by Guerric de Ternay, MiM 2015
Going to business school is an important decision.
In many aspects, it is like buying a house. It is a milestone in your life and one of your biggest investments.
As every important topic, it is also a controversial one.
In spite of these ideas, going to business school is still well regarded in the corporate world.
It helps you get a nice job and boost your career. Overwhelmed by the number of candidates, recruiters use top business schools as a filter. So doing an MBA is often required if you want your career to move forward.
But people who want to start their own business cannot think this way.
Adding the stamp of a business school on a CV has limited value for entrepreneurs. Their professional successes are not the result of a manager hiring them. Entrepreneurs are only accountable to their customers and shareholders.
If you’re considering starting a business, the question you must have is: “Is going to business school worth the investment?”
(Going to business school is a lifelong investment. You should take more variables than I could explore in this article. So I am voluntarily reducing the scope of the article.)
Should a wantrepreneur go to business school?
From my experience coaching entrepreneurs, I see these two cases:
1. You are willing to run your own business. But it is obvious that you need more experience. You do not have yet the right network and business skills that will allow you to succeed.
2. You have wanted to start a business for years. You already know people who have done it but you have been too scared to take the risk and do it yourself.
There is a fine line between these two boxes.
But you should know where you stand. If you fall in the first category, going to business school can be the right decision.
To help you make the right decision, the best thing to do is to talk to entrepreneurs who went to business school. Getting to know how this experience impacted their entrepreneurial journey will provide you with more clarity.
So let me share with you what I learned from my experience going to London Business School.
1 Thinking More Strategically
Theory has limited value.
There are dozens great books that give you an easy and cheap access to business theory. (If you are wondering which ones, my reading list features a good selection.)
The real value of going to business school comes out of the connections and projects that are built throughout a business school programme.
Here’s a before/after business school comparison:
Before going to London Business School, I was already running GoudronBlanc, a brand of very high quality T-shirts. GoudronBlanc still exists and this is an opportunity for me to compare how I used to think about strategy and how I think about it now.
– So before business school, I had a basic commercial mindset: “buy low and sell high”. There was not much of a strategy at the time.
– Now, I notice that I make strategic decisions with more clarity. A good strategy requires to make trade-offs. You must understand your market, see where the competition is going, and learn how to iterate fast while keeping your focusing on your long-term mission.
It would have taken me years to reach the same level of thinking.
But going through many business cases, discussing with my peers and my professors, and meeting with speakers helped me get there much faster.
2 Getting Support (Even After Graduating)
As author and journalist Pro Bronson wrote:
“There’s a powerful transformative effect when you surround yourself with like-minded people. Peer pressure is a great thing when it helps you accomplish your goals instead of distracting you from them.”
Being surrounded by ambitious people pushes you to do more, especially after graduating.
You see them succeed and they’re willing to help you when needed.
I have had so many sessions thinking through the future of GoudronBlanc with my friends from London Business School. The thing with business school is that most people who go there are “business geeks”. They talk a lot about work but that is because it is something they genuinely like.
And trust me, seeing your classmates and friends on their path to success and having their support are great motivators.
3 Broaden Your Horizons…
Even though everyone comes with a similar goal, going to business school opens your mind like few other experiences will.
At London Business School, students come from all of over the world. Some of my greatest friends are from China and India. Without them, I wouldn’t certainly not have learned as much about these two fast-growing countries.
Too many entrepreneurs do not think global.
Yet, adopting a global mindset matters more than ever. Having friends with people who come from other countries, it is much easier to learn about these countries and their local markets.
Going to the right business school and going on an exchange programme open the door to more global mindset.
4 Grow Your Network
It is astonishing how powerful networking can be when you understand what it really means.
Dale Carnegie, author and public speaking expert, summarises this very well:
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
Without my friend, David Duckworth, inviting me to attend an event with Y Combinator’s president Sam Altman, I would not have been able to meet this renowned investor, who invested in companies like Airbnb and Dropbox. And Sam Altman would have never become a customer of GoudronBlanc.
Networking is not just the ability to ask people for a favour. Too many people think that way– unfortunately…
Networking is the ability to stay connected to like-minded people you can help and who may help you too, though you should not take that for granted.
5 Doing Business Is More Than the Theory
One of my classmates, Nico Gerstmeyr, started a gourmet gelato shop in Munich called Gecobli. Far from the fame of tech startups, he is building a brick-and-mortar business that requires a specific set of entrepreneurial skills.
He believes that going to business school helped him by preparing the ground for his entrepreneurial journey. But as he told me:
“Honestly, you cannot learn about the problems you encounter [as an entrepreneur].”
“A few lessons from b-school might apply later, like how to motivate employees, how to optimise taxes and overhead etc. But the main lessons I’ve learned since then are:
– Don’t try to do it on your own;
– Get a partner;
– Dream big;
– Start small and slow;
– Don’t do it for the money, do it for the vision/purpose;
– Work 24/7 but take personal time whenever you can.”
There are things you cannot expect to learn in the classroom, and not even working for someone else’s business. Being an entrepreneur requires some skills and behaviours that can only be learned by running a business.
6 One Last Thing
Of course, there is the word “business” in “business school”. But not everything is about business.
This is also a place where you have a lot of fun, meet lifelong friends, and learn a lot about yourself.
It’s a school of life too.
You meet people who are in a transitional moment of their lives. Everyone is considering what they should do next and how to approach that next step.
Going to business school gives you the opportunity to take a real break, and get the time to reflect.
So Business School and Startup Are Compatible?
Business schools were designed to educate managers before they get a job in a large organisation.
There is no doubt that business schools need to keep adapting if they want to keep the interest of future entrepreneurs.
Today, their principal competitors are business books for entrepreneurs, accelerator programmes, and alternative education programmes like Udemy and General Assembly.
Whether going to business school is the right move is up to you to decide. It depends on where you are in your personal and professional journey.
But I sincerely hope going through these ideas is going to help you make the right choice.
Guerric de Ternay (MiM 2015) leads innovation projects at ?What If!, and runs GoudronBlanc and Blackwood, two e-commerce driven fashion brands.