Today’s guest, J. Kenton Kivestu, graduated from UVA with a BA in economics and history in 2006. Upon graduating he joined Google in product development and worked there for 3 years until he moved to Hanover New Hampshire to attend the Tuck School of Business and earn his MBA. He interned at BCG, but returned to mobile product development as a manager at Zynga when he graduated from Tuck in 2011. After several promotions, he joined Flurry. Immediately upon graduating from Tuck, he began work on RocketBlocks, where he is now full time. We’re going to learn much more about RocketBlocks and Kenton’s journey to date. Welcome!
What is RocketBlocks? [1:28]
It’s an interactive, skills-based platform that helps students prepare for consulting case interviews. We started it in 2011, and I recently started working on it full time.
What are the interactive elements? [2:05]
If you think about what a case interview is, there are variations among the consulting firms, but ultimately they’re all looking for certain skillsets: the ability to do mental math easily and comfortably; the ability to interpret charts and data; the ability to structure a nebulous problem.
When we say it’s interactive, it means we take the skillsets needed for a case interview and build interactive drills to help you build your skills.
Can you give an example? [4:05]
Take case structuring, for example. Our drills will allow you to go through a series of case style prompts and answer how you would address the problem. Then the system will give you a suggested answer (from a former consultant), so you can compare your answer with theirs. You can also compare your answer with anonymous answers from other students.
Are those student answers rated? [5:40]
Right now they’re curated. We’re thinking of a rating system.
How did you create RocketBlocks? [5:50]
During b-school, I did an internship at BCG. Ultimately, I didn’t pursue consulting, but on my return to Tuck I helped students prepare for the case interview. My friend and I saw that a lot of students used books to prepare, and memorized frameworks. It was very different from how I’d prepared. My friend at McKinsey saw this as a problem, too, since people sometimes tried to fit things to the framework and sounded stilted. So our approach is to focus on skills.
You need to get good at assessing a unique situation and pull out tools from your toolset.
How did you choose the name RocketBlocks? [10:25]
The working version was called Blocks – because our approach was geared to teaching students the building blocks to succeed. When we wanted to register the domain, we wanted to keep that theme. We chose “rocket” because of the sense of launching a career.
There are other resources to help students prepare for case interviews – books, career services, etc. What makes RocketBlocks unique? [12:03]
Career centers are great resources to help students navigate the process, but they tend to be narrow teams. They don’t tend to get too deep into specialized interviewing, and they often have too many students to do really specialized mock interviews. They’re focused on education about career paths, companies, recruiting, etc.
And case books tend to be focused on frameworks and systems, and teach students to memorize those systems.
We’re focused on skills. I would not learn to be a good hockey player by reading articles, or by reading interviews with Wayne Gretzky. You need to practice skills.
A lot of students pair it with mock interviews or practice with friends. It helps them practice skills in areas they need to improve. You can target the areas you need to work on – so if structuring a problem is the key area, you can work on that, and if your concern is quantitative skills, you can really drill that.
Any plans to add a mock interview service? [16:45]
Our goal is to help students succeed in these interviews. It’s definitely something that’s on our radar. We don’t have any immediate plans to add it, but we may in the future.
What are the keys to navigating the consulting hiring process overall? [17:50]
Alongside the case and the analytical skills it focuses on – firms want a couple of things.
• Demonstrated leadership qualities. Consultants will be dropped into unique and challenging situations and need to be able to lead teams. So they’re looking for leadership.
• A lot of students come into the process and repeat what they think the firm wants to hear, rather than presenting their unique skillset to the firm. I recently interviewed a friend at Bain who said, basically, that some people think they’ve read the manual or have the cheat codes, and they’ll get it – but he just wants to meet a really smart person with something to add.
You started RocketBlocks for consulting. Do you see your company developing similar tools for other fields with skills-based interviews (product development, financial services, law, tech)? [26:30]
The short answer is yes, why not?
The longer answer is: there’s more to do to make it the best it can be. I’m happy with where it is, but it can still be better. So in the short to medium term, I think we’re focused on this. But there are certainly other skills-based interviews, and there’s no reason why a skills based app wouldn’t work.
You earned your MBA from Tuck. Are you glad you went? [27:55]
It’s a tough question, but overall, yes. The experience and value is not what I thought I was going in for. I was focused on the academic aspect of the MBA (product development/management). But when I look at it now, the value I see is less in terms of the actual coursework and more in terms of the lifelong friends I made.
Did you achieve your academic goals? [31:21]
Yes. I learned a lot about finance and accounting that I didn’t know. That knowledge becomes rusty if you don’t apply it, so there’s a bit of a timing challenge.
Did your Tuck experience help you launch RocketBlocks? [34:30]
Yes, in a couple of ways. First, it highlighted a certain problem I wasn’t aware of – a special type of interview and how people were preparing in a way I thought could be improved. And I got really good general management training. Because Tuck is less steeped in Silicon Valley culture, there was value in getting training in traditional business models.
Are you glad you went to New Hampshire for b-school – far away from Silicon Valley? [37:25]
I think so. Contrast helps a lot. After graduating from undergrad, I lived in the Bay Area for three years. Moving back to the east coast helped illuminate why I like California.
And living in a small New England town was fun and special for a bit.
What could you have done without at Tuck? [39:50]
It’s not really Tuck specifically. But I think there’s a vortex at most MBA programs of sending students down specific career funnels.
Having two years to take a break from your career is a special privilege and opportunity. I would love to see more effort placed on career exploration.
[Linda: Many schools want students to think about that before applying for the MBA.]
What might b-schools look like in five years? How will they adapt? [46:45]
There’s a lot they can do to broaden the scope of skills they’re teaching. They’re often teaching students to go into large existing corporations. I would love to see more business-building skills, and hands-on skills.