This topic is extremely to my heart because I love both; being an MBA and being an entrepreneur. I don’t understand why most people like one over the other as if it’s something that they need to choose – It becomes like an either/or situation for them where they either have to choose MBA or being an entrepreneur.
Nature works on the laws of duality and that’s what makes it complete. Yin & Yang; Day & Night; Happiness & Sadness….This is a fact and not mysticism.
Similarly, MBA and entrepreneur represent the dual states. While one stands (MBA) for analytic, administration, structure, processes; the other (entrepreneur) stands for risk taker, creation, innovator and inventor.
Now, ask yourself a logical question – Can a startup survive without the two sets of qualities?
No, it can’t. Because those two sets of qualities go hand in hand and are required to be put into practice from time to time.
I come from an MBA background but it didn’t help me to startup. After completion of my MBA in 2011, I was actively looking for an idea that could strike the right cord with me. Raunak (my cofounder) and I were actively working on a gaming idea. We had recently graduated from MBA, been one of the finalist teams at our business school yet when it came to starting something, we were a flop show.
- We were extremely cautious with our approach
- We used to refer to our MBA slides and tried to have all answers upfront hoping that this would minimize our risk
- We feel compelled to use excel sheets and incorporate too much structure right in the beginning.
Soon, we realized that we were behaving like morons suffering from “analysis-paralysis”.
At the time when we were researching our gaming idea, I was also working with a very early stage startup in a generalist role. Before joining this startup, I had worked with another 5 year old startup but my experience at this early stage startup was instrumental in bringing me out of my MBA mindset.
At this early stage startup, the way to execute things was way different than what I had learnt on the MBA. The fundamental differences lie in – learning by doing rather than doing by learning, continuous progression, taking incremental steps, trial & error, experimentation and continuous feedback.
As I worked in that environment, I could see where the problems lie behind my inactivity. It was the attitude of “risk-aversion” as much as possible by trying to over-analyze. I thought risk could be mitigated by analysis alone as that would make me tread in the right direction.
Now, does that mean that MBA degree is bad?
Not in my opinion. While that’s again subjective because the doers who have created successful businesses oppose it, there are some strong reasons that I believe make an MBA a worthwhile degree. Of course, the quality of business school and the focus of MBA makes a huge difference but that’s another issue.
So, what’s the benefit of an MBA degree?
The founder is so deeply attached with his idea and his startup problems that it’s usually difficult to take a back-seat and look at the problem from a distance. If one uses the learning from an MBA degree, you would relate how business schools make you work at case-studies. You get together in groups and troubleshoot the business problem of another company. It’s easy for you to solve that problem because:
a) That’s not your problem, it’s someone else’s
b) The detachment keeps your head clear and allows you to focus on solution rather than the problem
So, the same rule should be followed in your own startup too. You should get into role-playing where one of the founders role-plays as the sole owner of the startup and the other founder becomes the MBA consultant. The MBA consultant should then recall the basics of business and ask “The right questions” to the founder owner. If you don’t do this, both founders will be likely to think alike again and again without getting much nearer to the solution. Try doing it; believe me it works!
Once the entrepreneur has started off, one needs to wear the hat of a founder and that of an MBA at different points in time. When it’s time to be creative, introduce new products & services, defining the vision – it’s the entrepreneur mindset. When it’s time to troubleshoot, look at things analytically, talking about numbers or putting processes in place – it’s the MBA mindset.
So, MBA’s who are looking to transition into the role of an entrepreneur should keep in mind that too much analysis in the beginning is paralysis and will not mitigate risks for you. It will only block your progress. The real learning in a startup is by doing, by interacting with your consumers, and by receiving feedback. Now, this doesn’t mean that one roll out a product/service on one’s whims and fancies; of course a basic level of due diligence is required. However, too much of an MBA mindset initially is disastrous.
How to make a smooth transition from an MBA graduate to an entrepreneur? Coming soon…
If one can adorn the hats of an entrepreneur and that of an MBA at required times, one can balance being both an entrepreneur and a business man! After all, it’s businesses that have the ability to sustain and not startups.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
NIDHI KAPOOR - Nidhi is the co-founder of FounderMates. She holds an MBA in Innovation & Entrepreneurship from Imperial College, London. Prior to starting FounderMates.com, she worked with 2 reputable startups in London. One of the startups was as young as a year old where she was the first hire while another was almost 5 years old. This has been an enriching experience for her in understanding the dynamics and needs of a startup across a broad spectrum.
Nidhi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org