The Entrepreneur's Educational Options and Other Resources
I. Best practices (Stanford)
II. Points of departure
1. For Web-based ventures
-- and web-based resources
4. A Coaching Firm
III. University Education
IV. Entrepreneur's Aptitude Test (EAT)
Experience in the Trenches and the School of Hard Knocks versus the Ivory Tower and the MBA are not mutually exclusive. Experience counts -- if you learn from it! To learn from other people´s experience, start with the recommendations that follow for three books and 130 entrepreneurship video clips -- or at least some of them. Then be sure to search the web for the latest on-line training for entrepreneurs.
I. Best Practices
The best practices benchmark for an entrepreneurial course is the Lean Launch Pad Class at the Stanford Technology Ventures Program, which is the entrepreneurship center of Stanford's School of Engineering. The link is to the detailed 16-page course syllabus. It is taught by three Silicon Valley heavyweights1 supported by 24 mentors for the four-man student teams. Being a Stanford graduate student is a necessary but not sufficient condition for attendance. One submits an application about why one should be selected for this particular course. It emphasizes "get out of the building, build a company and get orders." Initially teams are expected to talk to 10 to 15 customers per week.
An introductory class is related to team forming and the last classs is for presenting "what we have learned." The eight sessions in between cover:
- The Lean Launch Pad
- Business Model Hypotheses
- Value Proposition Hypotheses
- Customer Hypotheses
- Customer Relationship Hypotheses
- Channel Hypotheses
- Key Resources, Activities and Expense Model
Given the brillance and track records of the people designing the course, and their effort, surprising is that it has a major design flaw, viz. time -- too little. The temporal aspects are three:
First, a team made up of students with heavy course loads does not come together and learn how to work efficiently overnight. This kind of self-directed work team takes time to form.
Second, the business concept that springs full blown to the table is more the exception than the rule.
Third, these are engineering students. As bright, comptent and hard working as they are, they are not as fluent in the language of business as the second year Stanford MBA students are. Certainly the engineers have heard the jargon: cost per action and conjoint analysis, BATNA and binding arbitration clauses, irrevocable letters of credit and factoring, offshoring and onboarding, standard cost accounting versus the balanced scorecard's TDABC, value chains and profit pools, etc.
I agree with the basic premise of the course. Engineers do not need to learn all about business. Taking an iterative approach to testing hypotheses about your business model and customer-driven solutions will work. Furthermore a major business driver for start-up success is NOT willy-nilly to apply a score of business school concepts. What counts is knowing when to apply a key concept. For instance, one insists that (1) an arbitration clause be binding (not judicial), or (2) a Letter of Credit (LC) be irrevocable, or (3) a presentation for an enterprise sale be made in terms of value chains because the CEO is a fan of Michael Porter, or (4) scenarios to prepare for a multi-party negotiation be video taped, or so forth.
The four examples not imply that (1) you need a law degree, (2) to be a banker, (3) to have been a strategy consultant at McKinsey, BCG or Bain, or (4) to have read 30 negotiation books and taken a half-dozen high-end seminars to support your "learning by doing" as a purchasing agent. However it most certainly does imply a basic familiarity with the concept. Acquiring that familiarity while simultaneously running iterations to test your hypotheses is a tall order for a ten week course.
From my experience in runnning similar courses for MBA students (a number of them engineers), significantly better outcomes were achieved with a two semester course. At the end of nine months a business was born, albeit sometimes still borne. With more time, students had better options to tie the course into a Master's thesis, a related job search, a funding plan for the venture, and to acquire paying customers. Having enough time judiciously to pursue a broader range of options led to a better learning experience even when the venture was not launched.
II. Points of Departure
1) For web-based ventures -- and web-based resources
If your venture is web-based, be sure to look at subpage "6. Internet Startups: Berkeley Stanford Genome Reports" of this section. One of its authors is Bjoern Herrmann, a young woman out of the University of Mannheim, Germany, who is also the progenitor of the Startup Supercool School, offering on-line courses for entrepreneurs.
Another website to examine is Onstartups.com of Dharmash Shah, an impressive entrepreneur in his own right (cf. his bio on the website). The website and its sister organizations have 150,000 members (2011). Three aspects are particularly attractive:
1) At Answers.Onstartups.com one poses questions to the community.
2) There are "Onstartups" groups at LinkedIn and Facebook with 30,000 members.
3) At "blogs" links to a further 41 blogs relevant to entrepreneurs are given. Participating in blogs makes for attractive socializing with like-minded folk. The chance to share experience and even to diseminate wisdom is an enjoyable ego massage. But one can easily get carried away and find that the participation turns into a debilitating time suck.
The top ten, in order of popularity (Aug. 2011) follow. The four that are signposted in yellow are ones that, most months, I take a look at (not weekly, and certainly not daily):
1 - techcrunch.com 6 - steveblank.com
2 - venturebeat.com 7 - blog.guykawasaki.com
3 - mixergy.com 8 - paulgraham.com
4 - xconomy.com * 9 - thenextweb.com
5 - onstarts.com 10 - blog.startupprofessionals.com
* The Xconomy Guide to Venture Incubators discusses 64 programs and can be downloaded for $150 (2011). At that price, one needs to Google it to find current reviews.
The myriad books about entrepreneurship range from some thorough textbooks and rivating biographies of business moguls to “not worth the paper they are printed on” drivel touting get rich quick schemes. The five books below are enjoyable to read and full of solid common sense, practical information. They are a great starting point for any would-be entrepreneur – and for managers as well. They are listed in chronological order, which is also their recommended reading order.
2.1 - Harvey MacKay's Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, Outsell, Outmanage, Outmotivate and Outnegotiate Your Competition, William Morris & Company, 1988 is a classic that stands the test of time. Multiple reviews are available on amazon.com, where a paperback edition (2005) may be purchased for $12 (plus shipping costs).
2.2 - Jeffery Gitomer´s Little Black Book of Connections, Bard Press, 2006 ($20) which is reviewed, including at length quotations, at "Eminent Referrals", "Jeffrey Gitomer," "Connections."
2.3 - Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start: The Time-Tested, Battle-Hardened Guide for Anyone Starting Anything, 2004 is excellent. However the title is a bit of a misnomer. The emphasis is on start-ups looking for VC funding, and corporate types shifting careers to become entrepreneurs. This emphasis reflects Guy Kawasaki's own background as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
2.4 - Jay Abraham´s The Sticking Point Solution, 9 Ways to Move Your Business from Stagnation to Stunning Growth in Tough Economic Times, Vanguard Press, 2009 (at Amazon, $18) is a good complement to "Swim with the Sharks" - an update with a modern perspective. The author is a well-known marketing consultant in the U.S. He allegedly charges $5,000 an hour – not bad for someone who never went to college!
2.5 - Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah and Dvaid Meerman Scott's Inbound Marketing, Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs, 2009 is about marketing your company on-line.
The video clips, or at any rate a judicious selection of them, are a "nice to see." Check YouTube for current offerings. Also look at "Startup Supercool School," which, the name notwithstanding, offers some serious content -- some 200 hours of recorded classes. More than 2,000 entrepreneurs (May, 2011) take part.
A number of good videos, most of them are short, two to ten minutes, appear at Academic Earth. It is the brainchild of Richard Ludlow. While he was at Yale he got the idea of providing high quality free education on line. Headquartered in San Francisco, Academic Earth offers free online video courses from ten universities: Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, M.I.T., New York University, Michigan University, Princeton, Yale and especially Stanford, the source for the 130 entrepreneurship video clips.
A good one to start with is by Guy Kawasaki. He is an entrepreneur and founder of the venture capital firm Garage Technologies Inc., and the author of nine books. He makes some interesting comments in a YouTube video (length 9:50) "Entrepreneurs Then and Now" about how high tech entrepreneurship has changed over the past two decades.
4) Coaching firm
There is also a coaching firm that specializes in entrepreneurs. Strategy Coach emphasizes quarterly strategy reviews, which seems sensible to do. The firm also touts its guiding entrepreneurs to having a great deal of free time (150 days a year?), which appears less so. The website maintains that there is little in the way of formal education for entrepreneurs. Granted, the offerings are meager compared to those for business studies in general, but a compensating factor is that their quality ranges from good to great.
III. University Education
The five leading programs for entrepreneurship (as an integral part of the MBA) are all located in the U.S. Four of these universities are world-class research institutions familiar to academics in multiple fields besides their business schools. These universities are, on the East coast, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T., Sloan), the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) and, on the West coast, Stanford. (For more information about business education, cf. MBA - Hints & Tips at Papers.
The fifth member, Babson College, Boston, Mass. may surprise readers outside of the U.S. Its program in entrepreneurship consistently ranks with the above giants in a variety of polls, indeed frequently outranks several, sometimes even all of them! Excerpts from the U.S. News & World Report (4/23/2009) and the Entrepreneurship Magazine rankings are cited with legitimate pride on the website (2010) of Babson College:
"U.S. News & World Report magazine has ranked Babson College the #1 MBA program for entrepreneurship for the 16th year in a row.
Besides Babson, the other top entrepreneurship programs are at Stanford, Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan).
Additionally, U.S. News has ranked Babson’s MBA program #49 overall. This ranking was our 4th consecutive year in the Top 50 -- our longest streak ever. (Babson only made the Top 50 for the first time in 2003.) And, after a three year absence from its rankings of the top 25 part-time programs, our Evening MBA program returned this year as #24.
Our MBAs’ Average Starting Salary and Bonus ($105,470) was ranked in the Top 25 and was a +12% increase over last year.2
Although rankings are always to be taken with a grain of salt, and the author’s own loyalties are very much with the “other four” (with all of which he as been associated in one way or another), kudos and respect to Babson College. Note that the great majority of business studies are at the graduate level. The only Ivy League university (Harvard, Yale and Princeton as the dominant triad, followed by Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of Pennsylvania) to offer undergraduate business studies is Penn. (Wharton). Other top business schools, such as Stanford, London Business School, INSEAD, and IESE are graduate (MBA) programs. Hence for undergraduate business education, Babson and Wharton, with USC in California, are the schools of choice in the U.S.
IV. Entrepreneur's Aptitude Test (EAT)
Before either starting a business or applying to universty, one needs honestly to answer two questions: 1) Do I have the desire - is this really what I want to do? 1) Do I have the ability, the aptitude, for this?
University of Pennsylvania, Wharton $165,869
Harvard Business School $162,316
M.I.T., Sloan $155,160
The 2011 ranking by U.S. News & World Report for the top four U.S. programs overall was:
Havard Business School
University of Pennsylvania, Wharton
(M.I.T. and Stanford took the 1st and 2nd places in engineering, with Berkeley 3rd.)
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