After completing his MS from USA, Siddhesh made his first attempt to get into a top business school in 2016. After getting rejected from all the programs, he launched his cryptocurrency startup. As an entrepreneur comfortable with technology, but struggling with the business skills, he felt the need to try for an MBA again.
How I got into Oxford MBA as a reapplicant
MBA application reviews by Bitcoin entrepreneur
by Siddhesh Rajan Kadam
I genuinely liked science; it was a subject I spent hours on in school. What also took my fancy was technology. With an aspiration to pursue a career as an engineer, I completed myBachelors in Electronics Engineering from University of Mumbai and then earned a Masters (MS) in Telecommunications and Networking from USA as I saw telecommunications as the driving force of the global economy. I wanted to gain international experience and felt that a Masters from the US would lead to a wider range of career opportunities in the technology sector.
After my MS I wanted to put my newly acquired knowledge into practice and I got the perfect break with an opportunity to manage the network of the largest cheese manufacturing facility in the world in California. I got to learn a lot at my job and also enjoyed working with people from different cultures and nationalities.
Over the years I excelled in my role and was responsible for maintaining the entire IT infrastructure of the company. After gaining considerable work experience, I wanted to get into a management role and believed at that time that an MBA would open the door to leadership opportunities.
In my first attempt back in 2016, I applied to Oxford Said Business School in UK and Cornell and Berkeley HAAS in the US. My main criteria was access to a vast international alumni network as well as being part of a wider university. Hence I didn’t want to apply to a stand-alone school like INSEAD.
I visited both UC Berkeley and Cornell University before applying for them and got waitlisted at Cornell in the first round while I was rejected by the other 2 schools.
Cornell doesn’t tell you why they waitlisted you but they just ask you to keep in touch and look at their previous class stats and work on improving your application. So, I sent them regular updates and even visited them a couple of times while I was in the area.
Finally with just a month to go before the Round 3 deadline, I visited the school again and was able to get hold of an adcom. I requested her to look into my application and let me know exactly which area in my application needs improvement as I had followed all the other guidelines which they had provided for wait-listed candidates.
She said that I needed to improve my GMAT score and that if I could even increase it by 10 points then they would be able to offer me a place in the program. In a way I was shocked because I had always considered my GMAT score to be high enough to get an admit into a top program.
But she said that since my application would be compared to other Indian applicants the average GMAT score required would be higher compared to applicants from other nationalities.
So with a month to go for the Round 3 deadline. I took a date to retake my GMAT in 3 weeks and started preparing for it rigorously. I really didn’t get enough time to prepare and ended up just revising whatever I had studied before.
In the end I got the same score that I had gotten as before and was ultimately rejected by Cornell.
It was a very tiring year for me – Giving GMAT twice, visiting schools, writing essays and going through the whole MBA application process. So, once I was rejected by Cornell I decided to move on and focus on my existing job. I got more certifications in my field and even got a promotion in the job so that had my entire focus.
Getting bitten by the Bitcoin bug
Then came the bitcoin boom. I bought my first Bitcoin around 2 years ago (Now I really wish that I had bought more back then!). Bitcoin prices were rising and there was a lot of buzz around it.
But more than the Bitcoin I was interested in the technology behind the Bitcoin i.e. Blockchain. To understand the technology better I completed a certification course in Blockchain and Cryptocurrencies in San Francisco.
Once I was convinced about the potential of the technology, I started investing in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies in US based exchanges. On a family trip to India, I decided to explore the crypto scene in India.
After talking with friends and other crypto enthusiasts in India, I realized there a huge need in India for an international level exchange that would provide super liquidity and top-notch security for crypto traders in India.
That led me to team up with my current business partner and together we laid the foundation of Qoinup – India’s International Exchange in Singapore with offices in India and US.
I was very comfortable with technology while we were building the product but once the product was ready, I found myself dealing with accounts and marketing guys, attorneys as well as international taxation issue.
Additionally, we were pitching our idea to potential investors and I found myself lacking those business skills. That’s when I started thinking about the MBA again so that I could acquire the critical business skills in a structured manner and succeed as an entrepreneur.
However, I was skeptical about investing the time and capital in a 2 year MBA program so I started exploring the 1 year MBA programs in UK that would help me build the skills that I was lacking and allow me to get back into the market within a year to put those skills into practice.
Deciding which MBA to apply to
One of my criteria for the school was that it should be a part of a wider university so that I could explore wide range of opportunities. I shortlisted Oxford and Cambridge and visited both the schools and spoke to their current students and alumni.
While no one had anything bad to say about their respective schools, I found the Oxford students and alumni to be more forthcoming and willing to help. I decided to focus on Oxford because of its emphasis on Entrepreneurship.
I also read an interview from the Director of the Oxford Foundry. In the interview she mentioned that the whole goal of the Oxford MBA program was to encourage entrepreneurship in people who didn’t even know that they were an entrepreneur.
That statement really appealed to me as I was able to immediately connect to it as an aspiring entrepreneur. Oxford had a very strong international band and an amazing international alumni network. There is also a lot of work currently going on in the blockchain field at Oxford University so with all that in mind I started working on my Oxford application again.
It had been 2 years since I had previously applied to the Oxford MBA program. During this time, a lot of water had flowed under the bridge. I had definitely matured as an individual and my career goals had evolved accordingly.
I was able to refine my career goals and present to the school in a manner in which I could derive value from the program. I had started my own company and that was now my focus. My goals aligned with the focus of the program and I was certain that an MBA from Oxford would help me achieve my career goals and I was able to explain it to the adcom convincingly.
My biggest concern with my application was my purely technical background. My resume was perfect if I were applying for an advanced degree in a technical field but here I was launching my own venture with limited business background.
My other concern was that although my product was about to be launched I didn’t have much to show for the results. That made me even consider applying to a later round so that once my company was operational I could show some actual data. My GMAT score was 2 years old although it is officially valid for 5 years.
So with all these questions in mind I decided to visit Oxford and speak with the admissions team and current students to allay some of my concerns.
I spoke with one of the adcom members and he encouraged me to apply in the first round and said that they would be taking a holistic view of my application based on what I had accomplished so far and what I was hoping to accomplish.
I spoke with current students as well as alumni and that really encouraged me to apply to Oxford in the first round.
So, I started working on my application. I had already applied to business schools previously so with that experience in hand I decided to tackle the application process on my own. This time I decided to apply only to the Oxford Said Business School as that was my dream school and aligned with my career goals
Improving the GMAT score
I was always good with the Quants part (or so I thought) so I decided to concentrate more on the Verbal section of the GMAT. It was very difficult to prepare for the GMAT while doing a full time job and it was even more difficult because I was going back to studying after so many years after graduating.
Nevertheless I started putting in 4-5 hours everyday after work and more on the weekends. I studied for the GMAT for around 4 months and scored a 700+ score. I was expecting 750+ but in the end my score in the Quants sections was not as impressive as I would have wanted bringing down the overall score.
But still 700+ was a very good score and was more than the average GMAT scores of the top business schools so I was feeling very positive about my chances of getting into a top ranked program.
American MBA consultant vs Indian MBA consultant
One post I remember vividly was of this IITian who got into both Harvard and Stanford with full scholarship.
I reached out to MCB for MBA profile builder service and was connected to MG.
MG advised me that the Profile Builder service would not help in my case as it was more for someone who was going to apply a year or two down the line whereas in my case I was already scheduled to appear for my GMAT in a few months’ time.
I was really impressed by his honesty and decided to concentrate on my GMAT for the time being.
After my GMAT, I wanted to put my best foot forward and decided to work with a consultant who could help me refine my application. Since I was in the US, I initially thought of working with a US based consultant.
But after reading negative online reviews from other applicants who were in my situation and had worked with overseas consultants, I was convinced that an India based consultant would be able to help me better with their perspective.
MG connected me with Ankur. He was the same IITian who had an admit from both Harvard and Stanford and whose blog posts I had been reading!
He had eventually decided to graduate from Stanford and I was very excited to be working with him.
Ankur had a unique perspective and some great suggestions having himself gone through the rigorous application process. He was very polite and soft spoken throughout all our interactions. He was just the kind of mentor I needed for my application process.
He helped me to refine my answers and advised me to elaborate not on ‘What I did’ but rather ‘Why I did’ something.
While preparing for the interview I didn’t want to leave anything to chance so I decided to seek professional help with interview preparation. The first name that came to my mind was MBA Crystal Ball. I reached out to MG again over email after almost 2 years to see whether they could assist me.
To my delight MG offered me the chance to work with Ankur again. It was a pleasure to work with Ankur as always and over 2 calls Ankur helped me to refine my answers and pointed out mistakes and things that I should avoid in my replies. That really helped to boost my confidence and now it was all up to me to crack the actual interview.
Oxford in-person interview
I decided to attend the in-person interview at Oxford. I was well prepared and throughout the flight I was rehearsing possible questions and replies in my mind. On the actual interview day, there were around 30 other aspirants from all over the world.
We had a sample lecture and other programs scheduled throughout the day and we were given time slots throughout the day for the one-on-one interview. I was feeling confident but when my turn came I started feeling nervous.
The interviewer was very polite and the interview was very conversational. He wanted to understand my background and motivation in detail and had additional questions around it. Luckily, the results were going to be announced the following week but that turned out to be a very long week.
It was going to be night in the US when the results were going to be announced so I decided to stay awake till I found out my result. I kept checking my email continuously and I didn’t even realize when I feel asleep.
Suddenly I woke up at 5 in the morning and saw that I had an email from Said Business School. I opened the email and to my delight I had secured a place in the program. I informed my family about the result and it was one of the best feelings of my life.
What worked for me this time, as a reapplicant
Oxford has an extremely competitive selection process. I am fortunate enough to be one of the only around 300 students from 64 nationalities to be attending the class next year.
When I started my application I had self-doubts. I was going to compete with some of the top applicants from India and from around the world for a seat in the program.
I did not attend IIT or any other elite university. But I was confident in my abilities, had a good career graph and an awareness of my future goals with a plan to achieve those goals
I really worked on my profile after being rejected the first time. I had a very international profile and that was one of the things which even the interviewer noted about my application.
When I applied the first time my career goals were not clear and I wasn’t able to articulate them clearly.
My profile was a typical Indian, IT, Male profile which is a very common profile type. I think in the 2 years since my first application my thought process had matured and I was able to better articulate my goals as well as align them with the mission of the school.
I had been promoted at my job and had acquired additional responsibilities. I had launched my startup and I had also acquired Canadian Permanent Residency placing me perfectly to leverage the opportunities in 3 major world economies and that helped to differentiate my profile this time around.
When I look back at my whole journey, I realize that I have come a long way from where I started and I have along way to go.
Someone once told me that ‘Where you start does not determine where you are going to end’ and I know for me this is not the end but just the beginning of a life defining experience.
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