How the MBA degree benefits a startup founder

330bd12581d5d0f7feff240a7cb35335Words of Advice If You Are Considering This Career Path

If you are looking to start a company, you have to have a very realistic business plan, particularly in this economy. Gone are the dot-com glory days of free-flowing financing, huge marketing budgets, and expensive office space.

From the very beginning, you have to plan carefully and manage your resources very efficiently. You have to find creative ways to extract the most value from each dollar and individual because it will be a long time before you have all the resources you want or need.

Pay attention to your financial statements and make sure you manage your cash flow. If you aren’t hitting your goals, make adjustments sooner than later—it will almost always take longer to get where you’re going than you originally predicted.

Be prepared to make sacrifices—mostly personal, some professional. You have to be willing to make less than the big MBA salary for a while. In fact, you’ll likely pay people who work for you more than you pay yourself. You have to be very committed to that reality for at least a couple of years, but likely a lot longer. Your success and compensation are tied very directly to the success of the company you start, particularly where stock and external investors are concerned. And you will almost always be the first person in and the last person out of the office every day (including weekends).

Last, many people do risk/reward evaluations when deciding if they’ll start a company. If you constantly try and weigh every angle and option, you won’t take the leap. In fact, I’ve always viewed starting a business as a low-risk, high-reward opportunity—particularly considering the lack of job security these days. The experience you get from building a business from the ground up will almost always outweigh the risks you take. Even if you don’t succeed, you’ll be better off for having tried.

What I Did Before This (Including Pre-MBA and Post-MBA Jobs)

I had 15 years in the risk management and loss prevention side of insurance. I worked my way up from an engineering representative for an insurance company and eventually became a corporate director in charge of safety. Later, I started a consulting firm with two other people, where we initially focused on Internet strategies for the insurance industry.

We found that this concept was too early for the industry, so we ended up consulting to start-ups. We focused primarily on developing strategies and processes for generating revenue from e-business initiatives. One of my partners from that venture is one of the co-founders of our current company, too.

Educational Background (Undergraduate, MBA, Other)

In MBA Programs, I’d Suggest You Look For…

A match of skill level and a knowledge of how you need to build on your expertise in class and in your career. I was looking for a part-time program in an entrepreneurial school. Starting a company while in a part-time MBA allowed me to digest and apply everything I learned in a course to my company’s pursuits.

I chose the part-time evening program because I had 15 years of experience and could bring that to a classroom of people like me, then immediately apply it at work. In class, I found value in being able to say, “I did that a certain way and it did or did not work out.” Then, I could see other approaches that might have worked better.

Perhaps the drawback of a part-time program is that it doesn’t allow for connecting courses that might be advantageous when taken simultaneously. And you aren’t living the MBA thing every day, but that worked for me because I wasn’t looking to reinvent myself entirely with the degree. I was looking to be better at moving this company along.

I also believe it is important that professors have real-world experience and that the student body is diverse. I found that I had to really seek out diversity in part-time programs. Because they feed from the local business community, you might end up with less cultural diversity in a part-time program, but you gain a whole lot of work diversity and depth of experience in your classmates. Consider the trade off and which is most important to you.