Apr 6, 2013

Should MBA first-years start meetup groups? Do more, talk less.

MBAs are a favorite punching bag for whiz bang entrepreneurs, especially those too young to have five years of corporate work experience.  Take Dale Stephens, for example.  He young, he's a Thiel fellow, probably brilliant, entrepreneurial and successful.  He's a baller and he knows it.  He wrote an incendiary essay called "A Smart Investor would skip the MBA" featured on WSJ.  Yup - MBA is probably a waste of time and money for him, even though I think MBA teaches some very valuable leadership skills. Of course, there are no end to such debates, and for folks like me who have a top-tier MBA and loved the experience, the debate is irrelevant.

Instead, what would be more relevant is how we close the gap between MBAs and do-it-yourself entrepreneurs.  After all, Stephens notes that networks are invaluable, and I don't see how you can build a Harvard MBA network without getting a Harvard MBA (well, actually, I can see how you can do it, but it would be easier with MBA).  The focus should be on learning and not on warning.  At Harvard, entrepreneurship is now a required first year curriculum course.  What about at Darden, my alma mater?  I am sure the classes are great, but I want to specifically address a common complaint within class walls - too much talk, not enough action.  This mirrors a common mantra among startups and entrepreneurs: talk less, do more.  So I have a suggestion.  First years, take those classes, and read and talk about those cases.  And also, start a meetup group.

gratuitously provocative and probably infringing some copyright

Yes, start a meetup group. Instead of some silly simulation on a laptop, try a live, human capital building, meetup group - like this Product Lovers group my friend started.  Here's what a meetup group would teach a MBA who was not already an entrepreneur coming into a program.

For starters, what could a MBA frosh do via meetups?  Well, lot of my classmates loved volunteering at the Humane Society.  That's a meetup.  What about workouts?  Meetup.  Networking while on long-runs?  Meetup.  Raise funds for local children's group?  You guessed it.  How about ski enthusiasts ... you get the idea.  It's fun, it generates human capital, and is a good hands-on learning with many positive externalities.
  1. Pragmatism - It forces the team (learning group) to focus on real issues in the world of practical affairs.  Meetups are geared toward real human beings.  By its very nature, it affects something of practical impact to people.
  2. Segmentation - Did you find that market segmentation case a bit abstract?  You will find it less so when the rubber hits the road.  You will need to figure out what problem you are solving and make best initial guesses about who will resonate the most with your messaging.  You will then iterate and fine tune your target audience.  And you have to figure out how to reach them.  It is a good exercise in both marketing and management communications.
  3. Leadership - Meetups (done right) will lead to building goodwill in the community.  In other words, you can strategize all you want inside the board room or inside the learning room.  No one in the surrounding city will know about it nor will anyone care.  If MBA programs are such a concentration of talented and intelligent people (as we were often told in self-congratulatory manner), why shouldn't these gems of human beings be shared with the surrounding community?  Mind is a terrible thing to waste, right?  Let's be doers and build some human capital, people!
  4. Measurement - Paul Graham (affectionately known as PG) writes in his essay "How to Make Wealth" that you need two things to make crap-tons of money.  Measurement and leverage.  Problem with class and grades is, that you either lack measurement or leverage.  Simulation is cool, and Socratic methods are cool, but how do you measure if it was successful?  Will grades do?  I think not.  Instead, try a meetup.  The measurement becomes very simple - how many members have you signed up.  It's cold, hard, bottom line.  And what comes with growing membership?  Leverage.  Your messages or events reach a wider audience.  You're fast on your way to building wealth.
  5. Fun & Trust - Which do you think will create a great bond among the team members and between the school and the community ... MBAs doing abstract case work or real events that gather people together and help each other learn, or do something fun, or eat together, or whatever - anything that's people to people?  Plus, it's heck of a challenge and hella fun!
There you go kids.  It doesn't cost much to set up.  Get out there and start your own meetup today!

Fun meetup we had back in Feb - where so many people learned: it's a feel good

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