyptian President Mursi can continue to be an effective force of moderation and diplomacy.

Gaza VS Israel: The More I Know, The Less I Know

After reading reports of of more kids being killed in the Gaza, and the Huffington Post’s 78 point headline “Flatten All of Gaza” I wanted to know the causes of the recent Middle-Eastern flare-up.  On Saturday most of the major news sources indicated that Israel retaliated against a Hamas-claimed bomb that landed in Jerusalem.   I’ve never visited or lived in Israel but that feels pretty close to home.  I respect Israel’s right to defend itself, we would and have done the same in the US.  I decided to dig deeper to understand the other side of the story and could find no information on what led Hamas to provoke an attack.  Mind you I only spent a couple of hours doing this investigation.  A story and explanation could have been provided, I just didn’t find it.

The next day I found an article in the Atlantic where a writer based in Israel created a time line from multiple sources and both sides of the conflict.   She had to pick a starting point and puts a caveat in the article that her choice of November 8th is arbitrary.   After reading through the article, my conviction on the issue was weakened.  It really isn’t clear who really provoked the recent events — the more I know, the less I know.

The one thing I do feel is that this time I don’t think it will end well.  Bomb’s are just hitting too close to sensitive areas and Hamas’ capabilities are getting too strong for Israel not to act.   Israel’s “Iron Dome” was only able to stop 17 of the 60 rockets sent at them.  The best defense is a strong offense.

Lot’s of innocent lives will be lost and maybe it’s easier for us to accept this when we know there is a clear guilty party.  There isn’t and we can’t rationalize or accept this situation as anything less than the worst of what we stand for.  We are no better.  Remember Iraq with our non-linear retaliation for 911 and “pre-emptive” defense against weapons of mass destruction that did not exist?

I’ll leave you with an image I hope to see in the future — the flag of peace for Israel and Palestine.

Is Buddhism Energy Efficient?

ImageDisclaimer: I am  completely unqualified to discuss or share the tenants of Buddhism.  I wrote this to help force my own thinking.

I believe in karma where our intent and actions plant the seeds of a similar consequence as opposed to creating a boomerang of goodness that comes right back to you.   Bad things happen to good people.  A moral code that expects a return on good is a set up for failure.   Be good to be good.

Me thinks a good action creates positive energy that you may not directly benefit from, but the universe will.  Energy is dispersed, it can’t be controlled, but it isn’t lost.   The laws of cause and effect can only ensure that every action has a consequence.  Good and bad intentions create ripples.  The abused can become abusers or lead the fight against it, a good action may encourage another to play it forward or take it back.  Even if an action is the same, intent can also change the spin of the ball.  It starts in our minds first as energy which is transformed into action.  You feel the difference when someone thanks you out of gratefulness versus obligation.

Thinking about life as energy also helps me understand the Buddhist concept of reincarnation.  I never bought the notion of transformation from person to  cow.  That sucks. The reincarnation proposition also feels hopeless.  I am unlikely to attain nirvana and will be caught in an endless cycle of re-birth.    I don’t want to be a jellyfish again and if I was, that’s kind of cruel to make me figure out such heady concepts without a brain.

Thankfully one translation of the teachings of Buddha states:

“There is rebirth of character,
but no transmigration of a self.
Thy thought-forms reappear,
but there is no egoentity transferred.
The stanza uttered by a teacher
is reborn in the scholar who repeats the words.

“Only through ignorance and delusion do men indulge in the dream
that their souls are separate and self-existent entities”

There is no self or soul, only energy in the form of thought and intention, action with consequences.   My late grandmother isn’t jumping around the pond as a frog.  Her energy produced & influenced me, I in turn will do the same with others.  “The stanza uttered by a teacher is reborn in the scholar who repeats the words”.

Every day we are reborn with the chance to act with positive intention. We have the choice to make our energy positive or negative.  Like Ice Cube said, “it’s gonna be a good day“.

Gas Is For Sissy’s: Steak Done Right


Episode 1: The Manly Cooking Series
(Episode 2: Cook Like A Man With A Cast Iron Pan)

Most guys think they cook a good steak.   Some do, but very few know how to grill a great steak.

My brother in law Mike Curry knows how to cook a great steak.   Last night, Mike brought his grilling to food god level when he passed gas in favor of charcoal.

Here are some of Mike’s tricks and tips along with a few of my own.

Warning:  if you like your steak cooked past medium-rare, you don’t need to read any further.  None of these tips will make a difference.   Just douse it with lot’s of sauce and dig in.

Mike and Kevin’s Tips:

1.  A good cut of meat, evenly marbled with fat and  preferably near a bone.  Just say yes to Porterhouse, T-Bone, Tenderloin and the Ribeye.

2.  Bring the meat to room temperature before you grill.  This prevents the steak from getting over-cooked.  The middle stays rare but also get’s warm so you don’t end up with the cold-blooded mess that scares many away from the pleasure of rareness.

3.  Charcoal. Gas is for sissies.   Charcoal produces better flavor because it gets hotter than gas to sear in the juices.  Smokey flavor is created from the drippings hitting the charcoal.  Use a charcoal chimney starter and do not use lighter fluid or gas. Your nose-buds will be ruined for the evening with hints of jet fuel and paint thinner lingering into the night.

4.  Classic Weber dome grill.  These are the best barbecues because the Weber’s deep shape prevents flare-ups.  The ceramic material keeps things hot and distributes the heat evenly.  Other griller’s have done blind taste tests comparing Weber grills against others with noticeable results.

5.  Once your steak is done, take it off the grill and quickly wrap it with aluminum foil.  Let the steak rest for at least 5 minutes.  During cooking proteins push moisture towards the cooler center.  In resting  moisture is re-distributed more evenly as it cools down.   If you don’t believe me, do an a/b test — cut one piece immediately and let another one rest — you will see and taste the difference

6.  Mesquite chips soaked in water and thrown on the coals.  Mike did this perfectly last night cooking one of most aromatic steaks ever created.

7.  Add salt and pepper to taste after cooking.  A good steak doesn’t need any other seasonings and salt tends to dry things out while cooking.

8.   No paper plates.  Use regular plates even for a casual barbecue.  Eating steak on a paper or styrofoam plate is embarrassing for you and your guests (ok really it isn’t the end of the world)  but you do end up getting paper pulp and bits of the plate in your food.

9.  Splurge and get a good set of steak knives.  Simple, sharp and with enough weight to attack like a Man’s man.  I highly recommend Laguiole Olive Wood Steak Knifes handcrafted in France.   They are perfectly balanced and should be a required selection on every non-vegan wedding registry.


9.  Pair with a good mellow Bordeaux.  Cabernets and Syrah’s stand out too much and scream for attention.   The understated Bordeaux can be found for about the half the cost of the single-varietal fruit-bomb coming out of California and Washington.  The most revered wine in Sideways was a Bordeaux that Miles (Paul Giamatti) drinks in a paper cup.

So there you go, I know this is snob foodery (say like Tomfoolery), but if you are going to cook a steak, man-up and pass the gas.

Location Bias: How To Fix Your Recruiting Problem

Blueseed will house tech talent in international waters near San Francisco to avoid immigration issues

If you go around and ask any growing Seattle area tech company what their biggest challenge is, I suspect that 100% will list hiring technical talent as one of their top problems.  Some companies are offering employees a $10k referral bonus and I received an email last week for a free dinner at El Gaucho just for introducing a candidate.  The problem is even more severe in the Bay Area.

Peter Thiel who founded PayPal and funded Facebook is building a boat filled with tech workers to work free and clear from immigration issues in international waters outside of the bay area.  When I first read about the re-purposed barge called Blueseed I thought the above photo was a photo-shopped hoax.  It’s not, they have already have over 900 entrepreneurs who want to board this ship.  I’m sure great things will happen but it won’t be the result of being a helicopter ride away from SFO.

The solution to the tech hiring issue isn’t recruiting or immigration reform but learning how to recruit, hire, and manage remote workers.

Sure, in-person teams working together are generally more effective and easier to manage,  but I have also seen remote teams and outsourced development succeed.  I worked with the Baltimore-based Intridea to quickly launch a project on time. The product never went down except for planned maintenance.  Intridea has recruited a top-notch team because they draw from a wider pool of remote employees. They also hire outstanding technical program managers to keep distributed teams organized and communicating.

We can use the web any place and on any device, yet location only seems to matter if your working on the Internets.  Trade brought people to ports, the industrial revolution brought farmers to factories,  web 2.0 brought everyone to Palo Alto.   Assembling  a car is location-dependent, building a website is not.

There is hope for our future and proof that remote works with services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, Elance, Odesk and Media Piston that match remote workers with employers on a per job or project basis.  You can hire engineers in the Ukraine, writers in Detroit, and voice-over talent in Australia.  The long-tail of supply and demand for work is being served.  They are also distributing opportunity and the pursuit of happiness.  Joe Heitzeberg, the founder/CEO of MediaPiston told me about the heart-warming email he received from a mother who was able to bring her family to Disneyland based on the income she earned from the company.

So my call to action is to learn how to effectively work with and manage remote teams.

I’m not saying you should have a 100% remote team, but start learning when and how to use this approach.  What if you were to re-shift some of the time you spend recruiting locally to learning and figuring out how to hire remote workers.

When you figure it out, teach others your tricks and best practices from code reviews to deal structure.  One companies recruiting win is another companies turnover.  It’s in your best interest to show people how to recruit and manage remote employees.

Scrubly founder and CEO Bob Thoradson  kindly spent over 1 hour with me giving me his tips on working with remote workers on odesk.  We both live in the Seattle-area, but used Skype and screen-sharing for this helpful training session. Intridea’s multi-talented Program Manager/Designer/ Developer Patti Chan,  has shared her tips for managing remote teams.

If you have any tips and advice for managing remote teams, share your ideas in the comments below.

(By the way, we are hiring a rock star front-end developer at MeritShare for our Seattle-office and giving flat-screen TV’s away for referrals  — ok just kidding)

Recipe Remix: Japanese Goma-ae Beans


Ingen no Goma-ae (green beans in sesame sauce) are a refreshing and healthy side-dish for any asian-food meal, summer barbecue, or bento/picnic lunch.  They can be made ahead of time, served chilled, and are savory option for a plant-based diet.  Green beans have a long growing season and locally-grown beans are abundant in many places.

My re-mixed recipe is slightly different than others I have seen on the web in the following ways:

1. No Miso paste.  Some but not all recipes call for this.  I like Miso but I think it can overwhelm the flavor of fresh green beans.

2.  Slightly under-cook the beans: blanch quickly for 2 minutes, and then run under cold water. This keeps them crispy, especially for a overnight marinade.

3.  Marinade in the cooler for 24-48 hours in advance, the beans really absorb the flavor the longer they sit in the sauce.  Preparing food in advance is also one less thing to worry about if you have a meal with several dishes.

4.  Cook the sesame seeds on medium high and almost burn them.  Most recipe’s call for a slow cook on low heat, I think slightly over-cooked sesame seeds give a subtle smokey taste.

5.  I use Dashi (bonito fish broth), but have skipped this when my sister/brother-in law were on a strict-plant based diet.  It is also hard to find Dashi that doesn’t contain MSG.  The Dashi makes the beans taste better, but it is also fine without the fish broth — it’s really the sesame & sugar that makes this dish pop.

Here is the recipe remix (italics and strike-thru used to indicate changes) of Bento.com’s Green Beans in Sesame Dressing:


  • 175g (6 oz.) frozen fresh whole green beans
  • a pinch of salt

For the dressing:

  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (if you buy them pre-toasted, re-toast anyway. i prefer the white sesame seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon caster sugar *
  • 2/3 tablespoon dashi stock **
  • 1/2 tablespoon miso paste
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

To toast the seeds for this recipe, simply put them in a frying pan on medium high without oil then heat while stirring until the seeds have puffed up and you can smell the distinctive aroma of sesame.


1. Boil the beans in a pan of water for2 minutes or until tender.  Run under cold water until cool.

2. Finely grind the sesame seeds in a pestle and mortar or in a coffee grinder. Add the sugar, dashi, miso paste and soy sauce and mix together well.

3. Toss the green beans in the sesame dressing and serve as a side dish.

4.  Let marinade in cooler for 24-48 hours