“Should I go for an MBA degree? Is it really worth it?” These were the concerned questions that an anxious gym-buddy, who also happens to be an aspiring entrepreneur, asked me one day. An apparently affluent non-MBA diamond merchant who stealthily overheard our conversation, interrupted us by highlighting his view which was – “An MBA curriculum is meaningless for entrepreneurial success.”
“Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, Sergey Bin & Larry Page of Google did not go to business school. In spite of that, they are the some of the richest entrepreneurs in the world! So, it would be better for you to invest the time and money on your dream venture instead of a Business school.” He continued by adding that doing so would more likely increase the odds the start-up’s success. He did have a point there. However, he had inadvertently poked just the tip of the ice-berg . On retrospection, the question seems to have a lot more depth to it. So let’s try to analyze the truth behind the ‘Mark Zuckerberg’ analogy.
Just using ‘Google’ to learn more about the life-stories of the richest entrepreneurs shows us that all of them had a massive interest in the field of their venture to begin with. This was backed by the passion, experience and real-world education in their core fields before they started their ventures. This equipped them with a required set of skills. With Google, Larry and Sergey spent years learning advanced computer science. It was only afterwards that they build a revolutionary search engine.
Similarly, Bill Gates had been programming since the age of thirteen. At 15, he developed a traffic-management program that fetched him $20,000. In 1975, he had dropped out of Harvard and formed the world’s largest software business ‘Microsoft’, just because he was confident of his knowledge, skill-sets and experience of creating something new and managing it. These were the exact things that would have been taught in an MBA school, which is why he dropped out.
The same holds true for Mark Zuckerberg. At a tender age of 12, this child prodigy created a sophisticated messaging program called ‘Zucknet’. Much later, at Harvard, he created ‘Facebook’ after spending hundreds of hours perfecting it in his dorm room. David Fincher’s ‘The Social Network’ is a perfect medium to demonstrate the hard work that went behind creating Facebook.
If you pay attention, you will see that the common thread connecting these three success stories is that all of them basically had an ‘extraordinary product’ that was created by immense talent, passion, effort, time and hard-work. And most importantly, they knew how to manage all these in an efficient manner. Unfortunately, not all aspiring entrepreneurs possess all these qualities at once. This is where the role of an MBA comes into play. An MBA degree will provide you with practical knowledge of business basics. You’ll get to learn useful business concepts, create business plans and acquire finance & marketing tools. An additional benefit of studying at a B-School is ‘Networking’. It would greatly benefit you if you make it your ulterior motive and focus from Day 1 that you have build a personal & professional network with batch-mates and faculty, particularly those with an industry experience.
Networking with batch-mates might seem odd considering all you are starting from the same point. However, their contribution might be helpful in the long run, when they might be successfully managing businesses in various fields. Likewise, choose an industry-based faculty as your mentor. If he is equally passionate about your venture idea, he may even open doors for you into his trusted business network, thus greatly benefiting you in return.
An aspiring entrepreneur needs to tread his path carefully and choosing the right B-School is the first step on the way. It would be helpful to hand-pick those B-Schools where ‘Case-Study method’ is an integral component of their academic curriculum. It will help you understand the pitfalls and risks on which other businesses have struggled with. Let us see a real-life case to support the theories discussed till now.
In the year 2002, Google founders Sergey Bin & Larry Page wiped out the entire managerial layer in an innovative experiment. The motive was to strip away the managerial barriers faced by the idea development team, by flattening the hierarchical structure. The experiment failed terribly and soon witnessed an end. Google realized the hard way that managers, especially those trained in some of the most reputed B-schools, are virtually indispensible in an organizational structure.
A B-School can perform similar wonders on an aspiring businessman who has an entrepreneurial spirit but lacks more formal analytical skills. The skills acquired by a management student remain identical irrespective of whether he becomes a manager in an MNC or starts his own business. However, there is a downside to everything. A veteran management professor once said in an interview, “In my opinion, entrepreneurship is a matter of the heart and education is a matter of the brain. It is difficult to teach a heart.” I share his perspective on the above statement as an entrepreneur may be defined as a person who has a risk-taking appetite and a fearless attitude. These attributes are inherently ingrained into his/her personality.
An MBA education can teach someone to take wise decisions based on calculated risks. But can it teach someone to enjoy taking those risks? I am not very sure about that. Some students who have endured the rigorous years of an MBA program often compare its schedule with the intense military training. So let me to give you a beautiful analogy explained to me by a worldly-wise Indian Army Colonel, who is also a distant relative. This analogy draws the similarities between entrepreneurship and military training.
India, for example, spends crores of rupees on its soldiers so that they are absolutely prepared to fight battles when required. They are trained to fire rifles, use hand-combat and operate in simulated high-pressure situations. Although, all that training only goes so far. The Colonel added that he could never anticipate how a soldier would respond on- ground. He may choose to hide in his foxhole, run in the other direction, play dead or face the situation and fight like he has been trained when the bullets start to fly.
How someone responds to extreme-stress circumstances depends mainly on one’s intrinsic nature, which is hardwired into one’s personality. The training provided will only take you so far. The same theory is applicable to entrepreneurship. Learning Finance, Marketing, HR & Business Strategy can be very helpful. They will fetch you good GPAs, but dealing with the real-world outside your training ground is a different ballgame altogether. It is equally important to be self-confident, passionate, curious and extremely street-smart. If you don’t have these natural qualities and instincts, you are likely to face issues as an entrepreneur.
So I personally believe that MBA programs do equip the future entrepreneurs with some valuable tools. They may help them in avoiding silly mistakes that the beginners make. In spite of all the tools and training, it is up to the individuals to decide whether or not they have the heart to tackle unexpected and unpleasant obstacles that usually tag along with new businesses.
That’s when the real bullets start flying. Do you have it in you? Think! Introspect!
Takeaway: Entrepreneurship is 70% Execution and 30% Analysis, whereas most B-Schools teach you to become the exact opposite. So choose your school with utmost care. To me, real world experience is the best teacher, but an MBA degree will give you a solid foundation which may help you launch your business venture with utmost confidence. I am not sure whether the probability of success will increase drastically but I am certain the probability of failure will reduce significantly.
Contributed By: Pranshu Awasthi ( Class of 2007, IBS Gurgaon )