Get an MBA or Launch a Startup? Why Not Do Both at the Same Time?

by Doris Lin

Many say that if you have an idea and want to become an entrepreneur, don’t get an MBA and just go start the company. However, I don’t see why the two have to be mutually exclusive. Based on my experience, I feel that the business school environment is a great seeding ground for a first time entrepreneur to launch a business, especially in lean fashion. I came to HBS with a startup idea and below is the cliff notes version of how I leveraged the resources at HBS for my startup LookMazing.

Business Plan Competition – I entered the business plan competition my first year, which forced me to really flush out my idea on paper and think about all the core aspects of the business from the high level strategy to details like the cost estimate per acquired user. Following lean principles, my team also built a prototype to demo during the pitch. The competition allowed me to receive valuable feedback from potential investors and experts in the industry, helping me narrow in on the assumptions that I needed to prove.

Rock/Lebor Fellowship – The fellowship offered through the HBS Rock Center enabled me to use my startup as my summer internship, where I utilized the stipend I received to build the site. The fellowship required us to submit update reports over the course of the summer, which helped me reflect on the bigger picture when I was in the weeds developing the product and securing partnerships. I was then able to launch a private beta version of my site a couple months into my 2nd year.

Courses – The 1st year curriculum helped me fill in the holes that I had in my background around marketing and strategy. I found the classes I chose in my 2nd year to be extremely relevant and often find myself referencing the cases from class to solve my startup problems ranging from founder’s dilemma issues (Rich vs. King) to difficulties around creating network effects. I also learned concepts that I could apply right away. For example, the business model exercise from LTV helped me become even more hypotheses-driven and I was able to walk away with several tests that I could immediately run with my private beta users.

Professors, Classmates and Friends - The professors have also been my advisors – they have been extremely supportive outside the classroom in helping me with specific issues related to my startup. Being in school also enabled me to have access to high level executives when they visited the school for case discussions and events. My classmates and friends here have acted as my sounding board and support system, constantly challenging me and encouraging me. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to present my startup during Edelman’s Online Economy class where I had the whole class helping me weigh in on the challenges I was facing. I am now also a part of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Forum led by Janet Kraus, where we discuss a lot of our startup issues that do not get covered in class.

Harvard Law Entrepreneurship Project - Through this program, I was able to receive very high quality and thorough legal advice for my business at no cost.

I’ve only touched upon the main resources I used, but there are definitely many more available (MVP, IXP, etc.). If you want to adopt the lean approach to starting a business, the environment and curriculum at HBS is definitely well-suited for that. One might argue that this dual-approach does not allow you to dedicate enough time to the startup. However, I believe it comes down to the tradeoffs you are willing to make – I choose to sleep less.

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