4 most important lessons learned from my MBA on building a business
Eight years ago, I was working in consulting and felt pretty successful in my career. There was an outline and clear trajectory for my career path and I found that security to be very comfortable because it was predictable, reliable, easy to see and understand, and most importantly, it was known. Simply put, I knew what to expect. So why did I want to leave the path of comfort?
Because deep down, my soul was dying… my creativity was dried up, and I was a corpse of a human, at times traveling 240 days a year internationally. I had zero work / life balance. It took me having a crying-in-the-streets-on-Christmas-Day-in-Denmark moment to realize that something had to change. I decided it was time to follow my heart and pursue an MBA. I enrolled in the University of Denver’s MBA program, taking the leap to turn my dream of becoming a fine jewelry designer into a viable business.
Many people thought I was crazy, but the lessons I learned during my time in my MBA program were invaluable in giving me the tools needed to build a business. For any aspiring entrepreneurs out there, here are some of the most important lessons learned about building an entire operation while in bschool.
There’s no “right” way to start a business
The first and most important: There is no “right” way to start a business, there is no manual. Problems are imminent and nothing is easy. If you can get into this mindset, then starting a business will be full of acceptance instead of resistance. If possible, take a business plan class to give yourself the foundational elements, then take those foundational elements and use them as a base for discovering and learning new processes on your own. Even companies with the best business plans fail, so it’s really important that you have an “all-in” mentality and simply expect (if not enjoy!) the challenges that come from starting a business.
Within months of starting Abby Sparks Jewelry, I got tired, frustrated, and sleep-deprived because of all of the hurdles and unknowns. What really helped me was a massive change in perspective. Once I put the hat on of “bring on the problems” my perspective alone lent towards my startup being less overwhelming and more like a video game. Tackling problems head on with eagerness and being OK if something failed or didn’t work as planned because it meant I would go onto the next level of the game as a bolder me.
Take the initiative towards learning all you can from your MBA to fast track some of the more fundamental basics of startups. Take a startups class if you can and ask so, so, so many questions. Befriend classmates who have a curiosity and drive like you do for a startup. This is one of the most important lessons learned from my MBA on building a business.
A sustainable business requires building blocks made of systems and processes
Another lesson I learned is that creating a business that is sustainable long-term requires developing a series of systems and processes that allow the business to operate. Systems and processes serve as the building blocks for how your company will run and allow you to be able to scale. Scaling your biz is the only way that you’ll not burnout after a couple years. When it’s just you starting a company, you have the capability of keeping your guidelines and systems in your brain, but you really need to define them more firmly (in actual documents) so that you can then more efficiently hire people and more effectively set them up to be successful. These processes will keep the chaos of change, which is constant, at bay.
I recommend taking an MBA course for project management, and lean into the courses about basic business framework. MBA programs tend to cater to corporate learning, so be assertive about asking your professors for guidance around small business systems and processes in marketing, finance, accounting, HR, etc.
Don’t make good enough the enemy of perfect
Third, don’t make perfect or knowing the enemy of good enough or let’s try. This is one of the key lessons learned from my MBA on building a business. This was early on, from one of my website and IT professors. She said this exact thing to me- don’t make good enough the enemy of perfect. There is no perfect when starting a business. If you wait until you feel 100% perfect on something it might take too long, take too many resources, require too much failure — all of the things that might end up in you not releasing that product or service into the world so that it might take flight. You can and will always refine. Next round, make it better. In the next concepting stage, make it leaner. The next website iteration, refine your ideas or messaging.
At every stage of business you’re learning. Always. Growth is one of the only constants in business and change is the only constant in life. Get your idea out into the world so that it can have a chance at flying and at helping people who need it. At best, your business is bringing in revenues. At worst, there are not ample revenues but instead a wellspring of lessons and you’re learning (which is still progress and worth appreciation). Don’t make perfect the enemy of good enough to launch.
The value in your product or service is in alleviating peoples’ pains
And finally, your marketing classes may not help you. Learn to speak to peoples’ pains instead of just pushing product or service features or benefits (like they teach in your MBA). Talk to people, and talk like they talk. That’s where the value lies in your product or service: in alleviating peoples’ pains. First, make them feel seen and heard, so that then your product or service can be of interest, and secondly, of help.
Also, Google is god. Play by Google’s rules when building a website and creating content around SEO optimized keywords and phrases. In your MBA, take classes that focus on SEM, SEO, and Google Analytics. Most importantly, if possible at your school, take a class in consumer psychology / sociology. If you’re lucky enough to go to a school that has an innovative and analytics / metrics approach to marketing, be sure to take these classes. Moreover, create relationships with your favorite professors and hold onto those relationships. Communicate with those professors years after graduating. They’ll be your champions and also be immense sources of intellectual capital.
Are you an MBA launching a business, or already a successful entrepreneur? How do these lessons play out in your entrepreneurial journey? What lessons would you add to this list? Come tell us your story! Would love to know how your coursework or experiences in bschool have helped you pursue your entrepreneurial goals.
Images furnished by Abby Sparks Jewelry