MIT’s 24-Step Path To Entrepreneurial Boom

sloan entrepreneurship

MIT Sloan School of Management. Ethan Baron photo

What’s the best advice you have for MBAs looking to find that team while in business school?

First of all, you have to get out of your comfort zone. It’s shown over and over again that people like to stay in their comfort zone and they like their own type of people. Tall people like to work with tall people. Short people like to work with short people. Sales people like to work with sales people. MBAs like to work with MBAs. It’s certainly more comfortable. It doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. Research, again, shows that if your team has different skill sets, their odds of being a successful company increase. So, you have to get out of your comfort zone and meet people who are not like you. They may not be friends of yours from business school. In fact, it’s less likely that making a team of MBAs will achieve that great success that you would if you walked across the aisle and met an engineer and incorporated them on your team and brought them in as an equal founding partner.

Just like we talk about how during customer research you need to get out of the building and talk to your customers, well, you need to get out of the building and find your team as well.

Toward the beginning of your book, you talk about how this book is a result of the incredible interest seen after the first version. What do you think is going on now in our world that is creating such an interest in learning and pursuing entrepreneurship?

I think there is a supply and demand issue here. There is a demand for entrepreneurship skills in corporations. There is a demand to create new jobs — and those jobs are created by entrepreneurs more times than not. The market is really looking for more entrepreneurs and higher-quality entrepreneurship education. All of the graduates are not going to be able to find jobs at companies that already exist. There needs to be new ones.

On the supply side, students today are more comfortable than ever because entrepreneurship is seen as a noble profession. It’s seen as not just an acceptable profession, but a cool profession. It’s seen as a way people can impact the world more positively. It’s seen as something where they can create a culture that really makes a difference. That’s created an explosion in interest in entrepreneurship education.

For the original 24 Steps book, a colleague of mine said something very interesting one time. He said, you learn much more after you write a book than before you write a book. And I said, why’s that, Charles? He said, because once you write a book, everyone comes up to you and tells you all of their problems. And then you build on it rapidly.

That’s what happened to me. I didn’t realize what kind of vacuum there was and a need for the original 24 Steps book. Everywhere I went, people would come up to me and say, I really loved your book, but how do you do this other thing? And I would ask, why do you really need to do that? And they would tell me their problem. It was very, very interesting to hear all of this stuff, and that’s what guided me to do this. The one that really drove me was not just the entrepreneurs and the students, but the entrepreneurship educators who said, hey, I love this, but can you give me more material so that I can teach this? How do you teach this in your class? How do you build the scaffolding to make it easier to teach this? Because it’s a lot to cover in a one semester or even a full-year course. That’s why this book was written.

With all of the other entrepreneurship-focused books out there, why should someone pick up yours?

There is more than one path to success. And people have to find the one that fits them the best. The 24 Step methodology is what works for me and I’ve worked on it with many other entrepreneurs and students over the years, so it has been refined. It’s kind of an engineering approach to entrepreneurship. It’s trying to take a topic that’s difficult and make it more prescriptive — clearer. And then integrate things together. I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and said, this is an engineer’s approach and I love it. We’re building a company, and there’s a roadmap. There are a lot of iterations, but at least there’s a clear roadmap, as opposed to a lot of other books where they talk about general concepts but they don’t give you a road map.

I would hope over time, that 24 Steps continues to evolve and maybe there’s more steps than 24 or less than. But it’s not meant to be a static document. It’s meant to evolve as the field evolves. That’s important to me. I didn’t come up with 24 new steps. These were things that were out there. Design thinking and hypothesis testing have been out there forever. It’s all out there. But this was the first time I could find someone bringing it all together and saying, here’s how it is. I’m not reinventing this stuff, we’re just bringing it together and integrating it.

Lastly, what I think has been very rewarding from this is it creates a common language. People can now talk to each other. And there’s a lot of lateral learning that goes on in the classroom between students, who help each other. They look at their classmates’ plans and can say things like, it doesn’t look like your value proposition aligns with the persona. That might mean nothing to someone who hasn’t read the book, but once people read the book, it’s very clear. And to share knowledge, we have to have a common language. Is the book perfect? Heck no. Is it better than what we were using before? Unquestionably yes. Is it the best that’s out there? I don’t know. You have to look at each person’s situation. Is it a common language that you can use in many different situations? Absolutely.

Do you see any immediate threats to the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the U.S.?

I think there is a potential that if we don’t build a body of knowledge that’s rigorous about entrepreneurship, that all of this enthusiasm could bounce back. People could say, wait a second, I paid a $100,000 to get educated in entrepreneurship and it was just like a pep talk at a sporting event and I don’t really have skills. I think a lack of rigor and giving people skills that they can really use could snap back against us and grow the perception that entrepreneurship is not a serious field of study. That worries me a lot. That’s why I really want to get out high-quality materials. And if that raises the bar for entrepreneurship, that’s a wonderful outcome.

Another threat here in the United States is this immigration policy that we don’t want people from other countries here. Let’s exclude the moral questions about that. From purely an economic standpoint, this is very unenlightened. The people in my classes that I see — in one class, 75% of the people were not born in the U.S. And these are the people that are going to build great companies. When you look at our portfolio of the Pillpack’s, the Okta’s, the Nima’s, they create hundreds if not thousands of jobs. Why would we make them feel not welcomed here in the U.S.? We want to keep those people here. Because there are a heck of a lot of other places that want these entrepreneurs that we have trained. This question of immigration policy is of great concern to me.

I think another big question here is what’s the relevance of the MBA moving forward in the entrepreneurship area, right? It’s something we spend a lot of time thinking about. Because, we are not competing as much against other schools as we are against the Y-Combinators of the world. The Techstars. These other places that want our students after one semester. In the old days, we’d say, well you want the credential. The MBA credential was very important. But when you come to entrepreneurship, credentials don’t matter as much. People are more interested in what you can do.

The other thing is, education in the entrepreneurial area is more just in time. It’s not like, let’s wait till next semester and take a residential class. So, you have a credential issue, you have this issue of just in time as opposed to fix calendars when people could be much more patient. And the third thing is the delivery mechanism to residential classes.

We’ve taken a hard look at this. We look at how do we deliver our education to entrepreneurs. We look at it as much more value-centric now instead of credential-centric. When you had a credential, you could sit back and be more patient. We essentially had a monopoly of well, we’re giving an MBA from MIT Sloan. But, now, we look at it and say, we have to teach them really valuable skills. And then, we need to do that not just every semester, but monthly. And when they come in and say, how do I raise money, how do I get a lawyer? We need to have programs and support in place to help them do that. That may or may not be in a classroom. Most of the time, it’s not. And we have to make connections outside of the campus. We have to have connections in New York City and in Palo Alto and the West Coast.

We are really reconfiguring what we think about education in the world of entrepreneurship. We’re really excited about it. It’s a real challenge, but we learn from people in the outside and it seems to be working. Applications at MIT Sloan were up over 35% last year and I’d like to think it has a lot to do with entrepreneurship.

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