The last part in the much acclaimed 3-part blog special dealing with the questions I’m most often asked tackles why I didn’t take a “typical” business school job. Following the trend, the short answer of “I didn’t get any offers” is 100% true. However, as always, it isn’t that cut and dry. I’m going to answer, as well as go way off topic and discuss the fragile psyche of an entrepreneurial person in business school.
Business schools are funny places. They are tailored for getting students from “A” to “B,” with “A” being the job they left and “B” being the job they want. Business school can be an absolute disaster if you don’t know “B.” Entrepreneurs rarely know “B,” because if they did, they’d be doing it. This would lead you to believe that b-schools wouldn’t market to entrepreneurs (they do), and entrepreneurs wouldn’t go (they do). My experience helps shine a light on why there are currently brand managers at P&G who went to b-school to learn how to start an email marketing company. The reason brings us all the way back to why you tried smoking in 7th grade: peer pressure.
In my case, I was thrust into an awesome atmosphere with great people who I loved being around, most of whom were pursuing a specific career path. My friends would make a lot of money right off the bat, lay the groundwork for a successful career, and be on a “set” track with a bunch of our friends. They would be dumped in with a group of graduates from other b-schools in a structured, well-thought out training program. There would be some amount of creativity involved, but for the most part (at this early stage in their development), it would be “here is your task, complete it, present it to me in two weeks.” No doubt, these tasks would be difficult, the presentations stressful, and the legwork time consuming. They would learn a ton while honing a marketable talent. This career choice is smart, responsible, productive, and safe.
As an entrepreneur, I wish I could say it wasn’t an attractive choice. I wish I could say that my creative spark was too bright and that I’d be caged in this environment. But, to be honest, this was extremely attractive to me. I love office atmospheres, I love being with my friends, and most of all, being on a “track” is usually much better than the alternative. I’m jealous of those friends, and as I sit here alone in a coffee shop in Chapel Hill on a Sunday morning, that point becomes all too clear. Their “safe” choice seems like a pretty damn good one right now.
So why didn’t I? There were a bunch of reasons, but I’ll deal with the most pertinent ones.
· I came to business school because I wanted to be an entrepreneur – This is why I left a good job in NYC, spent countless hours studying for the GMAT, and wrote all those essays. It seems like 95% of entrepreneurs (myself included) forget that the second classmates start wearing suits in September for the bank recruiting season. I wasn’t immune, I tapped my inner Along Came Polly hippo and went to banking presentations because my friends were doing it. I even interviewed for a sales/trading internship but was turned down. Had I gotten that internship, I can guarantee 3Degrees would not exist. It’s that simple sometimes. Its funny what peer pressure can do, and with a school full of type-A’s, the pressure is magnified. I have no doubt there are business school graduates plugging away in a role they never planned as their great ideas stay ideas, and I was almost one of them.
· I’m not a freak- People who succeed in an ibanking / consulting / marketing atmosphere are freaks. Not in a bad way, in the 2003 Jevon Kearse way. They work 100 hour weeks, don’t take vacations, and somehow produce phenomenal work. I’d get destroyed in that atmosphere. Why enter if I can’t succeed? That assumes I could’ve tricked someone into hiring me, as clearly that’s not what I’d be good at / want to do.
· The only person who can motivate me is me – I think one of the most important things a person can learn is what motivates them. Is it money? Praise? Location? Freedom? For me, it’s me. When I played basketball growing up, I was never pushed by my dad. I practiced because I thought that being good at basketball was important. I’ll happily work all hours of the night on 3Degrees because it means the world to me. I can’t say that I would do my best work in other roles. My loving girlfriend calls that entitlement issues. I call it knowing how to get the best out of my ability. (My loving girlfriend also didn’t push the traditional job, somehow accepting and whole-heartedly encouraging my “no no, this thing might be profitable in 2 years. More PBJ?” explanation. But that’s a blog for another day).
As I said, business school is funny. There is TOO much opportunity, too much talent around you, too much pressure to take a “real” job. This pushes many entrepreneurs to other professions. However, if you do make it through, you’ll be far better for it. I met brilliant professors who taught me an enormous amount, students who use their talents to help the idea along and friends who will let me sleep on their couches when it fails. And judging by their first year salaries, they’ll be sick tempur-pedic pullouts.
The trick is sticking to your guns through the process. If you want to be a banker, be a banker. If you want to start a company, do that. The lesson, as always, don’t be the hippopotamus from Along Came Polly. “That fool no one.”