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A few months ago, I wrote an article about how you can reach your entrepreneurial goals faster without getting an MBA.
Since then, I have received several emails asking what steps people should take if they really wanted to get an MBA and also be an entrepreneur. Some of the people were already first-year MBA students.So, here are the 10 things you must do to give yourself the best shot at startup success with an MBA.
An MBA is expensive and time consuming. It's just not worth the opportunity cost going to a school that does not have access to the best professors, highest quality students, or influential alumni.
If you don't get into Harvard, Wharton, Stanford, MIT or Columbia, then don't waste your time. There might be an argument made for Babson, since it only focuses on entrepreneurship.
There are always exceptions to this rule, but then again, the most successful entrepreneurs today (Facebook, Microsoft, Oracle) do not even have college degrees! The goal here is to increase your chances of success as an entrepreneur who wants to get an MBA. A top 5 MBA degree increases your chances of success much more than any other MBA school.
When I was applying to MBA schools, I got rejected by all the top school the first time around. I could have gone to several other MBA programs, but knew that the cost of the degree would not be justified at those schools. I decided to reapply the following year and take my chances.
Think of this as networking. Your goal should be to find as many like-minded students as possible. Who knows, you might find a great business partner to work with on your idea.
In my second year of business school, I met the co-founder of my first startup when we ended up organising the Wharton Entrepreneurship Conference together.
These clubs also have many guest speakers. Usually in a club meeting when an alumni comes to speak, the setting is more intimate and you can spend some quality time with successful entrepreneurs or VCs.
In your second year, try to become the head of one of these clubs. It's a great way to network and develop an even deeper relationship with people in the start-up industry.
I submitted one of my concepts to the Wharton business plan contest and ended up being a finalist. I got several of my classmates to work on the business plan with me. In the end, we got in front of a two hundred people and pitched our idea to dozens of VCs.
One of my professors actually spent 3 hours with me to improve my demo and pitch. We did not win the contest, but finished in the top 5 and got several thousand dollars in prize money.
A business plan contest is the most risk-free way to pitch an idea and learn. You have nothing to lose. The VCs are usually friendly and want to help aspiring entrepreneurs at MBA business plan contests.
Don't waste your summer break with an internship in banking or consulting. Go find 10 startups that you would work for and email them directly and ask for an internship. Be willing to work for almost nothing as long as you can get some real experience.
When I did my first startup, a student at an East Coast school emailed me directly after she saw a TV clip about my company. She not only ended up with an internship, but became a full-time employee several months later.
I made the mistake of doing an internship at Microsoft in 2001 as opposed to doing one at Google. What a Mistake! I thought I could learn more by being at Microsoft as opposed to some little startup (at that time, Google was not a well-known name in business schools).
I would highly recommend you don't make this mistake. If you get an internship offer today between Google and some small start-up, take the job with the small company. You'll get more responsibility and learn more.
One thing many MBA students fail at in business school is developing a working relationship with their professors. Most professors at top schools are very accomplished and connected to some of the best companies and venture capitalists.
Make sure that by the time you graduate, you have at least five professors who would take your call and help you post-graduation. Some startups at Wharton that I worked with in the past have gone as far as making professors official advisors to their companies.
Most MBA alumni want to help students at their old schools. So, make the most of your two years in school by trying to connect with as many alumni as possible.
When I was running a tech conference for Wharton, I ended up calling every high-level alumni I wanted to get to know and invited them to speak at the conference. I ended up personally talking with or meeting the CEOs of US Airways, HP, and Charles Schwab. It was a great way to introduce myself and get on their radar.
For the panels, I invited VCs and dozens of alumni who had successful startups. It was a way for me to develop a long term relationship with people that normally are hard to reach.
If I had just called these people out of the blue and told them I wanted to get to know them, it would be awkward. But by having a platform like a tech conference where I wanted them to speak, it makes the introduction much easier.
Your MBA student / alumni directory will become a key asset towards your startup aspirations. Make sure to use to frequently, but wisely.
Being an entrepreneur is hard. Make friends with classmates who share your passion for doing a startup. If you take the right classes and join the right clubs, you'll end up with a dozen or more friends with have similar aspirations. Many of my closest friends are the ones I did business plans together with or took entrepreneurship electives with over two years at school.
These friends will become lifelong connections. Their support is valuable both while in school and beyond.
Given the costs of an MBA, many of you will be tempted to do a few years in consulting or banking to pay back the loans. If you do that, then you have just wasted a lot of years. Your goal after graduating should be to either launch your startup, or join an early stage startup that can serve as a greater learning experience before doing your own.
Stay focused on your long-term goal. If you do a good job of keeping your cash burn low during business school (don't go drinking every night, don't rent an expensive apartment off-campus, don't go on unnecessary vacations, do some part-time work to keep cash coming in, etc), you'll be in a better position to stay lean for a while and make the right decision for yourself as opposed to taking a $200K job at a bank, and hoping that you only stay there for a year or two. It never works out that way!
Several of my classmates kept their burn so low while at school, they were able to start their own company right after business school, and had enough funds to survive during the lean first few years after launching.
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