I’m about to finish my second week at HBS and have quickly realized that business school, and particularly the case method, is incredible preparation for being an entrepreneur. While I’m aware that this runs counter to what numerous people have told me (“Why would you go to b-school if you want to start a company someday?,” “Starting a business while getting an MBA is an exercise in futility,” etc.), it struck me today during our section’s meeting with the dean of first-year students that b-school is the ideal proving ground for aspiring entrepreneurs - not because of the technical skills one acquires but because of the intangible traits one develops.
In b-school, students are pulled in a myriad of different directions - class, social life, extracurriculars, recruiting, traveling, studying, personal life. It is never ending. Entrepreneurs face the same type of challenge when growing their businesses. They must build the product, acquire customers, handle marketing, hire / fire employees, budget, raise money, etc. Every entrepreneur must be a jack-of-all-trades, as they will have a hand in every part of the business at the outset. However, this is the most basic and self-evident form of preparation. The others are more subtle, and perhaps even more important.
At b-school, I am surrounded by 900 students who, for the most part, aren’t used to failure. They went to college, had a good job, did some cool stuff, and got into a great MBA program. Now all of a sudden we are thrust into an environment where it’s not only OK to fail, but it’s also expected that it’ll happen a fair amount to varying degrees. This concept can be difficult to grasp. It is also something that entrepreneurs must grapple with all the time. Founders these days like to call it “pivoting” - but that’s just a nice way of saying you screwed up and now you’re trying something slightly (or altogether) new (see: Odeo—>Twitter, Stickybits—>Turntable.fm, Fabulis—>Fab.com, The Point—>Groupon, the list goes on). In business school, just like at a startup, sometimes you must adopt the philosophy of “fail fast, learn faster” in order to have long-term success.
Lastly, and this may be particularly unique to the case method of learning, but students must be comfortable with uncertainty and accepting that there’s more than one right answer. Most of our lives, we’ve sought the “right answer” and how to solve each problem. However, now, we must deal with the fact that there are potentially multiple right answers to every problem we tackle and even more ways to get to that right answer. As b-school students, we must do our best to prepare to be comfortable in the presence of fear (of uncertainty, of failure, of obstacles, of missing out, etc.). This critical preparation is not unlike what entrepreneurs deal with on a daily basis, as they seek to be comfortable with the fear of many of the same things.
While business school isn’t for everyone, particularly every entrepreneur, it is certainly a powerful and challenging experience that can prove to be the ideal form of preparation for an aspiring founder.