By Samir Malik C’08/W’08/WG’14, founder of 1DocWay
This is a question that haunts many entrepreneurs. Some scoff at the idea, claiming that an entrepreneur doesn’t need an MBA, while others see tremendous opportunity for learning business fundamentals, building networks, and starting a company in a supportive environment.
The truth is, the answer to this question will be entirely personal—only you can know if business school is right for you. What I can do is offer 3 questions that will help you figure out the correct answer for you.
Should YOU go to business school?
1) How committed am I to entrepreneurship?
Is this something you’re trying out or are you building a foundation for the rest of your career in entrepreneurship?
These approaches are quite different and result in different objectives. If you’re exploring entrepreneurship and want to learn more about what it takes to succeed in this arena, you’ll want to surround yourself with mentors and colleagues who have walked down this path and can tell you what’s around the next corner. They can share experiences and give you insight into what you’ll like and not like about a career as an entrepreneur.
If you want to surround yourself with these individuals, understand where they are. Some business schools are ripe with such entrepreneurs, others are not. And of course some cities abound with more potential entrepreneurial mentors than others. If you’re embarking on a new journey, and this is about more than exploration, then let’s move to the next question…
2) What skills do I want to build right now, for the rest of my career?
Well, if you’re going to build a company or a team or a product, what do you need that you didn’t get from your previous experiences? Do you know the basics of starting a company? Have you become an expert on the space in which you’re solving problems? Have you spoken to customers? Do you know all the market forces and purchasing considerations at play in your space?
Building a company takes a lot. As a member of the founding team, you have to wear all hats at all times. What are the key skills that you’re missing today? Taking some time to do a gap analysis on yourself will be tremendously helpful. Even better, if you can find someone who has gone down the entrepreneurship path (whether with success or failure), that person may be able to identify skills you didn’t even know you needed to open a solar panel installer company—or anything else.
3) Given these skills I need to acquire, is business school the best place for me to do that?
Now we can start discussing opportunity cost and trade-off.
If you’re considering business school, it’s likely that you’re fortunate enough to have an abundance of career options in front of you. Depending on your field of interest and the skills you need to build, an MBA can go a long way. Or not.
For example, if you want to start a logistics company and have limited technical operational knowledge, but understand how severe the problem is, spending time with thought leaders in operations management could be beneficial. But are these thought leaders best found in business school or should you go work for FedEx for a two years?
If you’re selling a product in an industry like healthcare where pedigree is highly valued, an MBA may certainly help your cause, but are there other ways to establish credibility in healthcare sales?
Tipping the scales in business school’s favor on this is that the MBA is a very diverse and eclectic experience, offering many opportunities all at once. Breadth versus depth is a trade-off worth considering: show me an ops manager at FedEx who has developed pitching skills and built deep relationships with potential investors and customers, and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t need an MBA to start that logistics company.
I hope that these questions have helped you figure out for yourself whether you should go to business school or not. Either way, here’s the best advice I have to give to any aspiring entrepreneur: make the most of the situation you find yourself in. Only so much is predictable about any future experiences in b-school or otherwise. There is no one mold or path for successful entrepreneurs. Some go to b-school, others don’t. Making a smart decision is important, but making the most of that decision will make the difference.
Enjoy this post? Read more in our series Is Getting an MBA Worth It: Vikram Joshi’s post “Is Getting An MBA Worth It for an Entrepreneur?” and Natasha Ashton’s post “An MBA Sent This Entrepreneur to the Dogs (Literally!)“
Bio: Samir Malik is co-founder and CEO of 1DocWay, a telepsychiatry company expanding access to mental healthcare in rural America. Samir received a BS in Economics from the Wharton School, a BA in Neuroscience from Penn, and an MBA at Wharton.