‘WORRIED I WOULD FLUNK AND GET THROWN OUT’
“I knew I would love it and I was worried that I would find it hard, flunk it, get thrown out and be a massive embarrassment, but — maybe because I’d had those thoughts — I didn’t find it as hard as I thought it would, I just really enjoyed it,” says Oakes. He won several awards along the way, and ended up on the Dean’s List, finishing in the top 10 percent of the class.
A lot of schools these days claim to have an entrepreneurial focus, but what does a real-life entrepreneur make of the way it is taught? “Some U.S. business schools are doing a good job of it, obviously Stanford and to an extent Harvard,” Oakes says.
“Imperial is leagues ahead of the other U.K. business schools. Some things are obvious in start-up land, like testing your hypotheses on the value proposition by knocking up landing pages very quickly and sending traffic to it, whereas a lot of business schools have more of a big-picture, consultancy-style approach. The challenge for business schools is that if you really want to start a business and have access to £100,000, it is pretty hard to argue that you should spend that money and two years doing an MBA. No matter how good the MBA is, that still sounds like madness.”
WHAT BUSINESS SCHOOLS OFFER ENTREPRENEURS: A NETWORK AND CAPITAL
One thing that business school can certainly offer is a network, Oakes says. And indeed, he met his new business partner, Byron McCaughey, in his MBA class. They co-founded Track Proptech, is a fin-tech company that helps people manage their household finances. High house prices mean that these days it is complicated for younger people to buy houses. Often they use government help-to-buy schemes, parental support or have joint mortgages with siblings or friends. Couples rarely have joint finances. Track is designed to hold all that information in one place on an elegant interface.
Oakes and McCaughey won an entrepreneurial competition at Imperial, which gave them £10,000 of start-up money. And when they ran a family and friends fundraising round, half of the money came from the MBA cohort. Another £80,000, and entry to a three-month incubator program, came from Pi Labs, a prop-tech-focused VC fund. They are currently involved in the second round of fundraising and have launched the app.
What advice would Oakes give to people who want to do an MBA, but don’t necessarily tick all the boxes? “I suppose that this is something I learned at Imperial, and that is probably useful for entrepreneurs everywhere, too: don’t necessarily believe the rules. All these rules which you read everywhere — they’re so rarely hard and fast. It applies to regulations and compliance, everything. Almost invariably, there is flexibility.”