Entrepreneur Beginners Guide
You’re in No Rush to Get an MBA
“You wasted $150,000 on an education you could have got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.”
—Matt Damon, in Good Will Hunting
When I was introduced by my student host, I stood up and briefly addressed the room full of second-year Harvard Business School students from all around the world. Surprisingly, I was the only prospective student among a handful to stand up during the pre-class introduction, adhering to what I thought was proper and respectful protocol. The other visitors were shy and perhaps a bit intimidated by the Ivy League crowd. Because of my display of confidence and cordiality, I received the warmest welcome from the students. In fact, when my host mentioned that I attended More-house College, a few students shouted with excitement. Other than this warm reception and conversation with students between classes, my campus visit to Harvard Business School in April 2007 was much different than I had imagined.
That morning, April 12, I arrived at Harvard Business School a few minutes behind schedule. I forgot that the business school is separate from the main Harvard campus; it is located on the opposite side of the Charles River, perhaps a not-so-subtle indication of its lofty status. After calling admissions and receiving directions from a rather unpleasant administrator, I found my meeting place: the Dillon House. From there, a student host took me to class with her. On the way she answered my questions and introduced me to some of her friends. After attending class I found some old college friends who were now HBS students,, and they took me to lunch. We passionately debated and discussed the meaning of life and the classic book The 48 Laws- of Power. Following that I walked around, taking in the sights and smells; visited the Coop or I4BS bookstore, buying an FIBS T-shirt; managed to get lost in the underground tunnels, trying to avoid the snow; and ended up in the library, reading my FORTUNE Small Business magazine while waiting for my ride. That was my visit.
At the time, attending business school to get my MBA was not a top priority. After college I was not eager to go back to school at all. Instead, I wanted to continue as a fearless young entrepreneur, growing my business and pursing opportunities that required my full energy and resources. However, I eventually caved to the pres-sure of my peers, who thought it was the logical thing to do. Also, my parents encouraged me to get a graduate degree because “the longer I waited, the harder it would be to return.” And I had a highly inflated self-image. What better way to massage my ego than to obtain an MBA from Harvard Business School! So I made the trip to Boston, where I grew up, in hopes that a campus visit would increase my excitement for HBS in particular, and for graduate school in general.
Shockingly, the campus visit did more harm than good. The ivy-clad campus, known for its charm and majesty, had a gloomy effect on me. I found it to be off-putting and uninspiring. Further-more, the classes I attended were perfunctory and boring. I am afraid to admit it, but I almost fell asleep during one class titled Leadership Accountability and Ethics. In this class, it seemed that no substantive conversation took place, as if the professor and students were just talking to hear themselves talk. I am sure that there were some redeeming characteristics of the school, but I surely missed them. It could have been that I was out of my league. Regardless, I left the campus visit highly disappointed and eager to head home, back to the exciting life of a start-up CEO. At the end of that day I realized that my presence was a sign of my giving up or at best putting on hold my entrepreneurial dreams.
Attending Harvard Business School at that time, if I were accepted, would have been a mistake. I would have been completely miserable and frustrated. In the same way that college almost smothered my fiery ambition to pursue entrepreneurship, graduate school would have strangled me. I would have eventually succumbed to the luring pull of a high-paying consulting job or chosen to crunch numbers for a New York hedge fund. Not even the prestige and countless benefits of receiving a Harvard MBA were going to pull me away from my business and doing what I loved. Since then, I continue to consider going back to school, but not just to get a degree. Now that I am a little wiser, I have a genuine interest in the knowledge taught; I aspire to learn as much as I can about the business world, and academia is a great place to do that in a focused environment. I recently read Philip Delves Broughton’s book Ahead of the Curve, which chronicles his life-altering experience as an HBS student. I have also talked to friends who have their degrees from Harvard and other great business schools. Many of them still struggle to find gratifying jobs. In fact, many of them discourage me from going. I agree with them. After weighing all the costs, I am still not convinced of the value. The only way I will seriously consider it is if I receive a full scholarship and if I can continue to run my business.
In the meantime, I do what all successful entrepreneurs do: learn as much as possible about business constantly. That includes subscribing to industry magazines, reading white papers, attending conferences, interviewing experts, examining case studies, and so on. Entrepreneurs fervently seek knowledge to gain and to main-tair a competitive advantage for their business.
One of my mentors heard I was considering Harvard Business School and scolded me. He said, “What would that degree do for you? You’d ultimately go back to running your business. You’d lose time and money. You don’t need Harvard; Harvard needs you!” Ignoring his head-inflating words, my mentor’s argument made pragmatic sense. Considering my unique situation, the opportunity cost of going to school would be too great. In fact, attending school could kill my business altogether. At that point, I realized that obtaining my MBA would probably not be in my near Future. Given that, I decided to resort to the next best thing: Hiring business school graduates to help me run my business. So far, it has worked out great.