One of the obstacles of this path is overcoming your conditioning. For starters, moving from a structured environment like business school to the self-directed work environment of an entrepreneur can be a challenging transition. There is no structure but that which you create; and nothing is done for you, which can be quite a departure from the white glove service that top business school grads become accustomed to while enrolled in elite MBA programs.
MBAs in general are highly theoretical beings by the time we get out of school. There have been numerous accounts of business school graduates who have had a difficult time grappling with practical pursuits after two years of immersion in a high-level, ultra-strategic ecosystem like business school. And starting and running a company is an exercise in practicality—in more ways than one. This doesn’t have to be a weak point, however; one just needs to be aware of it and adjust accordingly.
I spoke earlier about curbing any expectations of living a lavish lifestyle as a new entrepreneur. Beyond your day-to-day decisions, you’ll also need to be practical with your finances. You must be comfortable taking a big chunk of what you earn, reinvesting that into your business and not necessarily pulling out a big salary—especially for the first several years. You have to be comfortable with that.
We ask several questions of each entrepreneur. ‘Did you come to business school planning to start your own company?’ ‘How did your business school experience equip you to become successful?’ ‘What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned during your journey?’ And ‘What is one piece of advice that you would give to current MBA and pre-MBA students who wish to take a similar path?’
I came to Anderson knowing that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. My dad has owned and run businesses my entire life; and I always knew that this would be my path. From day one at Anderson, I knew that I wanted to start a business either during school or right after I earned my MBA.
Anderson’s program is geared toward general management. Since I knew what I wanted to do afterward, I focused on classes that would develop skills that I knew I would need but did not already have. I already possessed a strong financial and accounting foundation from my undergraduate study and pre-MBA career, so I dialed in on entrepreneurship and marketing classes while in school.
Additionally, UCLA’s Price Center for Entrepreneurial Studies is an awesome resource. And two people in particular who have been invaluable to me are Angela Klein and Elaine Hagan; any time that I’ve spoken with either of them I’ve come away with great advice, a contact or both. Elaine has a nearly photographic memory of Anderson grads. I’ve leveraged her knowledge and relationships to tap the UCLA/Anderson network on numerous occasions.
I also had the opportunity to study under a phenomenal entrepreneurship faculty while at Anderson. The professors there are very accessible and always willing to mentor and give advice to their students. From a curriculum perspective, I found the sales and marketing classes to be the most helpful. UCLA also has a very active entrepreneurship club that hosts over 150 events each year. There is a ton of valuable knowledge and networking to be gained from those events, and I took advantage of as much as I could during and after my matriculation at Anderson.
The biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that you can’t be afraid of failure. In fact, I’d say that if you aren’t failing at something then you aren’t playing the game full out.
As a business owner, you’ll be dealing with all aspects of your business. You won’t have the luxury to just make strategic decisions from on high. You’ll be doing things you’ve never done before, and your success will greatly depend on your willingness to be bold and take risks. In the beginning of our business, we had to cold-call stores to get them engaged in our product. During that time, I quickly got over any fear of rejection that I might have had.
You also cannot be afraid to ask questions. You can’t be scared to “look stupid”. The trick is to learn to listen to others and consider the possible validity of their point(s) while remaining confident and clear about what you DO know. Also, realize that you cannot be good at everything. At Anderson, I took a leadership class that made me keenly aware of my weakness. I’ve learned that in business the best path to improvement is not necessarily trying to become more masterful in a weak area, but finding an alternative solution such as partnering with or hiring someone who is strong in an area in which you are not.
I would advise anyone considering this path to strive to remain balanced. Learn to separate your home life from your business life. Make time to nurture your close interpersonal relationships and pursue non work-related passions. You’ll not only be happier, but you’ll avoid burnout, giving you a much stronger chance at lasting success.