“Commit, within financial reason, to action instead of theory. Learn to confront the challenges of the real world, rather than resort to the protective womb of academia. You can control most of the risks, and you can’t imagine the rewards.” — Tim Ferriss
Ihave always dreamed of getting an MBA from Penn and The Wharton Business School. It wasn’t until actually sitting in on class upon class at Washington & Jefferson College for four years that I realized traditional business school wasn’t for me long term. Allow me to provide some context.
We are in a Higher Education Bubble
I do believe, along with many other smarter and brighter individuals than myself, that we are in a higher education bubble. When tuition costs across the board are rising higher than inflation we should be aware of that problem. Is school and education important in achieving long term success? Absolutely. But at what cost? Our government, students and college graduates are mortgaging their lives away while paying back debt and interest for years.
Going to school can be viewed in three separate perspectives:
Investment good to go to school: investing in the future. The long term pay off is that you’ll find a “safe” and “secure” job hopefully paying you $40,000 to $50,000 a year before taxes.
Insurance hedge to go to school: parents and students think of it as an insurance policy. Buying this really ever more expensive insurance insures that students don’t fall through the cracks in our society.
Consumption good to go to school: college is a four or five year party. I’ll be honest, I saw it as this when I was younger until I started taking school more seriously my junior and senior years. In retrospect, the social environments and freedom we are exposed to in our colleges and universities are more than what we had K-12. Most of us are playing varsity or club sports, joining a fraternity or sorority, in different leadership positions and clubs, as well as partying and consuming $%^&*@# on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
For the colleges and universities, it’s a crazy zero-sum tournament. When you think about it, Stanford, USC, Penn, Princeton, Yale, Duke, Harvard and many more colleges and universities are essentially running a Studio 54 nightclub with massive exclusion. There’s a long line outside the doors, but in reality, with only a small percentage of individuals ever getting inside. Is this solely reserved for 5–10% of people in the world?
We’re breeding children, men, women and students to become employees and middle class managers. Last time we checked, no one likes to be micromanaged. We’re not paying for the knowledge, we’re paying for the credentials that come from a four-year degree. Most of those credentials are to get a “high-paying” job, work for a big public or private company, work for the government and become a tier one citizen in societies hamster wheel. And, if you don’t get a degree, you’re treated as a second class citizen for not buying into the liberal ideas.
Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) degrees are all that should be publicly funded or degrees that we actually need. States should lend out to the students if they believe in the product so much. The federal government (Sallie Mae) needs to get out of the game of saddling almost every person (66% of students have debt) with student loan debt strapped to their backpack for 10, 20, 30 or 40 years. Our world’s changing but it is a shame our school systems are still lagging behind, especially with the explosion of technology and the wonders that could provide to classrooms of students. It comes down to the fact that experiential learning always beats out theoretical learning, which is why real world MBA’s are so important!
My Real World MBA
It all (entrepreneurial & personal MBA path) started between January, May, June, July, August, September, October and November of 2015. At this time I was continuing my last and final spring semester as President of the Men’s Rugby Club, just coming off of completing the Fullbridge, Inc. XBA Entrepreneurship program at the end of January 2015 and getting started with my last semester as a senior at W&J College.
The Fullbridge Entrepreneurship program shifted my mindset at the time from an employee over to the self-employed, business owner and investors quadrants. I knew I always wanted to go into business for myself but not by myself and this reinforced that thought in my mind. This was the beginning, and fast forwarding to the summer and fall of 2015, when I started my career in financial services.
What I would like to build upon are 7 traits every successful entrepreneur, businessman, businesswoman or simply a new business in general has to have in order to thrive. I believe a lot of these aspects of business, financial intelligence and entrepreneurship were instilled in me during my early 20’s, as well as lessons I had to learn along the way in my career and business as I failed forward.
It all starts and ends with 1. strong leadership. The rest of the advice below is worthless without a strong leader(s) showing and paving the way forward. These men and women understand the need to develop synergistic partnerships and collaborative relationships. Strong leaders believe deeply in their business and they continually work to develop their vision for the future.
Leadership is especially key for young businessmen, businesswomen and startups, as everything about the individuals and company is coming into focus. Strong leaders are the decision-makers, idea generators, team builders and image-makers for their company. If you stand at the helm of a young company, you play a crucial role in all these areas.
A lot of my leadership positions in college came from serving on the executive board of the Alpha Tau Omega Fraternity for a year and holding down the fort as the President of the Men’s Rugby Club for two years at W&J. What I learned is that people will not follow, listen or respect you as a man or woman unless you have influence and strong communication skills. At the end of the day, John Maxwell says leadership is influence, nothing more nothing less.
Secondly, we move into 2. finding the right talent in order to thrive in a competitive market. No matter what type of business you go into, you are in a contest for survival. Fierce competition is either going to drive your startup forward, pushing you and your company to new heights, or it’s going to eat you alive.
Competition forces newer and young companies to focus on customer service and needs, while keeping costs lower and contained. It also opens up opportunities that young companies can take advantage of and leverage. These environments are sink or swim, so you’d better be ready to start paddling from the start.
Strong leaders understand the importance of hiring suitable individuals with the right backgrounds, skill set and personality to competently get a task done. However, it’s not just about bringing the right people on board; it’s about putting together an exclusive team of like-minded people that can work together, feed off of each other, empower and bring each other up when necessary, remain excited and enthusiastic on the task of launching a successful business and building a long-lasting organization.
If you create the best possible and winning team up front, you will save loads of time and money in the long run. Follow the system and save your self time, energy and money.
Next, if there is one thing that plagues most startups, businesses and teams more than anything else, it’s cash flow. 3. Budgeting and financial intelligence has to be at the forefront of a strong leaders mind. Careful budgeting and pre-planning are a major key to getting over the initial financial hurdles you will have.
Write down your cash-flow projections and come up with a financial plan. Having an idea of what you can reasonably predict in terms of expenses and income will help you plan ahead and spot problems sooner, and hopefully before they occur. The biggest problem is founders and CEO’s taking salaries early on in their businesses. Take a step back, re-invest all of the money and profits back into the business, and then, only when necessary take some sort of salary.
A lot of my previous blogs go over the topic of financial literacy so feel free to review those as well if you’re still struggling with parts of budgeting and financial intelligence. Recognize that it is a constant and never ending improvement.
Moving on, is it fair to say that every company has a personality? Why do you think 4. marketing and branding yourself, your company and what you stand for are so crucial for success? It’s what the company stands for! It’s how customers see it and what draws people to it. This is why social media and an Internet presence as so important in the Information Age!
However, startups often miss out on this because they overlook the importance of word-of-mouth advertising, one-to-one marketing and marketing in general. Marketing, branding and advertising play a critical role in how a company creates its identity and how the outside world perceives it.
What I’ve found through reading and experiential learning with marketing is that getting a jump-start on it and branding will help your company establish its brand identity, and this is huge when it comes down to differentiating yourself from the competition and sea of mediocrity.
Branding requires a company to understand its customers base and then articulate (the message) what makes it different or unique from the rest. Branding needs to be part of a startup’s vision from the beginning. That’s why Steve Jobs was a marketing and sales genius with Apple. Overall, it gives customers a sense that the company is here to stay for the long run.
In order to succeed, you’d better know early on where you are going and what the future looks like. Otherwise, you’ll be a lost soul and wandering generality before you even begin. This is why 5. a well-defined vision statement and goals are so important.
If there is one sure thing that all businesses and startups face, it’s constant change. It’s like attempting to jump into a rugby match or a baseball game in the second half of the season with a team you’ve never practiced with before. Your odds of success are very low.
A well-defined vision is a turbo-boost V6 engine or Tesla Roadster getting you across the finish line. It allows you to set goals that define the path you plan to take and how you envision your progress along the journey. It’s all part of the process, right? A strong vision, along with clear-cut and obsessive goals, will give you a strategy for achieving success.
Use that fire to develop a solid internal structure and you’ll have the “strength” and “muscles” to get where you want to go. Start by creating a mission statement, which declares where your business is headed and what you expect it to look like when it arrives. But to also scare you, and light a fire under your ass, write a failure statement as well to show what happens if you don’t put in the work. Trust me, that’s the real kicker!
In the middle of dealing with all the countless decisions and problems that it takes to run and launch a company, it can be easy to feel like time is against you, right? There simply isn’t enough of it to accomplish all of the tasks that must be done in a day. Learning proper 6. time management is crucial to staying focused. Working smarter not harder sounds great, but is it really possible?
It is, but only if you stay laser-focused and find ways to cut out what I like to call time-sucks. This is Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TV, video games, music and all of the other distractions constantly around us 24/7/365. We have to maximize our productivity and know our limits at the same time.
Make sure you pick a daily goal, as well as a weekly goal, something that’s important to you and that you want to accomplish over the workweek. This will spill over into your monthly goals, which is to be tailored into quarterly goals, and ultimately, yearly goals! Just as defining the overarching goals for any company helps everyone see the big picture, picking smaller, bite-sized goals to tackle each week will help the whole team stay focused on what’s important.
Finally, make sure to take breaks and celebrate successful achievements. Stretch your legs with a walk, strengthen your muscles early in the morning at the gym, read a good book, and actually take time for short mental breaks whether its meditating, yoga or whatever it is. This will actually help you be more productive, thanks to research and countless studies. It can give you the space and mental acuity you need to make better decisions and enable you to be the best leader you can be.
At last, we come down to 7. personal development. The investment(s) into hundreds (soon to be thousands) of books, online audios, podcasts, leadership development and whatever material I’ve been able to get my hands on has truly molded my million dollar mindset over the past two years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a book placed in my lap or an audio playing in my ears, that I can attest to no matter how cliché it sounds.
What college graduate is in the right frame, state of mind or consciousness upon graduating from a four-year college or university? Not many. I was sobering up from spring break and senior week come May 2015 but I will save that story for a rainy day. At any rate, talent will only get us so far in life. Skillsets, attitudes, financial intelligence, knowledge and belief first has to be chiseled away at like a fine Roman statue. The same goes for our minds. If we are not growing, we are dying.
We feed our bodies macronutrients, mircronutrients, food and water everyday. So why don’t enough people feed their minds? I believe it ultimately comes down to discipline and how badly you want to live a great lifestyle. Successful businessmen, businesswomen, startups and almost all businesses realize this. That’s why the most serious men and women have a voracious hunger for personal development. Do you?
In all honesty, I hope this helped you recognize the new world and environment we are living in. It’s only a matter of time before we are living, breathing and working in 2018, 2019 and 2020. I challenge you all to work harder on yourselves, your startups, your business ideas and your side hustles than you do on your jobs or school these upcoming years. I will be along for the journey and process. Will you?
As always, thank you for reading!
My Very Best,