Entrepreneurs and the MBA

Since starting my first company more than a decade ago, one of the questions I get most often from recent college grads, people looking to make a change in their professional lives and those setting up new businesses is, “Should I get an MBA?”

Generally, I answer the question the same way: by taking a deep breath and saying, “I don’t know.”

My master’s degree is in Educational Policy. During my three plus years in grad school (I continued toward the doctorate) I studied Sociology of Education and leveraged those skills, and a ton of statistics and research methods, along with my background in politics and communications to start a career in educational policy. My graduate work was terrific training, but someone would be right to question whether my graduate school work in the school of education and my undergraduate social work degree properly set me up for life as an entrepreneur.

But I think it was great training.

My graduate work in educational policy was, in many ways, a liberal arts degree. I read great books, wrote a lot, studied emerging trends in quantitative methods and most importantly, I learned how to learn.

The ability to learn is, I believe, the most critical variable in entrepreneurial success. If you look at people who are successful entrepreneurs you will note that they all have the ability, and the desire, to learn. They read books, review articles, attend classes and are constantly trying to learn and relearn over time.

Nowadays, there are some terrific learning opportunities that are reasonably inexpensive and that provide the critical skills necessary for any entrepreneur. For example, I have never taken a formal business class in my life, but I have spent hundreds of hours learning about accounting, a critical skill to be sure. The same thing goes for other aspects of business, including finance, marketing and leadership.

Unlike going to business school, the downside for my learning is that I have had to be responsible for all of it. This means that I have had to connect with people who are much more knowledgeable about business for clues to what gaps I have in my business knowledge. Based on this, I created a standing curriculum for books, classes and seminars I need.

The more I learn the more learning I realize I need to do and the longer my curriculum gets. To be sure, after more than a decade of being an entrepreneur, there is so much I still need to learn. But I believe that would be the case even if I had an MBA.

So that brings me to the next question I often receive: Do I wish I had an MBA? You bet I do. But given what I now know about my ability to learn, I don’t feel it is critical to my success now or in the future.

Whether you have an MBA or not, learning and releasing is critical to your success as an entrepreneur.

Here are some educational resources for entrepreneurs and soon-to-be-entrepreneurs:

HBX: This is a new online program from Harvard Business School. I regret that I was not able to participate this year, but look forward to doing so in the future. For those who have taken it, it seems the low price and investment in time seem well worth it.

Harvard Extension: Harvard offers a ton of really great business and business-related classes online and on the weekends. This is a great way to learn from top-notch instructors.

Open Yale: I’m kind of into the whole MOOCs thing and the classes offered by Yale are amazing. I highly recommend Robert Shiller’s Financial Markets class.

New Venture Finance: I will admit that I have not taken this class, but I know people who have and they have loved it. So there you go.

Marketing in a Digital World: This is another good one. Even if you are an experienced marketer, this class is worth your time.

QuickBooks Training: Here is another class that I have not taken, but I wish I would have. I understand that this is not the sexiest of topics, but it’s important. Do it.

Finally and most importantly, seek knowledge in books (I will review my top business books in another post), videos and articles and realize that your own learning will never end.

What am I missing?