Does an Entrepreneur Really Need an MBA?

All, Miscellaneous

- By Rushabh Vora, Co-Founder & CEO, SILA

 

A Business school experience teaches you a lot more than finance, entrepreneurship, or how businesses operate. You learn as much, if not more, outside the classroom than inside it. As an entrepreneur that attended business school, I often get asked these questions -  

 

1.    Did you really need business school? What did you gain?

 

2.    Does business school teach you how to be an entrepreneur?

 

3.    Was it worth the money because you were pursuing entrepreneurship? How was the ROI?

 

4.   Companies in Silicon Valley are increasingly hiring people without college degrees, let alone MBAs.          Should I waste my money?

 

My answer to all these questions always begins with ‘It Depends’. Each one is different. The answer depends on the level of understanding on how a business needs to be built. The amount of prior work experience. The type of business/product a budding entrepreneur is pursuing. Whether or not the entrepreneur has a founding team with him/her in case he needs one & various other factors.

 

 

Most of the top MBA programs in the world have numerous activities on offer – related to academia, entrepreneurship, recruiting, networking and so on. I classify the choice of activities into four broad baskets below. From my experience, a student can easily spend 100% of his/her time on each basket alone. Students must decide how much of their time they want allocate each one of four.

 

1. Academia

This activity basket involves core classroom learning & development. An activity that (almost) everyone engages in at Business School. The first few months of most top MBA programs involve classes that are technical in nature, mostly ‘101’ lessons in Finance, Organizational Behavior (HR), Economics, Accounting, and Marketing. Once students understand core subjects, the classes in the later part of the MBA become more interactive. Students are expected to incorporate the learnings from the ‘101’ classes into discussions & debates during the more advanced courses.

 

Studying while at business school is a must do for an entrepreneur. Most classes directly relate to running business or a business function. Whether it’s related to raising money, cost accounting, or marketing/branding. You need to all of it as an entrepreneur. At the business school I attended, we had a class called ‘Your First Hundred Days’. It was a real-world simulation of what the first 100 days are like for founding teams.

 

 2. Leadership

Formalized Clubs, forums & networking events – Most top business schools have formalized social & career focused clubs for individuals that are either like-minded or for those that are pursuing a similar career path. The MBA program that I attended had numerous clubs. Examples – the rugby Club, the soccer club, a real-estate club, an entrepreneurship club, a private equity club and so on. Groups of students work together, network, invite speakers, organize trips/treks to companies in the space, meet club alumni, participate in entrepreneurship competitions, etc. Members of each club build deep relationships for life.

 

Most entrepreneurs engage in club activities. A few entrepreneurs find their co-founders or even identify new business opportunities via these leadership groups. They learn from other’s experiences & mistakes. For example, a Russian friend at the Entrepreneurship club at INSEAD sold his first company for USD 7 mn at the age of 22. Used most of that money to fund his next company, which went bankrupt by the time he was 25. He then came to business school at the age of 26 to explore new ideas & figure out his next move in life.

 

3. Socializing, Travelling & Having a Good Time

Very Important!! I strongly believe in the saying – ‘Stop networking, Build Relationships’. You don’t build relationships at networking events & conferences. At business school, you build them outside the classroom - while travelling, socializing or playing sport.

 

Every entrepreneur needs to possess strong interpersonal skills. While socializing outside the classroom, one learns how to deal with people from different countries, cultures, backgrounds. Students build lasting relationships with peers & a network of future leaders that will spread across industries & geographies.

 

4. Recruiting/the Job

Hunt – Securing a good job after business school is the primary objective for many. Students looking for a new role post business school often spend a lot of time exploring new opportunities.

 

As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to spend any time doing this. However, you can learn from companies that interview your peers. I picked up on a few interview techniques from the larger corporates that came to interview at business school, for example, using case studies while hiring senior management.

 

By engaging in the above-mentioned activities entrepreneurs acquire numerous skillsets & a strong network. However, I have listed 4-5 areas that most entrepreneurs benefit from by attending a top tier MBA Program.

 

1. Finding a Co-founder 

The entrepreneurship clubs, competitions & classes provide an entrepreneur with a platform to identify potential co-founders. Ones with complementary skillsets or prior experience – either in a specific industry or geography.

 

2. Learning the Basics of Running a Business

The majority of students at the top MBA programs have had a successful start to their careers – often as consultants, investment bankers, industry professionals, etc. However, most have never dealt with the challenges that a fledgling company faces. For example, the hardships related to creating the right company culture, the first 100-day strategy, decision making driven by one’s gut without the availability of data, etc.

 

3. Raising Capital

Many entrepreneurs use the business school platform to raise capital. Professors, alumni, grants, competitions often end up as the source for the first round of capital that business school entrepreneurs use to kick-start their business.

 

4. Lessons in M&A/Roll Ups

Learning about buying/selling/merging business. This is a lesson that I benefited from. These lessons especially important for students raising money to run search funds.

 

5. Learning from Other Entrepreneurs

As the heading suggests, business school provides the opportunity to learn from other students & alumni that have pursued entrepreneurship in the past. Lessons on success & more importantly lessons on business failures can be very useful.

 

6. Building a Network

MBA programs allow entrepreneurs to build a global network of peers, professors, alumni that might benefit their businesses some-day.

 

Whether business school is required for an entrepreneur will continue to be a topic that is debated in the future. Attending business school has many pros, which I have mentioned above. However, the decision will always depend on what stage the business (or idea) is in and the knowledge/background of the entrepreneur.