Ravi Belani grew up in Cupertino, California where he witnessed the town’s transformation from “what used to be orchards into what is now Silicon Valley.” His birthplace proved prophetic. After completing Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in engineering at Stanford, Ravi became an analyst at Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), a leading venture capital firm that has backed some of the most successful start-ups in the Internet era.
Discovering a fresh environment for growth
“To be honest,” Ravi says, “the partners [at DFJ] pushed me to get an MBA to round out my business background, hone my skills and broaden my scope.” Despite its West Coast roots, DFJ applauded Ravi’s application to HBS. “Both of the founding partners have HBS MBAs,” says Ravi. “All told, half of our partners went to business school at HBS.”
But for Ravi, there were other aspects of HBS that appealed to him. “I wanted to get out of my environment – get out of the Valley – so that I could reflect on what I had learned and on where I wanted to go.” Harvard’s large class sizes were also attractive. “The beautiful thing about HBS is that because of its size and quality, every minority is represented on a large scale. There were more than eighty South Asians in my class, and a huge number of entrepreneurs, at least a hundred. Every idiosyncratic interest you have is represented in significant numbers – no other school can match them.”
As a venture capitalist, Ravi especially appreciates the school’s deep, yet practical curriculum. “The ability to define a direction with uncertain information,” says Ravi, “is a skill you can only develop with practice. The case study method is the most natural and best way to exercise that muscle. At HBS, you’re tested all the time; with every case, you have to set a direction, believe in it, and back it up with data, logic and reasoning.”
Back to the future
Ravi has returned to Draper Fisher Jurvetson as an Associate, where he serves on the boards of innovative technology start-ups such as DesiHits, Redux, LiveMedia, Yield Software and Vitzu. “Every day,” he says, “I have to be able to identify leaders. HBS has given me a much keener sense of what makes a leader; it helps me spot the true entrepreneur. In my mind, the two most important traits are the ability to establish a vision and to take responsibility for it. My HBS cohorts and friends embody the traits I look for. In fact, the program is the only way I know to form an eclectic group of trusted colleagues who can help you build a business sensibility over time.”
“It may seem like an unusual way to describe a famous school, but HBS offers such a truly relevant education,” Ravi says. “Being away from the Valley makes it more objective, and it does a really good job of teaching entrepreneurship. The school fosters a community in which it’s safe to experiment or even fail. It’s an unrivalled opportunity to think and grow freely with your business instincts.”