The Lean Approach During Business School

by Kyle Lui

I was having a conversation recently with a friend who has been in the tech world for nearly a decade about the rationale of going to business school while also pursuing a start-up. That got me thinking about career decisions and entrepreneurship. Seth Moulton wrote a great entry on a “lean approach to career planning” that underscores the importance of pivots and appropriate timing (vs. trades offs) post-MBA. But what about during business school? Let’s supposed you’ve decided to attend a top business school such as HBS, how do you make the best of your two years employing a “lean approach” to finding your true passion or diving into entrepreneurship?

The first decision point of whether or not to go to business school is therefore irrelevant to the students of LTV. For LTV students, we’ve obviously already made our decision. For others – particularly those coming from technology or pure engineering backgrounds, this could be a tough decision. Do I work on my own start-up or join a hot one, or do I step back and learn non-technical skills at a place like HBS?

Once that decision has been made, how does earning an MBA position someone to be a more effective entrepreneur? In a lot of ways, it doesn’t. If you wanted to be an entrepreneur, the first advice someone might give you is to start your own company or join a growing one. But there are many ways MBAs can use lean start-up philosophy during their time in business school that would certainly be beneficial.

1.   Think hard about your initial hypotheses. I came to business school with a background in investing and “expertise” in Asia. I had not started my own company before school and there were certainly a number of pivots to take me to my current career thinking. It is important to have your initial hypotheses in place when you arrive at HBS. Hypotheses such as: I believe that the online consumer technology space is interesting and I would like to start my own company in this space. Use Career Leader, CPD, career teams, etc to figure out what your initial hypotheses will be in regards to your career.
2.   Rigorously test out your hypothesis. Given the tough and structured first-year curriculum, you may find yourself short on time. Still, this actually the best time to conduct hypothesis testing. Speak with people in your prospective industry, come up with promising business ideas.
3.   Use the summer to gain additional data. The summer is the absolute best time to gather additional data. For a number of us, we moved from finance to operations, consulting to technology, operations to start-ups, etc. The summer internship or start-up experience is the best way to further test out your hypothesis and determine if your initial hypotheses still stand.
4.   Pivot when necessary. Coming back into second year, many students decide to pivot away from their initial hypothesis. Perhaps technology wasn’t for them. Perhaps they really did enjoy finance. Hopefully pursuing a start-up is their true calling. Make sure as you pivot that you adjust other aspects of your life appropriately. For example, if you’ve decided to walk away from your sponsoring company, you’ve taken steps to appropriately deal with the relationship and financial considerations. If you’ve decided not to return to the private equity industry and instead pursue a start-up, you may want to dial back on the international travel and bottle service. After all, a full pivot involves changing your mindset as well as your career choice.
5.   Remember your resources! If the core of entrepreneurship involves creating lasting value with limited resources, then going to a top business school certainly doesn’t hurt aspiring entrepreneurs. The breadth and depth of a new network, instant and credible advisors (i.e., faculty members), relevant courses, field studies and ISRs are just some of the ways students thinking of start-ups can take advantage of the deep resources business schools can bring to the table. And yes, some of these resources are available to alumni, but nothing compared to the level of resources students really have at their disposal.

So go ahead. Employ the lean approach during your time in business school. It certainly beats employing the FOMO approach.