“But don’t I need an MBA to start a business?”
I’ve heard this question more than a few times from first-time entrepreneurs. For years, there’s been an expectation that someone should really have an MBA before they start a business. How will investors take them seriously if they don’t have the credentials?
This concern is totally understandable, but things are changing rapidly. An MBA usually requires around two years of school and thousands of dollars. Not everyone can afford the time or the money. Plus, there’s a legitimate debate about how much value a “traditional” business education has to offer.
I see both sides of the argument. Many successful entrepreneurs and leaders of growth companies have MBAs. I managed to start and exit two businesses without one. So if you have an MBA, it shouldn’t make you question whether you should start one and the same goes if you don’t have one. But there are some great areas of knowledge that you need to have to increase your chances of success.
All of this leads up to a suggestion we make in The Startup Equation: create your own MBA. Now, it’s not the path for everyone, and it still requires a big, personal commitment. But it’s a legitimate option to prepare yourself for running a business.
So what does a create-your-own-MBA look like?
- Set clear goals. What do you need to learn and when do you need to learn it? Set monthly benchmarks so you can hold yourself accountable.
- Focus. Some areas need more help than others. Maybe you’re great on the technical side, but lack financial savvy. Make learning more about the money side of things a priority.
- Include core classes. The basics matter in business, so find courses or mentors to help you cover things like: accounting, finance/economics, ethics, systems thinking, strategy, marketing, and leadership.
- Learn other skills. Can you gain an edge on your competition by picking up a new language? What about design thinking? Maybe you could benefit from some speaker training.
- Create your team. Talk to every entrepreneur you know and get introductions to the ones you don’t know. See who is willing to become a primary advisor, mentors or educations. Ask thoughtful questions and listen, listen, listen to the answers. Be respectful of their time and do not under any circumstances hit this group up for money.
- Map out your curriculum. What do you need to learn and when?
- Identify ways to learn. You can go online. Udemy, YouTube, and Courseraare great starting points. You can also audit classes or even become an apprentice. See if you can find companies who will let you apprentice for a few weeks or months, and focus on opportunities that will strengthen your weak spots.
- Build valued relationships. Reach out to different clubs or organizations. These groups can provide great resources. And when you know enough, plan to give back and share your expertise.
- Remember the plan needs to fit you. Be realistic and recognize that the more structure you create with projects and deadlines, the better the results.
As you work through your MBA, measure the outcomes. What’s working, what’s not working? Ask yourself tough questions. If you thought you could be a solo founder, have you learned that you really need a co-founder to balance your talents and skills?
We know that learning can happen outside of a classroom. Embrace the opportunity to learn from people with direct experience. Explore new subjects and skills that will make you a better entrepreneur. And don’t be afraid to create your own MBA to prepare you for starting a business.
Sketchnote by my co-author Ja-Nae Duane. This article originally appeared at LinkedIn on January 28, 2016.