What The Entrepreneur And The MBA Taught One Another

Two topics that I frequently see discussed in online forums, blogs, and articles are entrepreneurship and MBA degrees. In such venues, perspectives and responses are often very polarized, and it would not be unusual to see different camps characterizing the relationship of entrepreneurship to MBA training as either highly relevant or highly irrelevant to one another.

Rather than taking an argumentative approach to distill relevancy, one of my former colleagues (Paul Brown, an entrepreneur & founder, PhD degree) and I share a few things below that we specifically learned from one another (with Steve playing the role of non-entrepreneur, MBA degree). The context is during an enterprise software startup that went from Seed financing to Series A corporate venture capital to Deloitte Rising Star to sale/merger over a period of five or so years.

Some key things Paul got or learned from Steve (my notes taken from discussion and correspondence with Paul):

  • Level of professionalism added - Having an MBA-trained person on the team changed professionalism not so much in demeanor but in the total approach to business. The MBA perspectives complemented a very technical, software R&D organization that sold highly technical products.
  • Concrete methods and processes added - As opposed to piling receipts in the corner of the room and calling the pile "our accounting books", having an MBA on the team introduced discipline and methods in finance, sales, competitive intelligence & benchmarking, Board meetings, etc.
  • Business literacy added - Perhaps an understated item but by adding an MBA competency to the team it helped to make a difference in key company situations as to whether we were taken seriously or not by others (e.g., partners, investors, customers).

Key lessons that Steve learned from Paul:

  • Business experimentation is part of the entrepreneurial spirit and approach - Although I may have paid lip service to this in the past, I recalibrated myself away somewhat from business role models where managers are expected to "know the right answer" a priori. When you are paving new ground as in an entrepreneurial venture, there is tremendous value in conducting safe tests (such as floating an idea with another entrepreneur or an industry veteran, presenting a new pricing plan to a niche distributor).
  • There is value in tapering the need to make hasty decisions - Something that has always stuck with me for many years was something that I remember reading about the Harvard Business School training method. Students were pressed to make decisions and calls based on information (however limited) in a case study. In reality, this type of mentality is reinforced in many business school and business settings. The mentality is that one will always have incomplete information whether in a managerial, case study, etc. setting, and one needs to make decisions as a manager. Boom, boom, boom, done. Although I have not fully formulated my thoughts in this area, what I believe I learned from Paul was that the entrepreneur may benefit not from procrastination but by delaying critical decisions as long as there is time to either gather additional information, see activities play out, or let management team emotions clear. (I know - my idea is a bit convoluted in its current form, but I am onto something and will revisit).
  • If you want to appreciate entrepreneurship truly, you must witness someone with total willpower, drive, and endurance - I don't think I need to say more here, other than Paul has these characteristics.

Paul, thanks for the lessons!


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