“Don’t be afraid to jump into weird businesses” and other delightful quotes from my MBA education
In one week, my 18-month vacation at Babson will come to a close. I’m not going to prattle on about how fantastic it’s been, because like the MBA itself, no one came here to listen to what I thought.
Instead, I’d like to sum up my education by giving you the top quotes from my MBA that I’ve written down over its winding course. We’ll start with the eponymous quote:
“Don’t be afraid to jump into weird businesses.”
This is one of the most important lessons entrepreneurs need to learn. There’s glamor in the next technology startup or extra-high-growth market scheme, but the real value happens on the underside of almost all markets. Don’t waste your time seeking glory as others grant it; jump into the businesses that people really need and cut the other crap out.
“I can’t take losses. Let me know if you guys can.”
This was a banker speaking to an entrepreneur. Banking margins are incredibly thin. The room for error in banking is such that they won’t reasonably consider something even likely to fail, meaning their entire makeup is different from yours. You need to know what to give them.
Bankers want competence, up-front communication, and to never be surprised. Provide them with that, and the likelihood that a banker wants to work with you will go up. Once you give them that, show them the numbers, which will close the deal.
Entrepreneurs without any negotiation experience tend to think of negotiations as a two-step process: they give you their offer, and you react to it. Statistically, however, you’re more likely to get what you want if you start the negotiation yourself. So do yourself a favor: go first.
“A smart investor is better than a dumb investor.”
There is a popular perception among entrepreneurs that investors are troublesome meddlers who only want to profit off of your pain. A “necessary evil.”
This is insane. A smart investor is one who can partner with you, mentor you, and help you through rough spots. If you don’t want partners, mentors, or helpers – well, you’re a classic entrepreneur – but get over yourself. Find investors who “get” you and your business and you’ll do fine.
“There’s definitely a ‘we’ when it comes to the team. But there’s an ‘I’ when it comes to ‘I’m taking your money.’”
People invest in people. Talent is attracted to people they want to work with. Bankers are interested in people who are excellent at communication. And investors are looking for someone who views their investment as a personal obligation. When you take someone’s money, it’s not “the company’s” fault if something goes wrong. To the investor, it’s yours.
“Is there anybody you know that can help me?”
As someone who dislikes sales, I often shy away from cheap tactics to getting what I want from people. But this one is really great: when you’re told “no,” just ask, “is there anybody you know that can help me?” Unless you’ve been so unpleasant to talk to that they don’t even want to do that, most people will put you in touch with at least one person. It’s natural: people love to tell the story about that time they introduced that weird engineer guy to that investor who built Google together.
Last, but not least, my all-time personal favorite:
“Of course you realize I could lose my job for this.”
Nothing sums up the Babson faculty better than this one.