And the second reason is that a good venture capital funded startup needs to be able to scale and operate efficiently. VCs are looking for that multiple to grow. Time and time again you hear from VCs that one of their biggest value adds to a portfolio company is understanding how to build out a management team and how to find the right sets of skills to operate once the business model is proven. Some of those skills are things we build up in Aldridge 9 (a major classroom in one of HBS’s buildings). In our case studies, we gain perspective on how someone forged a strategic partnership, hired a management team, or lead a group of executives. Those are things I am getting better at because of Harvard. So to my mind, the MBA fills a void.
It’s already opening up doors. When I talk to venture capitalists, I lead with the Harvard MBA, no question. What I have found is that I couldn’t be in a better place. I am able to play the student card. I’m able to send an email and explain that I’m working on a project and would like to sit and talk with someone. I’ve just spent two weeks in the Bay area, meeting with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs. I was able to see Google Ventures, VenRock, Battery Ventures, Foundation Capital, and NEA.
I don’t have idea for a new company yet. But even before I came to campus, I knew I wanted to go back into the entrepreneurial space. I’m fascinated with health care and science-driven wellness. The Internet has transformed publishing and financial services. One of the fields that I don’t think the Internet has yet transformed is the wellness space. I think that is ripe for change, and I also think there is a huge opportunity to help improve the lives of a lot of people. I knew that when I stepped on campus I would be looking out for resources at the business school and the broader university that would help me better understand that space. Right now I’m spending my time de-risking going back into the space: figuring out who I want to work with, what I think the key criteria are for a company that will be sustainable as opposed to being a flash in the pan, and who the best funders will likely be.
Is it risky to walk from all the mainstream opportunities you have as a Harvard MBA? I don’t think so. From my perspective, it’s much riskier to have something I’m passionate about and not pursue it. That for me seems like the largest risk. I also believe there is a substantial amount of value in the Harvard MBA. I believe the network is genuine and timeless. It’s likely that any of us in the entrepreneurial space are going to make a number of changes and maybe not even over the long term. A Harvard MBA supports that as a platform. I don’t personally feel concerned. This is the stuff I love. It would be riskier for me to blow off the opportunity to use the student card and not meet with people. It took me awhile to reach that conclusion but I am convinced of it now.
My first semester at Harvard has exceeded all my expectations. The caliber of my classmates, the quality of the teaching and the structure of the campus have surpassed all my expectations without question. My classmates are truly a diverse group of people. I don’t agree with all of them all the time. But I’m learning to grow from that disagreement. They are extremely smart and extremely effective in a lot of different things. And just being surrounded by people like that is great.
The quality of the instruction has been phenomenal. I had no idea how hard the first year faculty work to effectively teach the case method. Until I was part of it, I didn’t understand how much more preparation would be needed to prepare a case as opposed to teaching from a lecture. I am consistently impressed about how much they know about the class. I had no idea how much time and effort the faculty puts into understanding where each and every one of us in a class of 90 is coming from. The faculty understood where I needed to do extra work and pointed me in the right direction.
At Harvard, the Alston campus itself helps make us part of a small learning community. We’re set aside from the university so when I run into someone on campus they are most likely a business school student, faculty member, staff, or a visiting CEO. That is a bigger benefit than I anticipated because we’re all focused on similar things. Our goals are all aligned.