Posts Tagged ‘Entrepreneurship’

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Starting with Start-ups

Posted by: Mihir

Over the last semester, MiMs studied Entrepreneurial Management – all you need to know when innovating and aiming to launch your own start-up. This module has been full of real-life knowledge that I found useful as we studied cases which were debated extensively in class and had an entrepreneur speak to us each week regarding their journey and lessons learnt. This included how to finance ventures, value an idea and create the ideal team.

Perhaps the best example of practical application was the ‘Discovery Project’ that teams undertook to come up with an innovative idea that addresses a pain point in the consumers lives and design and develop a business model to fill that market gap. Culminating weeks of market research and brainstorming was a Tradeshow presentation at London Business School where entrepreneurs from the LBS Incubator program judged the ideas.

Winning ideas included a student discount app for establishments near universities, self defence mobile accessory for women and a website to help people undertake courses for personal development.

What I most enjoyed through this whole experience was actually going through the processes that are required before beginning a business and being able to understand what are my strengths and weaknesses throughout the journey. Since we worked in a team, we were able to balance the skills required to design the product, undertake market research, and produce a financial forecast and business model.

This is just one example to showcase why I feel the MiM is a great degree in management because it does not only cover the theory and frameworks for business but also equips you with the practical information required to apply this knowledge.

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As a MiF student, my elective horizon mostly includes materialistic side of things, so the closest I got to entrepreneurship was through Financing Entrepreneurial Business (FEB) and PE&VC. I will focus on the former.

If you need a sexy £1bn idea for a start up – FEB will not give it to you. The class will, however, nurture growth of the body parts* required to venture out independently. The remaining components of a successful businessman recipe (according to the CEO of Marks & Spencer’s) – brains and heart – you will have to provide yourself.

FEB is one of the hottest courses, offered to most programmes.  And yes it can be “soft” and “situational”, and there is no recipe for success. It’s based 100% on business cases – all of which written in LBS – and every discussion followed by a leading character from a case briefing on what happened next and answering questions, which adds enormous value #ibetHBSdoesnotdothat!

One of the cases covered erecting a gas pipeline in Baltic Sea to compete with the mighty incumbent “Gazprom”. On the way to class I formed my recommendation to the start-up company along the following lines: “you guys are nuts – forget this suicidal idea, flee to an uninhabited island and pray for the serious men in black to not pursue your case”. I have then seen that very guy who came up with, what appeared to be, a very profitable idea – and he looked very fit, more than just sane. 

These days B’ schools position themselves as essential for career growth acceleration (think consulting, investment banking and increasing number of industrial titans), with majority of graduates spending their lives looking after one side of business only. But essentially, borrowing some Shakespeare, “what’s in a name?” – a business school should teach how to manage company’s affairs throughout, from its dusk to dawn.

At the back of my mind I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, and knew that sooner or later (rather later than sooner), I will definitely establish something with my name on it – like a coffee shop which my grandchildren will run. Talking about coffee shops – if you work in the City you probably know the place that has THE best coffee (and tea – served with a timer to ensure the real experience) and THE best atmosphere - Association on the Creechurch Lane. And you know what – the founder is an LBS alum – MBA 2004 graduate, investment banker in his previous life, who also took the FEB class. He was kind enough to share his curious experience, while his team was brewing an excellent flat white for me:

- Were you planning on being an entrepreneur before joining LBS? - “Yes, I always wanted to build my own business and almost jumped into a venture prior to coming to LBS (but glad-fully didn’t because it was not a great idea). I have never been excited about a ‘career’ or been motivated to be an MD in a large organisation

- Did you see LBS as a “tool” to increase your chances to succeed? – “Not particularly. LBS for me was a time to take stock of where I was and think about where I wanted to go. It’s an expensive way to take time out, but I felt it would be a more fruitful time than another two years in consulting (which was my pre-MBA job)”

- Did LBS inspire you? – “LBS confirmed for me my interest in entrepreneurship and at the same time my lack of enthusiasm for a structured career. Having said that, I spent the 6 years after school in structured environments (investment banking and then PE) – these were places to ‘park’ myself waiting for inspiration to come!

- You mentioned that in reality it’s different from what you anticipated? How? - “I am not convinced plans and strategies often work out exactly as put down on paper, which is fine because I don’t think that is the purpose of building a strategy / plan – the purpose is to educate yourself and generate justification for moving in one direction and not in another. Hopefully you get the broad brush strokes right, if not the details. For me, the specifics have turned out different than I expected, such as where I spend my time and the way customers have responded to our offering has been somewhat different than expected (some things more popular than I thought, other things less popular)”  

- Any advice?

i) on starting up “Have enough funding to manage through your worst case scenario and strike a balance between listening to others and believing in your own convictions (that balance should be informed by your understanding of what you are good at and what you are not good at)”;

ii) on investing “Spend the most time getting to know the people leading the business you are investing in (in most cases it is the people you are backing) and make sure your expectations are aligned in all business outcomes”;

iii) on MBA’ing “Know why you are doing the MBA – tell the business school what you want, but be honest with yourself why you’re doing it – it’s too much time and too much money to be doing it for the wrong reasons”;

iv) Starting your life as an entrepreneur has a wonderful honeymoon period, which is very novel and exciting, but after a few weeks this is replaced by a sense of responsibility that absolutely nothing happens unless you drive it. That is exciting and daunting – it’s good to have a business partner through this period so you can motivate each other. If you are all alone (as I was) you need to hold firm to your convictions in your business ideas and why you left behind perfectly good employment to do something so uncertain

* guts / balls – pick your own

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In last 15 years, I worked in IT for 13 years(my last company was IBM) and started 3 ventures in totally different industries. At all the 5 places( 2 job and 3 ventures) I got stuck after intial years of huge success. I could not expand my ventures beyond a point and also could not reach to my dream position in IT job.

I am a strong individual with all the right qualities in place, I am very determined, good decision maker( most of my decision were right), a high risk taker, very hardworking, organized, good in planning and all. I could not figure out what I need more to reach to a top most position in IT or start my own dream company and take it to the highest level. There were more questions than answers in my life.

Though I was ready to change myself and acquire new skill, I was clueless what to change and where were I going wrong. MBA was in my list for many years and now as I hit a road blocker, it was time to set aside everything and focus on learning. It was time to figure out how do Leaders are born and what they do differntly. it was time for a transformation. 3 months in LBS and everything started making sense to me. I could figure out all the missing steps in my last 15 years career.

I can see the gaps and I can answer all my questions. Now I know where I took wrong turns in my career and in my ventures. What I needed to do more and what less. I can see myself getting transformed slowly and gradually to the one I always wanted to be. I can see myself getting closer to my dreams and all my dreams are getting bigger and bigger day by day.

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MBA Sailing

Posted by: Inna Leontenkova

Prologue (skip unless you and I are acquainted):
The time since I last posted something was somewhat elongated – but not because of me moving country, changing jobs, pouring drinks at the Sundowners. I just could not determine how to better address a subject quite imperative to me – sailing – a very atypical setting for my decisive self. Apologies. The pressure was high as I hoped to paint the world of sailing through the lens I saw it and emphasize how much LBS has refined it (aka “sailing is awesome” and “LBS rocks”). Below is the best I could conjure up – hope my crew will share this view and that it’s not too “heavy” for a bubbly business school blog.

Mark Twain had said something most of us heard and what had been supposedly considered the “stay hungry, stay foolish” of the past: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” A funny thing is that not many realise that this is not where this motivating passage ends. Apparently Mr. Twain went on with “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Drea­m. Discover.” One of the biggest creative titans used sailing as a metaphor to inspire your behind out of the comfort zone, to create, risk, soak in what life has to offer!!! There must be a good reason to it.

This is all very nice – says my loyal reader – but what does it all have to do with a Business School? I tell you: a business can be compared to a ship (I am all about metaphors today). CEO is the captain who usually goes down with it in case of hitting an “iceberg”. Senior management and yacht racing crews share many job descriptions (strategist, tactician, navigator), for many of which you need specific qualifications from Royal Yachting Association and the like (think CFA, ACCA, MBA). Each specific type of a ship is different (here come the industry specifics); and sailing in different waters around the globe might affect your strategic set up e.g. due to tides (similar to cultural differences in markets); the list can go on. What I am trying to imply here is that a good sailor would make a good entrepreneur and vice versa. There are obviously exceptions to every rule, but when my billion-dollar idea comes to me – the first person I call will be someone from the sailing club.

And finally, sailing is one of the most social sports where your inter-personal skills are being truly challenged as you work-eat-sleep in a closed up space with the same bunch of a crew for days or even weeks in a row. For me that resulted in angelic temper (OK I am exaggerating a teeny-tiny bit), meeting amazing people and making true friends I can trust and have crazy fun with.

SO, if you are considering a business school education – maybe you could also try yourself in sailing? I have good news for you – LBS ranks number 1 for two consecutive years in the international MBA racing league! We go places – Caribbean, Mediterranean, Solent, Canaries, San Francisco, chilly Irish sea and luxurious Portofino Harbour – our sailors have done it everywhere.

BUT if you are considering becoming a sailor – maybe you should go to a business school as well? LBS Sailing club & Alumni (featuring Olympic rising stars, African charity entrepreneurs, Abercrombie & Fitch models, Everest climbers to name just a few) are there to give a helping hand and teach you all about what sailing has to offer – freedom, power, teamwork, competition, endurance… and dirty jokes.

Questions?

 

While reflecting on the content of this blog post I was inspired by the below quotes you might also like – all about sailing obviously:
– “If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable” by Lucius Annaeus Seneca
– “A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are built for” by Grace Murray Hopper
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“You cannot control the wind but you can adjust the sail” a Yiddish Proverb
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If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea” abridged from Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s

Créer le navire,
ce n’est point tisser les toiles,
forger les clous,
lire les astres,
mais bien donner le goût de la mer


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As an aspiring entrepreneur, LBS was really a simple choice for me. I wanted a b-school that gave me a global business perspective. Understanding how the global supply chain works in our modern age is key for my future success. Where else can I learn about globalization and build international contacts in the most diverse b-school in the world? With more than 66 nationalities in my MBA class, I don’t need to look far away!

What also grabbed my attention was the curriculum. The first year is spent enforcing core managerial concepts such as strategy and corporate finance, which can be waived under certain circumstances. As for the second year, there are so many options! Starting from exchange programs, with more than 30 partner schools around the world, to electives which will really help me build my business such as Managing the Growing Business. I also have the chance to spend my summer at the Entrepreneurship Summer School, which allows me to test the feasibility of some the ideas that I have and be able to develop a business plan by the time I graduate!

Being the #1 MBA program in the world, LBS is THE place for me to build my skill set and contacts. By the end of the program, the world better be ready for me!

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The luxury being a student is you have the chance to try new life that you’ve not experienced before, this became true for me during this summer…

With the admiration of entrepreneurship, I decided to choose one of the elective courses – “entrepreneur summer school” – during this summer, even the professors, John and Jeff, had stated clearly that it is a course with two courses of workload but only one credit.

The course completed last Saturday with students presented to the judge board of experienced entrepreneurs and angel investors, followed by a celebration with wine and champagne in the evening. Without any regret of the hard work, this is among the courses that I’ve learned the most. The reason is? Practice and the true experience.

Looking beautiful

With the intention to push out of the comfort zone, I chose to do a project which is completely unfamiliar industry instead of an industry that I’ve worked with before. The good thing of that is you have fresh eyes, and see new opportunities everywhere that insiders may not see. Well… things may look beautiful when you look from  distance, but the reality is, the more you get closer and deeper, you may find out, things are not as good as we thought, the huge opportunity we saw before may not look as promising as it was.

I started my project with a very high passion and ambition, during the three weeks, I searched online marketing intelligence, industry report from the library, and talked to friends who work at those industry. the result was not as I had expected… First, it is not always easy to find data from public sources, second, even we find out the data/reports, it is not always easy to decide which is useful.  Third, even the industry data looks promising, when I put together the industry report, I found out the “unique opportunity” actually have more competitions around.  But what I did learned was always ask a question one step deeper, never stop and satisfied on the surface. 

Do it yourself

Being a corporate manager for many years, I’ve used to delegate a lot, as startups, you probably won’t have the luxury having many resources work for you. So when setting up the team plan, always keeps in mind to ask if this is a redundant resource, every resource needs to bring the value. In the process of this experiment, I’ve learned to be down to the earth, and do it yourself.  One memorable experience during the summer was the “long interview” with your research objects, who you don’t know.

Get your value proposition right

It is very important to ask the “right questions”, try to understand what your customers’ pain is, what solution your product can provide to solve this pain. And what your competitive advantage is and how long it will last… if you can’t find the answer that convince yourself, you probably can’t convince others either. Most of the startups fail is not because of execution, it is because they haven’t set their value proposition right.

It is a short experience over the last two months, it maybe just a start of building my entrepreneurship spirit. I’ve certainly learned that it takes hard work to be an entrepreneur, it takes more than hard work to be successful. The course has just finished, left me with an unforgettable experience and all the valuable friendship I built with the class, mentors and people I met along this summer.

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Weathering the Trek for an EMBA

Posted by: Ronald
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I signed up for the Silicon Valley Trek back in February thinking that I’m potentially one of the few Executive MBAs on any LBS trek and it was a potentially daunting activity. However it presented a great opportunity to connect to other entrepreneurs, VCs, managers and alumni that would never be otherwise possible – at least not in this timeframe. I thundered on and the application was done in good time. By March, it was a Go – and the next I knew, I was already on the plane across the calm pond.

At the Bay, the weather was not accommodating:  the previous day was coloured with torrential rain and a tornado warning. I had brought the weather with me to sunny California. Inside, I stared at the busy schedule. It revealed much about the types of companies and what the week has in store: entrepreneurship, hard choices, big exciting ventures and stories of the Valley’s history of successes. But what I did not realise, was that I learned more about the nature of opportunities, waves of unpredictable milestones and cycle of failures and successes.

The trek group and I were inspired by stories and insights of the way business is done in Bay Area. It is very robust and positive. One serial entrepreneur loves there, because “the culture has had a 70 year head start and it embraces learning from failure”. A striking contrast to the unbelievable strength of active-inertia preventing incumbent media companies embracing the new Internet economy. No matter what the adversities were, entrepreneurs with determination and great people will get somewhere. Even if they fail, they try again – it’s the only way.

After a hectic and rewarding week, the clouds parted over the San Francisco Airport and the sun came out. I looked forward to coming back to London, but I can’t help forecasting that Europe’s culture had a different air to entrepreneurship – it does not interpret past failures as a sign of potential success: “if you sunk the boat before mate, you’ll potentially sink it again”. So, am I heading into another storm? Is it worthwhile to subscribe to the way it’s done in the Valley? If so, how does one go about changing the European mindset? Comments please.

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