By David Klein, Wharton Alumnus; Co-Founder, CommonBond
“If I want to start a company, do I really need to go to business school?” is a question I get a lot.
Frankly, I think it’s a misguided question. If you want to start a business (as I did, heading into business school), then the real question is, “What do I have to do to maximize my chances of being a successful entrepreneur?” For some, that answer will mean going to business school, and for others, it won’t.
For me, going to business school was the right move. There are several reasons why, and I’d like to share five with you now.
1. Adam Grant. Wharton professor Adam Grant is something of a burgeoning national treasure with the runaway success of his recent book Give and Take (#2 on the New York Times Best Sellers list in April, second only to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In). But before he began shaping the national conversation on how we think about success, he was Wharton’s highest rated professor who remembered every one of his students’ names while citing research seamlessly into conversation (all of which he still does). It is this Adam Grant on whom I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to lean when heading into an important negotiation or needing to reflect thoughtfully about any resistance the company is facing. The funny thing is I never took a class with Adam Grant while at Wharton. In fact our paths never really crossed while there. Because I went to Wharton, and students there told us we had to meet, Adam and I ultimately connected and have been able to engage in meaningful dialogue ever since.
2. Neil Blumenthal, Wharton MBA 2010. Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker, Neil Blumenthal, came back to Wharton in August of 2011 to speak to a hungry, wide-eyed group of students during pre-term. Telling his story strengthened and further inspired my desire to build a company with a strong social mission. He was gracious enough to accept an invitation to coffee, and we began an ongoing dialogue. A year later this turned into hosting my company’s very first offsite at the Warby Parker headquarters in New York. I could think of no better a setting to inspire my team. It was just two years prior that Warby Parker came out of the Wharton Venture Initiation Program (VIP) from which we had started. Inspiring footsteps to follow.
3. Wharton San Francisco. I didn’t participate in the Semester in San Francisco that is available to second year MBAs, but my co-founder, Michael Taormina, did. It was there that a chance encounter with a former colleague led us to connect with the former head of a major U.S. investment bank, who would go on to become one of our company’s most valued advisors. Mike was also able to work with some of Wharton’s best professors – Karl Ulrich, Len Lodish, and David Wessels – in the service of our growing start-up.
4. Founders’ Club. Some of the smartest and grittiest people on campus were active members of Founders’ Club. I first learned about the club at Wharton’s Welcome Weekend in April 2011 from Davis Smith, (Wharton MBA 2011) Co-Founder/CEO of Baby.com.br, one of the most respected start-ups in Brazil. Hearing his entrepreneurial story and the power of plugging into an entrepreneurial community inspired me to join the club he founded. It was in the Founders’ Club’s weekly workshop-style get-togethers that I solidified my entrepreneurial knowledge base and mental frame in evaluating good businesses from bad. I also consider myself incredibly fortunate to call many of my fellow Founders’ Club entrepreneurs both good friends and continual inspirations, such as Samir Malik (Wharton MBA 2013), Co-Founder & CEO of 1DocWay, Austin Neudecker (Wharton MBA 2012), Y-Combinator grad and entrepreneurial energizer bunny, and Derek Kleinow (Wharton MBA 2013), Founder of Tiger GPS and current investment committee member in First Round Capital’s Dorm Room Fund.
5. Wharton Social Venture Fund (WSVF). I didn’t have enough auction points to get a David Wessels VC course while in school, but I was part of WSVF – an organization that not only taught me how to think like a venture investor, but gave me access to Wessels’ ingenious teaching (ingenious in his ability to turn complex topics into easily understandable pieces). It was also through WSVF that I learned about and was encouraged to attend a weekend-long Training the Street training on LBO modeling. Between Wessels’ involvement in WSVF and the LBO training, I probably learned more about advanced structured finance than I did in any of my courses. A year later, my company closed its first alumni-backed student loan fund.
What’s the point?
The point is: business school is an insanely fertile environment.
Will you have a different experience than I did? Absolutely. Will you find your versions of Adam Grant, Wharton San Francisco, and Founders’ Club just the same? Let’s put it this way: if you approach business school with the right amount of purpose and focus and grit, then my money says there is no doubt that you will.
That’s the beauty of business school.
Bio: David Klein is Co-Founder & CEO of CommonBond, an alumni-backed student lending platform that lowers the cost of loans for student borrowers while improving financial returns for alumni investors. David founded the company while at Wharton, along with his two co-founders, Michael Taormina (Wharton Class of 2013) and Jessup Shean (JD/Wharton Class of 2012). The company is an alumni member of Wharton’s start-up incubator, the Venture Initiation Program.