Most of my posts so far have been about extracurricular life. Perhaps this is because I spend so much of my time thinking about school so it is tempting to write about other subjects during my free time. This post, however, is devoted to one of our courses: entrepreneurship.
Our professor is Benoît Leleux, a high-energy Belgian who is also the Director of our MBA program. He came up through the US entrepreneurial scene of the 90s so has more than a few stories to tell.
Our first class with him (the first day of classes) centered on a business case about Boblbee, a startup (at the time of the case) manufacturer of an innovative, sporty, ergonomic, high-tech backpack. We had all been up until the wee hours of the morning (See my post: And so it begins) reviewing/analyzing the case, so we had great discussion in class with many different points of view. It was amazing to me not only how many students saw certain aspects of the case differently than I did, but also how many students identified issues that hadn’t even occurred to me. While the realization that apparently I don’t know everything is hard to swallow, it does validate my decision to come here!
Often after a business case discussion a professor will present “what really happened.” Did the company see the situation as we saw it? Did it pursue a course of action in line with our recommendations? How successful was it? For this case, Benoît took it to the next level by inviting the CEO of Boblbee to fly halfway around the world to debrief us himself. This was great as he spoke not just about business decisions but also about the psychological impact of the entire entrepreneurial roller coaster.
At the end of the session, he joined us for lunch and gave the entire class IMD-logo’ed Boblbee backpacks. As mentioned in a previous post, our class claps all the time, but the applause for this CEO was much louder than on any previous occasion.
We have had a few more Entrepreneurship classes since then and each has been very interesting. Benoît has done a great job keeping it lively and interesting–he even mentioned Predator once, which I know will make some readers of this blog very happy (AH!).
Following is a list of some interesting take-aways from this course so far. Some of them may seem pretty obvious but exploring them in depth was beneficial all the same:
- Entrepreneurs have no common differentiators from the rest of the population; there is no entrepreneurial “profile.”
- If anything, entrepreneurs are slightly more risk averse than the rest of the population.
- Entrepreneurship is all about people. From VCs to clients to teammates, people drive the direction of a company or idea.
- “Drive” pushes an entrepreneur along; “passion” pulls him toward a goal. Passionate entrepreneurs tend to be the most successful.
- Companies require dramatically different leadership at different stages.
- 60-70% of variables that control a startup’s destiny are uncontrollable; no matter how brilliant you are or how hard you work, you won’t be able to control those factors.
- When you’re the darling of the VCs and everybody wants a piece of you, milk it; tomorrow you may be yesterday’s news.
- Never refuse your own employees’ money. If they want to invest, it will align their goals with yours.
- If data are available and readily show potential in a market, then competitors will enter that market, thus reducing your opportunity. An essential skill for entrepreneurs is the ability to gather information, see possibilities, and make linkages where others see only chaos.
Most of our discussion so far has focused on VC-based, high burn rate companies. As my entrepreneural background is with low-funded, organic growth companies, I hope to add value to class discussions with this different perspective.
We haven’t had too much non-case reading for this course (as compared to some of the others). Of what we have read, I would recommend The Monk and the Riddle by Randy Komisar. He is a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, where noted Rice alum John Doerr is senior partner.