Saturday, December 8, 2007

Should Entrepreneurs go to Business School?

I’m an entrepreneur who attended business school. I was an entrepreneur before business school (I had an unsuccessful startup on the side) and I went to business school with the plan of starting a business – which ended up being Linkspank. Many entrepreneurs are vocally against attending business school, citing it as a “waste of time” or worse. Today I’ll share some of my thoughts on the issue, and provide a little test for whether you or an entrepreneur you know should attend business school.

Reasons to Attend Business School for Entrepreneurs

I attended business school (the University of Chicago GSB) for three reasons – to get education, to have the life of a student, and to meet people who I could work with as entrepreneurs, investors, or advisors.

1. Get education: this exceeded my expectations. Here’s what I think I learned in business school: strategy, marketing, and some “business sense” in other fields, like investments, accounting, and finance. But I also felt that I got a broader education, like the kind of education that you get in college. Because of this latter point, I felt that whether “it was worth the money” to go to business school is a no-brainer “yes”. What would you think of someone who challenged whether it was worth the money to go to college? That feeling is (probably, depending on what it is for you) my first reaction when I hear people say that business school is a waste of time or money.

2. Have the life of a student: This one is two-pronged. First, I was sick of corporate life and psyched about being a student. I ended up being much busier than I thought I would be but I still think that being a business school student (even at Chicago GSB, which is tame relative to other “Tier 1” schools) is just hands-on way more fun than working. People who are working seem to forget about that – they have forgotten about having fun and they’re thinking about their 360 degree evaluations, salaries, and promotions.

Additionally, I wanted to start a business while I was in school. I think this is an underdiscussed opportunity for entrepreneurs. It’s hard as hell to start a business on the side while you’re working. It’s much easier (though not necessarily easy) to start one while you’re in school. Also your resume and finances are basically taken care of in one way or another.

3. Meet entrepreneurs, investors, advisors: I got lots of GREAT advice from my fellow students. They are sub-average contributors as spankers, but far above average as advisors on product and strategy. Not many of them were entrepreneurs. Many of them have offered to stay in touch about investment.

Reasons Not to Attend Business School for Entrepreneurs

(If you are taking a loan,) You’ll be saddled with debt after school, and as an entrepreneur, you may find it difficult to pay it.

The professors and students around you are likely to bash good ideas.

You won’t learn “real-world” stuff – you still have to learn that by doing.

Business school will not help you decide whether you want to be an entrepreneur. In fact, if you’re on the fence, it may even push you away from being an entrepreneur. (Arguably that’s a pro if it’s the right path for you.)

The Test: You’re an Entrepreneur. Should you go to Business School?

Answer the questions and add up the points. (Sorry it's a little ugly, the formatting on Blogger sucks.)

1. I know what kind of business I want to start, or I am already running a business that I will keep running.

Exactly (-5 points)

Vaguely (+2 points)

No (0 points)

2. How willing are you to forgo income and feel poor after school? (If you are financially independent give yourself 0 points for this question)

Willing (+5 points)

Maybe not (-5 points, 0 points if you would pay for school with a loan)

I’m willing to be poor, it’s the time that is the issue (-10 points)

3. I plan

To start a business during school, even if it means slightly worse grades, and a hectic life (+5 points)

To start a business after I graduate (-5 points)

I have no plan (+0 points)

4. Picture this – you go to business school, but you don’t end up with the real-world knowledge you need to start your business. Your professors seem to doubt that you have the necessary experience too. You:

Go into consulting for two years (0 points)

Just wasted my time (-5 points)

Start your business anyway (+5 points)


5 points or higher -Go to business school, and start something.

0 points-ish -You may want to go to business school – but are you sure you want to start a business?

-5 points or lower -Don’t go to business school. Start something now.

FYI, I would have scored a 10 on this test two years ago. I’m not sure if this test actually makes any sense but hopefully it was thought-provoking.