Summer is upon us. Most of higher ed actually, you know, takes the summer off. But for those of us in the Executive MBA program, it generally means it’s time for electives. Yes, we EMBAs willingly agreed to sacrifice any notion of a full-on summer vacation so that we could attend school. But classes are generally held only on Saturdays and Sundays, so that makes it okay!
One of the electives I’m taking this summer is New Venture Creation, taught by Dr. Rob Adams. As the name of the class suggests, it’s all about startups. I’ll be honest: I didn’t really pursue an MBA to become an entrepreneur. But it’s an elective, it fit with my very tight schedule, and several members of the Class of 2014 highly recommended the class, so I signed up for it.
I will not mince words. If you are not game for doing a startup, Dr. Adams will not attempt to persuade you otherwise. In fact, if you’re only lukewarm on the idea, he might try to talk you out of it. From day one – which started just as we were completing our final exams from the spring semester, I might add – he made it very clear that the startup world is not for the faint of heart, that anybody looking to start his or her own venture is fighting very long odds. In fact, since any new venture is far more likely to fail than succeed, his recommended approach to entrepreneurs is to fail fast and fail cheap. If your idea won’t find any paying customers in the marketplace, Dr. Adams says, you’re far better off finding out as soon as possible.
As we develop our business plan, I’m finding that our MBA skills and general business backgrounds are really put to the test. You take an idea, start hammering on it to discover if it really has potential, begin sketching out how this company might attract funding, where you anticipate taking it three, four, five or more years down the road. What kind of prices can you really charge for this product or service? How will it stack up against the competition? What kinds of customers will you pursue? How will you ramp up production? Finance, marketing, accounting, leadership, hiring decisions – it all comes together. ”Use your MBA skills,” Dr. Adams said more than once during our weekend marathon.
Moreover, the skills required to become a successful entrepreneur are hardly limited to the startup world. He pointed out that plenty of people end up becoming “intrapreneurs” – starting some type of new venture within their existing companies. As it happens, this is precisely the situation I find myself in within the confines of my day job. Developing realistic financial projections, scoping out a marketing plan, determining the type of customer that would be an optimal fit for a new offering – these are high-level business questions, not merely entrepreneurial considerations. And while it can be heartbreaking to take your pet idea and subject it to a pretty harsh interrogation, it’s for your own good to check your ego and tender feelings at the door and take a cold, clear-eyed assessment of what it will really take for that pet idea to see the light of day. In other words, not only is New Venture Creation a good way to put me through my paces midway through the program, the class could hardly have come at a more opportune time in my professional life.
So I’m a bit bemused to find tremendous value and unexpected use of a class I hadn’t expected to take in the Executive MBA program. After a year in the program, this is where the rubber starts to meet the road.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a paper to help write. And some financial projections to put together. And a book to finish reading. And some lectures to listen to online. And…