In 2010 I decided to get an MBA. I was transitioning out of the Army and I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
There were a variety of reasons I wanted an MBA (most that stemmed from my own insecurity): I would be the first person in my family to get a graduate degree, it would allow me to build a network easily, etc.
But the primary reason was that I knew that I wanted to build businesses.
I loved the idea of building a business from scratch – creating something that provides value to the world. Through a little skill and a lot of luck, I’m able to say that I’ve built such a business. But the MBA wasn’t the reason. I’m fortunate that I’m not saddled with tens of thousands of student loan debt because I was able to use the GI Bill, but it was still largely a waste of time.
I’m not blaming MBA programs (well, not entirely at least), but they’re a waste of time and money if your primary ambition is to build a business from scratch. If your primary goal is to get a job in finance or management consulting then yes, getting an MBA opens a few of those doors. (That being said, I seriously urge you to reconsider if either of those paths are your primary objective.)
The problem is that MBA programs focus largely on theory that’s difficult to relate to if you haven’t actually experienced it yet. It’s sort of like if I was to try and teach you to be a chef of your own restaurant by teaching you cooking theory 95% of the time and actually letting you cook 5% of the time.
Many entrepreneurs dream of the day that they’re able to financially support themselves purely from their own business. If you’re getting an MBA to be an entrepreneur, you’ll spend years repaying your student debt and thus, counter-productively, postponing when you’ll be able to reach your ultimate goal.
Lot’s of people like to make the “oh, but the most valuable part of getting an MBA is the network.”
Lots of MBAs cost upwards of $100,000 for a two year program. If you gave yourself $100,000 in seed funding and 2 years to build a business, your network is going to be much more valuable than any you’d get from an MBA program. Not to mention you’d have much more knowledge.
There are things that I learned while getting my MBA that were useful that I continue to use in my businesses now. But those things don’t fill up two years and definitely aren’t worth $100,000.
From the time I decided to get my MBA until today, I’ve tried to do all of the things one is “supposed” to do if they want to be an entrepreneur. I studied the academic theory of business and got published in the International Journal of Finance. I wrote 75 page business plans for business plan competitions. I got an expensive piece of paper that I can put up on the wall.
None of these things contributed to learning what I needed to learn to build a business from scratch. They were distractions. They were my “day jobs” that were supposed to lay the groundwork for success. But the things that were most valuable were the things I did outside of “making my CV look good.”
I started building projects. I founded two startups. The first was a giant crater of a failure. I founded that first startup because I won a University-wide business plan competition while getting my MBA and won some seed funding. The professors provided me with tons of advice and even some subsidized office space. The company was dead by the end of the year.
The second is Makers Academy – Europe’s largest coding bootcamp that continues to thrive and trains hundreds of developers every year.
Outside of side projects and actually trying to build a business, everything else was wasted time. 100% not worth it. It sounds kind of obvious now in retrospect: the best way to learn how to build a business is to build a business.
Did I learn important things while getting my MBA? Absolutely. But I would have learned those things much faster if I would have identified a customer with a burning pain, crafted a solution, validated its market viability and then learned by doing.
Which leads me to my hypothesis:
I believe that the best education for an entrepreneur is by actually doing it. Yes, there are things you need to know, but not nearly as much as you think and more importantly, those things are most useful as you need them.
Starting today, I’m writing a series of blog posts that I’m calling “The NON-MBA,” a new type of curriculum. The curriculum that I would give to myself if I could go back and talk to myself before I started my MBA. A curriculum that prioritises experiential learning first with theory as a supporting layer – not the other way around like current MBA programs are run.
The reader I have in mind for this series of blog posts is the new entrepreneur. It’s for me before I got my MBA. It’s for my brother who’s considering starting his own business. It’s for the young woman who is about to head off to University and is questioning if spending four years and hundreds of thousands of dollars is still worth it and thinks maybe she should consider being a solopreneur or founding her own business. (that’s a great question that all young people should be asking.)
I can’t promise that these posts will be helpful for everyone, but I know that they would have helped me.
There will be tasks in some of the lessons. Some of those tasks will push people out of their comfort zone.
But they will be worth it.
If you’re already an experienced entrepreneur, help me out. Follow along and contribute your perspective in the comments below. One or two successes does not an expert make. All I’m able to do is write about the things that worked for me.
Lastly, I’d like for this to be a living document. If people have questions or something’s not clear, ask in the comments below so I can clarify. I’ll update the content to try and make this a longer term valuable resource.
Check out the 2nd installment of The NON-MBA series at Learn to sell like a human