For MBAs, starting a business can become the scene of the accident, where theory and education collide with facts and reality.
March 13, 2018
6 min read
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Business school won’t teach you everything you need to know about starting and running a successful business. I learned that the hard way.
While business school taught me how to negotiate, communicate effectively and understand the foundations of finance, economics and law, it wasn’t until I started a business that I realized there were significant gaps in my knowledge.
The relationships and network I built in business school are worth more than the cost of tuition. However, I wound up learning a lot more about business by being an entrepreneur for four months than I did sitting in a lecture hall for four years.
Here’s what I learned as an entrepreneur that business school didn’t teach me, and that it won’t teach you about building a successful business.
1. A business can be scrappy.
Starting a new business will require you to “figure things out as you go.” While business school will emphasize the importance of funding, hiring and scaling, starting a business means making the most of the few resources you have.
The reality is most successful companies today started out very scrappy, and from zero. They didn’t really have a plan, they didn’t lease a space, nor did they stick with their original idea in some cases.
Your success will depend a lot on how scrappy you can be and how you can make the most out of the resources and tools available to you right now. Even if this means launching with a minimum viable product to test the market before trying to get the funding, staff or resources you think you need.
2. Plans aren’t the most important thing.
It’s counterintuitive, but overplanning can kill your business, especially when you’ll be pivoting and adjusting based on how your customer uses, perceives and buys your product or service.
Business schools like to treat every new business idea like a massive venture that can be completely planned for. “Want to start a business? Create a business plan, determine your product-market fit, calculate breakeven, etc.”
The truth is a lot of this will become more clear as you test and first bring your product or service to market. It’s much more important to execute on your idea and get proof of concept, instead of trying to plan every single aspect of your business to perfection. Excessive planning before execution is usually just procrastination.
3. How to set goals.
With so much emphasis on planning and strategic decision-making, it’s kind of ironic how little business schools go into setting goals and reverse engineering what you want.
So many entrepreneurs know what they want to do, but they don’t really know how to do it. Setting goals makes it easier to determine the path since you can reverse-engineer from where you want to be.
Goals keep you accountable, as well as align everyone on your team. The last thing you want as a business owner is for your team to have different motivations that contradict (or compete with) one another.
What’s that one goal you want your whole team focused on? Zero in on it to drive a bigger impact.
4. Marketing in the 21st century.
Many schools are finally starting to improve their marketing classes to fit in with the digital age, but you’d be surprised how far behind a lot of the marketing education still is. To be fair, it’s because this information changes a lot faster than most business schools can keep up.
As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to stay in the loop on the current trends in digital marketing, as well as the tactics that work right now.
A lot of the fundamental marketing principles business schools teach are still useful and relevant. However, it’s crucial to your success that you have a deep understanding of things like pay per click advertising, search engine optimization, and email marketing, just to name a few.
If you want to learn how to create a successful Facebook ad, for example, you’re not going to find the answer in a classroom. You’ll have to create one and tweak it as you go.
5. How to be creative.
Entrepreneurs need to channel their creativity often, whether you need to come up with unique solutions to your customer’s problems or find that great business idea.
Creativity is very hard to teach, so it’s no wonder this is something lacking in business schools. Business schools teach systems and rules. They show you the parameters you’ll work within as an entrepreneur and how to make the most of them.
Creativity is about working outside those parameters, thinking outside the box. As an entrepreneur, sometimes the best solution isn’t the most obvious one. Sometimes it requires an inspired solution.
When you think about some of the most famous cases of companies succeeding despite the odds, or the most well-received marketing campaigns, there’s usually a lot of creativity behind it, not a cookie-cutter formula taught in a business school.
But that inspiration often comes from trying new things, making mistakes and learning from others. And that kind of experience gets fast-tracked when you’re an entrepreneur.
Schools are designed to teach students not to fail. They teach students to be more risk-averse than risk-taking. They are designed to have students work within a set of rules. This is the antithesis of being an entrepreneur and running a business.
Running a business means failing, a lot. Entrepreneurship is about taking risk. It involves thinking outside the box and creating an unconventional path.
Failure should be seen as part of the learning process. Because students are discouraged from failing, they never see the value of failure as a way of learning. Thus, B-school students that go into entrepreneurship may become more risk-averse.
The problem with this of course is that entrepreneurs give themselves an excuse to give up too early, and they avoid taking the risks that could help their business take off.
Any roadblock or challenge you encounter as a business owner shouldn’t be perceived as a stop sign. Instead, it may simply mean you need to push forward in a different direction.