Going to business school to pursue an MBA is a big decision for anyone. And I would say especially so if your end goal is to become an entrepreneur. Weighing the time and costs of a formal education against the excitement of just starting your business and jumping in the deep end is a difficult choice. There are arguments to be made for both cases, and I'm not here to say which is better. My intention is to share high-level takeaways from my own experience in the hopes it is useful for whatever decision you make.
Business is a Team Effort
For graduate school, I pursued a joint JD/MBA. What I found most interesting about combining these fields of study was experiencing the contrast between the two program styles. As a law student, you are very much on your own. It's an individual endeavor. But in business school, you're constantly working on teams to overcome challenges and create solutions. This is where it really sank in for me that teams solve problems better than individuals.
This is a key learning for entrepreneurs, because as entrepreneurs we tend to believe, whether we admit it or not, that we ourselves always have the best solution to a problem. But that's simply not the case. I saw firsthand how problems got solved more efficiently by groups than by individuals. There were times where it would be a bit painful or frustrating because a few people in the group were weighing down the rest of the team. However, overall I found that working on a team is drastically better than on your own.
Leadership Defines Success
The second thing that business school taught me was how to work with and lead teams. These lessons came from the organizational behavior classes that we were required to take. At the time, I viewed these classes as the least important in the MBA program. They were the classes everybody sort of begrudgingly went through because they had to. We wanted to get into the real stuff; the finance, the marketing, the strategy. It was really in vogue to downplay and belittle the significance of the classes that had to do with dealing with people.
I didn't realize until I was out of school and running my own company how useful those organizational behavior classes were. I wished I would have paid a little more attention to them. I realized it's the people around you that make everything work, and leadership is what defines whether you are successful or not. It took a few years of running a business to see that clearly and really begin to love the leadership development and people aspects of running a business. And now, in my mind, it's the most important part of what they teach in business school.
Sales Get Neglected
Now on to the one big thing they don't teach you in business school: sales. Business school teaches you about big business. It is assumed that the sales and marketing challenges are already figured out. But in small business, getting enough customers to keep the business going is the most important thing. The vast majority of small businesses that start fail, and it's because they don't know how to sell. They think they're going to build a better mousetrap, and it's going to sell itself. But that's never the case. And sales, quite honestly, gets a bad rap. You're taught to think of it as dirty and evil. And it's a travesty because when you have something that makes a real difference for people, and you've poured your heart, soul and passion into it, and then you show up without a way to effectively sell it, your business goes away.
I think it is unfortunate there isn't more sales teaching in business school. There's so much to learn in terms of the sales process, sales methods, sales strategy; real-world tools that would save lots of entrepreneurs the heartache of failure they're going to experience without it.
For my goals I found business school to be immensely useful. But I know that's not going to be the case for everyone. Whether you decide to go to school or not, nothing can ever truly prepare you for becoming an entrepreneur.