Haas’ Bootstrapping MBA Entrepreneurs

Incoming full-time MBA students bonding over team-building games. Courtesy photo

Incoming full-time MBA students bonding over team-building games. Courtesy photo

Are you seeing any new trends or changes in entrepreneurship as a whole?

I typically think of entrepreneurship as having three stages. Ideation and team formation is the first stage. Prototyping and customer discovery is the second stage. Scaling is the third stage. I’ve seen people move much more rapidly through the ideation and team formation stage and getting to that first prototype that they can actually go out and start talking to customers. There are so many tools that you can use now to mock things up where as before you had to do so much coding just to get anything folks can react to. That cycle has been super compressed.

And also the use of platforms that people can plug in to test their ideas or get something actually out there to sale. That whole part has just compressed. It’s great. It’s helping things move much more quickly.

What are some developments in entrepreneurship at Haas we can expect in the next couple years or so?

We are focusing much more on providing experiential, real world mini labs for people to try things out. So what you can expect is seeing more things like hack-a-thons. We’re going to do two this spring that will be open to students across the entire UC campus.

You’re also going to see things like discovery classes, which are intensive weekend classes. We had a social impact discovery class last semester where students got together on a Friday, they submitted a bunch of ideas and picked the best ones, they formed teams and did the customer-use all within a weekend and had to present at the end. So, I think that kind of intensive experience where you’re learning and applying things rapidly that helps with the rest of your coursework so you can really hone in on what you were missing during these short sprints.

So more classes like that and more opportunities to apply things immediately, that’s going to be one of the biggest changes.

What are your thoughts on using the MBA to incubate an idea versus working for five or so years after graduating and then starting the venture?

Again, I think that’s a question that’s easier to answer individually because some folks have student loans and responsibilities and it’s not going to be an option for them. But for the other students that it is, I think it’s a great environment to develop those things in a relatively low-risk way, while you’re here and you have all of these resources and network of people around you. I would encourage anyone to do it.

Do you see this type of VC money continuing to fly around like it is now?

No, I don’t—been there, done that. I was around during the dot com boom. I worked for one of the biggest dot com busts that, through hubris and arrogance, invested an insane amount of money building a building instead of using that money for sales and to serve the business. And they kept getting money. Been there, done that. And I try to temper that because it is difficult when you’re reading Techcrunch and you’re reading all of these things about this insane amount of money, you know, you can’t control that. So we tell the entrepreneurs to control the controllable. Focus on building a sustainable and scalable business, with the fundamentals in place. That’s going to serve you so much better than a quick hit of cash.

Is there much talk in the entrepreneurship classrooms about the dot com bust and learning from relatively recent historical mistakes?

That’s a great question. I mean, it’s definitely brought up and evidence is presented, but again, with something like funding, that sometimes has an emotional component. And for entrepreneurs, sometimes they can’t get past that emotion of, well that was then, this is now and I don’t think they always look at the evidence as clearly as they could. I think it serves us well to look at history and not make the same mistakes.

We’re doing a better job now, because back in the dot com era, it was all about the number of users you had. You didn’t have to actually buy anything, but how many users did you have. Whereas now, I think the biggest lesson that everyone learned from that is you really need to focus on those sales, on your customer acquisition cost, the productivity of those customers. I think it’s a little bit different but I still think it’s an emotional issue sometimes for entrepreneurs and we need to pay a little bit more attention to the facts.

Any final thoughts or comments?

I think the three biggest changes are, we are really going to focus on doing things with other schools and building bridges to work with other schools, so folks find out MBAs aren’t totally evil. Number two, the dean has made entrepreneurship a priority by setting up the dean seed fund. We’re giving about 20 grants of $5,000 to early stage entrepreneurs and I think that’s huge because that shows a real commitment that we’ve got something here, let’s help to nurture that. Mentorship and classes only go so far. Entrepreneurs really need that basic funding and space to help their ideas. And finally the emphasis on more interactive classes where folks can try out some of the things they’re learning in class.

The Top 100 MBA Startups of 2016:

Poets&Quants’ 2016 Top 100 MBA Startups

The Investors Behind The Top MBA Startups

The Top Business Schools For MBA Startups

MBA-Founded Student Loan ReFi Firms Take Off

Stitch Fix: Harvard MBA Hurdles Silicon Valley Gender Barrier

VertsKebap: The $36 Million VC-Backed Mediterranean Street Food Startup

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.