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Todd Connor

CEO and Founder of Bunker Labs

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What Your MBA Program Won’t Teach You About Building a Business

August 03, 2016

There are simply some things an MBA won’t teach you when it comes to building a business.

One of the most exciting parts of my job as CEO of Bunker Labs is getting to work with military veterans who have become entrepreneurs and are working to build fascinating and impactful businesses. I thrive from meeting these individuals, hearing their stories and learning about their companies.

Many of the veterans I have worked with have gone on to receive their MBA as they forge their path to entrepreneurship. I am proud of the MBA I earned from the University of Chicago. While working toward my advanced degree, I was able to improve my leadership skills, build upon my intellectual creativity, hone my analytical and critical thinking skills, build cross-cultural awareness, expand my communication competence, and develop greater IT skills.

Those seeking an MBA are also able to become specialized in certain subject matters and are afforded a multitude of networking opportunities. Make no mistake, it is the connections made through an MBA program that ultimately make the investment of time and expense worth it for many graduates. The relationships formed can lead to immediate and long-term opportunities throughout an individual’s career. I can’t stress enough how important building one’s network is when it comes to pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors.

What You Won’t Learn in the Classroom:

However, for all of the benefits an MBA affords individuals, there are simply some things an MBA won’t teach you when it comes to building a business. Here are the top four lessons you can’t learn in the classroom – the what, the how, the who and the when.

  • What small business failure feels like: According to the Small Business Association, 33 percent of new businesses fail within the first five years. This could be due to poor sales, over expansion, bad management or poor operations. While you will learn in school how to avoid those scenarios, you can’t be taught what the experience of small business failure feels like and how difficult it can be to persevere until you are actually running your own company.

  • How small business ownership will impact your family: Sure, you will learn how much goes into running a business while pursuing your MBA – everything from operations and finance to marketing and planning. However, no one can teach you what that 24/7 dedication feels like until you are living it. That commitment will ultimately impact your family, in good ways and bad. You’ll be able to teach your children about business and if monetarily successful, you can afford to take care of your loved ones financially. When the buck stops with you, however, that will take a toll on you mentally and emotionally – not to mention limit your time spent with loved ones. Be sure you have your family’s support and communicate with them often, particularly regarding how they’ll be affected.

  • Who your customers are: Certainly during your MBA journey, you’ll learn how to define your target market in an effort to maximize your ROI. You’ll be taught to focus on those who have a problem that your product or service solves. However, only through observation, ongoing engagement, and testing can you have a true understanding of who your customers are. This comes from real-world experience and you won’t get that in the classroom.

  • When it’s the perfect time to launch your small business: No course will teach you the perfect time to start your business because it doesn’t exist. The good news is, there are signs that will indicate it may be time to take the plunge. For example, you may want to leave your existing job. For one reason or another, you may find you aren’t fulfilled due to the lack of challenges or motivation. While you may just need to switch jobs, you may be drawn to setting your own rules and your own schedule. Coupled with having a backup plan, enough in savings and an idea you are passionate about also helps. So too, does having a keen understanding of the risks involved of starting a new business. Before you know it, you may be your own boss!

Have you learned things as an entrepreneur that you were never taught in grad school? What in-the-trenches lessons has your small business taught you?

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