MBA Tuesday

Yesterday I went up to Harvard Business School and participated in a lunch and a class. My friend Jeff Bussgang arranged the trip and we were hosted by HBS Professor Tom Eisenmann. Jeff and I sat in front of Tom's class Launching Technology Ventures and talked for almost 2 hours on topics like Lean Startup Methodology, Pivoting, doing a startup vs joining a startup, and more.

I can tell you this, the HBS I visited is not the HBS I used to know. The students I had lunch with had all built a startup and exited before going to HBS. The knowledge and passion for startups evident in Tom's class was off the charts. If business school is turning into entrepreneur school, then that's a damn good thing.

Anyway, Jeff took notes from the day and posted them on his blog. Every time I talk in front of a large group and take questions, some things come out of my mouth that are new thoughts that I've not expressed before. Between Jeff's post and the tweet stream from the class, I was able to review the talk and a few thoughts struck me as good enough to share here.

– There is a very high correlation between lean startup approach and the top performing companies in our two funds.

– Lean startup methology is great, but it is really a lean startup culture you want.

– Lean startup is a machine, garbage in will give you garbage out.

– Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven.

– Hunches come from being a power user of the products in your category and from having a long standing obsession about the problem you are solving.

– Domain expertise to the point of obsession is highly correlated with the most successful entrepeneurs in our portfolio.

– Ideas that most people derided as ridiculous have produced the best outcomes. Don't do the obvious thing.

– Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.

– If you have an idea that you can't get out of your head, do a startup. Otherwise join a startup.

– If you are not technical, get product experience. Get your hands dirty and work with engineers.

– Take risks when you get out of business school. If you don't take risks, you won't find yourself in an interesting job and career.

Finally, I'd like to say that Tom encouraged his class to tweet during class. I think that is fantastic. The tweet stream is like publicly available course notes for the class we did yesterday. Every time I talk to a class full of students I am going to call out a hashtag at the start of class and encourage tweeting.

I'm very encouraged with what is going on at HBS and some of the other top business schools I've visited this year. Entrepreneurship is alive and well and a growing theme of business education. As it should be.

#MBA Mondays#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Dan Epstein

    Sounds like a great class visit (for you and the students). I’d love to see a video if it was taped.

  2. William Mougayar

    Those notes nailed it. Wow. The obsession part is so true and inescapable.The obsession has to be authentic.

  3. Fernando Gutierrez

    It’s great news you find that kind of students, at HBS and in other places!However, take into consideration that the class you were in was ‘Lanunching Technology Ventures’, so the sample is not representative. I happen to know several recent HBS MBA students –some already gone and some currently there– and there are still a lot of people from McKinsey, BCG, investment banks and similar profiles… I guess they probably enroll in other classes they feel more attracted to. They are all brilliant, but they are not entrepreneurs and I don’t think they all want to be. And that’s great also, because there are many other jobs that have to be filled with smart people.

  4. LIAD

    Not to get all esoteric….but, they say when you hear something profoundly true you get the sensation of remembering and not of learning something new.You knew it all along you just needed someone to elucidate it.Some of these points, hit that spot.

    1. Dave Pinsen

      You are alluding to Plato’s theory of recollection.

      1. LIAD

        Plato eh? Had no idea. thanks for letting me know. will have a read.I was thinking it seemed a little too deep for my normal well of wisdom – Peter Griffin of Family Guy

        1. Dave Pinsen

          No problem.There’s a Columbia Business School professor who bears an uncanny resemblance to Peter Griffin:

        2. ShanaC

          !!!! But it is Plato!!!!

    2. andyswan

      Once you learn it, it’s obvious!Reminds me of good bourbon

  5. andyswan

    Excellent. Fred and all of us who write should consider this a jumping-off point.I’d love to see all of those bullet points turn into little red links by the end of the year. There’s got to be a ton of great stories in THIS audience around these…both win and fail.

    1. fredwilson

      write on!

  6. Joe Yevoli

    I love the tweet stream idea! Can’t wait to read through that.

  7. RichardF

    I’d super like this post if I could. Great summary. What an awesome class that must have been, some very lucky students. Thanks for sharing the outcomes I feel almost as lucky.

  8. Tom Labus

    That’s great news!!It would seem that both the HBS and the students made their own “pivot”. Five years ago everyone would have been heading to Wall Street to bang around derivatives.

  9. Dave Pinsen

    Would be interested in some elaboration on this:- Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.Also curious about the idea of tweeting during class. Over the weekend, Howard Stern live-tweeted insider info about his biopic “Private Parts” while it was on cable. That was an innovative use of Twitter and it worked well, I think, because everyone who was interested had seen the movie before (and, of course, Howard knew it inside out, since it was his movie).A class or lecture that the audience hasn’t seen before is a little different. I wonder if live-tweeting it would distract you from absorbing all the info.

    1. ShanaC

      Honestly, I’ve tweeted in class (the professor didn’t know, and the class was part of my Business history class. We were covering the start of the first internet boom, I figured it would be interesting for the twitterverse)I would have prefered it so much more if there were a yammer for schools. I’ve had some of my best learning experiences talking with friends about classes, and as long as it is quiet why not add to the experience by allowing “silent talking” in class about the class? Plus if they can be archived it is a great way to have community notes, and to get live feedback about how your teaching style and material is going.

    2. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

      +1 on the tweeting. I find it distracts me form the topic and I also think it is rude to the speaker…but that is just me!

      1. fredwilson

        it is not rude to the speaker. i love it. it is live feedback for me

        1. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

          I think that twitter streams of information from or about an event can absolutely be useful, and even “life changing” but in terms of a speaking engagement, I think it depends on who the speaker is. Over brunch the topic came up in conversation with @connerboyd who also related recent instances of twitter streams being broadcast during a talk that were blatantly rude to the speaker. No question that was a distraction and undermined the speaker. Though I doubt people would tweet disparaging things about you or what you say, it does happen to people who might otherwise be given an opportunity to deliver a complete topic before being harangued. In the world of three sentences and 140 characters few seemingly spend much time thinking about what is being said before drawing conclusions or spewing the first sound bite that they think may “get picked up”. But that is just what I think. To each his own.

    3. fredwilson

      live tweeting is like taking notes. i think it is highly additive

      1. DHill

        ..and the more structured and succinct, the better!

    4. matthughes

      I would also be interested in elaboration on this comment:- Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.Great post.

      1. Austin Clements

        I agree, as this was the line that stood out to me the most from the twitter stream. Monetization seems to unfortunately come off as a ‘necessary evil’ for the really innovative startups. I’d be very interested in hearing Fred’s take on monetization actually benefiting the end user.

      2. fredwilson

        think about paid search. there are many searches where the better results are in the paid column. the monetization adds to the experience and does not distract from it.

    5. walldawg

      Re: tweets as distractions, I think there’s probably a generational difference at play as well as personality differences. Us gen X-ers are right on the transition line between the old-school sit, listen and nod learning vs the new-school engagement learning. I remember my 5th grade keyboarding (ie typewriter) teacher insisting that we just sit and listen, while my 6th grade C programming teacher encouraged us to code during class when inspiration struck. Younger generations are even more immersed in the engagement style, and I’d bet the HBS kids are among the most heavily immersed.About personality differences, I find myself learning more when I have a little distraction and also when I’m actively interpretting what I’m being taught. Seems like tweeting could serve both. Several other entrepreneurs have mentioned this to me too, so perhaps HBS is selecting for those types of individuals in their program?

    6. fredwilson

      best example of the monetization thing is craigslist. at one time it was free to post anything on craigslist. then some of the categories and locations got spammed up. so they started charging for them. the rest of the service is still free

  10. Dwayne A. Roper

    Yet again, Fred, you’ve directly answered a question I’m currently pondering: “Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven.”. Great post!

  11. Katie

    This post knocked my socks off, thanks. I finished Wharton last year and I do think the sample in Professr Eisenmann’s class was perhaps not representative of HBS as a whole. At Wharton, Kartik Hosanagar’s Enabling Technologies class was packed to the gills with entrepreneurial. tech-obsessed MBAs. It was awesome, and drove me to join a startup after school. But tech and entrepreneurship are still on the back burner at Wharton. Most of the other MBAs (albeit brilliant) would look up at the sky if you mentioned “the cloud”.

    1. fredwilson

      you should have seen my MBA class at Wharton in 1987when i told my classmates i was taking a $60k/year job in VC and turning down a job in investment banking that would pay $150k base and potential to triple that with bonus people thought i was nutsit turns out they were nuts. the market broke in the fall of 1987 and most were out of those high paying jobs

  12. Tom Royce

    The hunches statement is pure gold. I am a huge fan of testing and crunching data but I have always lived in the hunch zone for the first couple of months of a new project. It is only after it starts really moving does the data start coming in that can be analyzed with any degree of confidence.Hunches in the beginning are so much better than GIGO.

  13. baba12

    “Take risks when you get out of business school. If you don’t take risks, you won’t find yourself in an interesting job and career.”The more you get an education the more you know of the pitfalls that are there in creating a startup etc. My experience has been that having higher levels of education like an MBA generally make the person more risk averse as they know more and thus they are more cautious.Sometimes having the passion and just going”all in” is not rational or logical a lot of times and it is good to not have the MBA as it may stop you from going all in.You mention entrepreneurship is alive and is a growing theme of business education yet I find that firmly established companies with the plethora of suited MBA’s tend to unable to in a way lean startups do and.Management issues and challenges at the large established companies is more about minimizing the marginal cost to sustain what they do on a daily basis. I am not sure MBA’s there think the way one does when working in a lean startup environment.

    1. Andrew J. Rosenthal

      Not all MBAs are suited. I promise.

  14. ShanaC

    A) Amen on the product experience. And become a superuser of users among many different types of products till your head hurts. The more you see, the more examples you have to draw on and the more examples you can copy from to develop your own thing.B) GIGO – how common do you think it will become with lean startup movement overall? Does it force feature for product sometimes?C)Yes, HBS has been pushing for more entrepreneurs and more nonprofit peeps for the past year or two because they are tired of the reputation that they helped destroy the economy through their placement program

  15. David Haber

    It’s great to hear that HBS is becoming more and more entrepreneurial. I just wish the folks across the river would do the same…Unless things have changed in the past two years since I left the college, an abnormally high number of kids are going off and joining banks or consulting firms.There are some signs of change…David Malan is building CS 50 into a nice platform… David Kosslyn recently ran ‘Hack Harvard’.. and David Edwards at ‘The Lab’ is doing really interesting things…But I really think the schools needs a total cultural overhaul. Statistically speaking, it’s impossible that 50% of the class is interested in going into banking or consulting. I’m not even advocating that everyone should become entrepreneurs… I just want all of the bright and talented kids to know that there are other options.As a biochemistry major interested in tech and business it was baffling that the college didn’t tap into the huge biotech community in Cambridge…If I ever get back up to Boston… that’ll definitely be a priority of mine.

    1. Ed Freyfogle

      Only a tiny fraction of people go into consulting or banking because they are truly interested in it. They do it because they have serious debt piled up that they need to pay off, at least that was the case when I got my MBA a few years back.The problem is, they then get addicted to the high salary lifestyle. I know many people who said they’d just do banking or consulting for a few years. Very few managed to walk away and do something new.Leaving grad school with $100,000+ of debt is modern indentured servitude.

      1. David Haber

        I’m really talking about the kids across the river at the College. Unlike the B-school, the college offers a significant amount of financial aid (I was fortunate to go almost for free).These are the kids who have the highest risk appetite and who would benefit from the ‘entrepreneurial bug’ early on in their careers.By the time you’re finishing B-school your opportunity cost for starting a business is already a ~$200K+ job in finance and I totally understand people wanting to pay off debt.My complaint is that there isn’t enough institutional support for alternative career paths at the undergraduate level. It’s changing – but slowly…

        1. Eric Kennedy

          Very true. It’s really important to encourage seniors in engineering to consider starting a company while their opportunity cost is low. The advice I got back in 2002 was to go work at a company and learn enough so I could start my own. But the only companies hiring at that time were no longer startups, and my manager pressured me into buying condo. Once I had that mortgage payment and realized how much it costs to sell (~10%), I felt I had to go to a company that had raised money instead of bootstrapping my own.

      2. fredwilson

        i used the three addictions quote at HBS last week!/turan…

  16. jefftala

    “Domain expertise to the point of obsession is highly correlated with the most successful entrepreneurs in our portfolio.”Fred (and everyone else), would you say this was true from a technical standpoint, or from a marketing/strategy perspective?

    1. fredwilson

      both of those, but mostly from the product perspective

  17. Michael B. Aronson

    Agree with you Tom Eisenmann is awesome,we did some things together back in the first internet bubble. One thing i really liked abut teaching his class at HBS was that email etc wasnt allowed in class and the students were actually polite and paying attention(vs my classes at Wharton). Do they now allow pcs etc or was this a special case?

    1. fredwilson

      i did not see any PCs but the phone is the PC now

      1. vruz

        paraphrasing Sun:the mobile is the computer.

    2. Andrew J. Rosenthal

      Michael — it was a special case. The majority of classes at HBS have no devices. Certainly within the first year (RC) there are no phones, laptops or other devices. It’s a strict policy and almost-always followed. Within the second year, it’s still policy that there be no electronics, and that’s generally the case. In some instances, the teacher gives explicit permission for devices to be out in that specific class day. This is what happened in Tom’s class yesterday. One reason was that there was interest from outside the campus in what Fred was saying, and the class is closed to non-students.Come on up and visit HBS – we’d love to host you at one of the weekly meetups.

      1. Michael B. Aronson

        I’d love to do that Andrew. I am in Boston regularly. Next trip is March 4th.

  18. Pablo Osinaga

    Fred, I think what you are seeing at HBS is happening across all the business talent pools in the country.I recently learned that about 20% of the Business Analyst class of McKinsey’s New York’s office has gone to start their own web companies after their 2 years BA program – so they are not going to (a) business school or (b) PE shops (obviously).From talking to these former colleagues I also sense that a big portion of the other 80% is heavily considering “what to do in the web”.As I mentioned on the “bubble vs new normal” discussion, I believe there is value in doing some kind of structured “Y-Combinator” for distinguished business talent. It could eventually become an institution like HBS is today.Think about it: People take 2 years off their careers, pay ~$200k and almost everyone think it was a great career move.Could there be an institution like that where you actually get paid to start your company if you are selected?

    1. fredwilson

      they will have to unlearn everything they learned at McKinsey in order to be useful to a startup

  19. Chris Waldron

    “If you have an idea that you can’t get out of your head, do a startup. Otherwise join a startup.”I remind myself everyday of this. I’m a non-coding, business/sales, non-founder living in a startup. That doesn’t get a lot of followers on Twitter. But I’m learning from A VC, networking with smart entrepreneurs and educating myself from our mistakes. Luckily I’m passionate about what we are doing and have a founder who has been generous. This is my lean education. I am deeply rooted enough to learn what mistakes not to make when it’s my turn.

    1. Nate Quigley

      That was my favorite quote too. Jeff Bussgang wrote a post a few weeks back that had a similar quote:”Do you have an idea that no one can talk you out of? http://bostonvcblog.typepad…I graduated HBS in 2000. There was a lot of entrepreneurial excitement in the air back then too, so I don’t know how much of the energy Fred felt was really new per se. But the vast majority of the class of 2000 still marched off to banks, private equity and consulting. I’m sure the same thing will happen again in the class of 2011. Nothing really wrong with that.But I do think it’s great that entrepreneurial-minded types can self-select into classes like Prof. Eisenmanns and have an invigorating talk together with people like Fred and Jeff. Here’s to hoping more and more MBAs get enthused and come out of HBS and other schools to join and start companies. I don’t buy the “MBAs can’t be good entrepreneurs” canard. Too easy. (and I’m a little biased, I’ll admit)

      1. DHill

        Nate, I agree. Female MBAs at HBS, Wharton etc also need more role models. Amazing female entrepreneurs including Janet Hanson, Alexa von Tobel, Shauna Mei, Sheryl Sandberg (COO — Mark’s right-hand person at FB) and Arianna Huffington — these women are definitely moving the needle! Many of these MBAs are used to working in diverse groups so the entrepreneurial setting shouldn’t be so different going forward.

        1. Nate Quigley

          The best entrepreneur in my section at HBS was Angie Hicks (@Angie_Hicks). Founder of Angie’s List ( While a bunch of us were talking a big game and writing business plans after class she was building and growing her company. She’s awesome.

        2. fredwilson

          emphasis on role models

      2. Andrew J. Rosenthal

        Nate — thanks for your insight and hi from a current HBS student (class of 2012). I have to take issue with the “same thing will happen again in the class of 2011…” comment that the same percentage of students will go off into banking and consulting. What we’re seeing on campus, in real time, is a higher-than-before percentage of students not only interested in entrepreneurship, but actively building products and branching out into the broader Boston startup community. I like to say that we’re seeing lots of “momentum.” It’s not the same as actual, successful companies — those may take years to really measure — but I really do believe we’re seeing signals of more startups, more activity, and more commitment to entrepreneurship. Instead of students waiting until 5 years after they graduate, I think we’ll see more starting things immediately.Some of this momentum has been covered in the media:…More importantly, we raised a $50k Minimally Viable Product fund and saw 89 applications from teams of 2-3 students. This is evidence of a real pocket of interest, at a broader level than had previously been around.I’d encourage you to follow @startuptribe and track the hashtag #startuptribe to see the conversation, in real time. And if you’re back on campus, please join us on a Wednesday night at one of our student-driven meetups. We’d love to hear your story and continue this conversation.

        1. Nate Quigley

          bravo! just checked out Startup Tribe and love it. will follow, join, etc… and I’d love to take you up on the student meetup idea sometime this spring.Obviously I would love to be wrong about my “same thing will happen again” comment above. congrats on @startuptribe momentum and very best of luck as you advance the banner of entrepreneurship at HBS!

    2. Dave Pinsen

      You just got one more follower on Twitter.

    3. fredwilson

      a generous founder is planting the seeds of the startup economy

  20. Ron Zeligzon

    I agree with your hunch driven points.I think it is important to be highly intuitional throughout the startup life cycle.Throw ideas on the wall and see if they stick, if they don’t move on. I think as a CEO of any company, being overly data driven can be detrimental to any company.I can give you a classic example of extreme intuition with little to no rational, Steve Jobs. The iPhone, arguably the greatest handset to date.Why would anyone use a touchscreen keypad? I do believe numbers are important, but I think intuition holds the greatest success in a company’s longevity.Just my thoughts.

  21. Kayden Horwitz

    For an undergrad who’s being told that grad school doesn’t matter anymore, this is so good to hear, to know there’s a next step forum for learning and sharing the big picture that’s outside the startup itself.I usually review the tweet stream after a talk because I have such a rabbit-hole of an attention span. But it’s important because like Fred said, you can get more out of it just by looking at different perspectives of what’s being said. Also, I’ll usually use it as a good post-lecture recap for the sake of retention.

  22. Ido Salama

    Fred, I know how hard it is to get your attention through email – so consider this a 1 yr head start : ) I will be following up and requesting you do the same at MIT Sloan next year (where I will be a student starting in August).

    1. fredwilson

      maybe i can do sloan in the morning and HBS in the afternoon

  23. DHill

    Fred, this is fantastic. I loved the part about taking risk (which should also be global — go work in Brazil, Japan, China, Indonesia) and also about learning technology (hands-on). I double majored in Finance and IT in biz school (NYU Stern) and would say that most MBAs I know (including HBS alumni) are not sufficiently trained or exposed to technology at the basic level and most could not design a Web-based reporting system (?!!) A good way to start is to help design a digital e-commerce site’s wireframe. MBAs/biz leaders/entrepreneurs need to know how to communicate UI and product marketing to the programmers. One class in C++ programming should be required in all b-schools.Thanks for all that you do to support the entrepreneurial community. President Obama should be lucky to be briefed by you!

  24. Mike

    “Early in a startup, product decisions should be hunch driven. Later on, product decisions should be data driven.”Couldn’t agree more, but I’d change that to say that the goal of “lean” is to turn your hunches into data driven decisions as quickly as possible.

  25. mike gilfillan

    LEAN Start-ups?? VCs with tons of cash?? The two don’t mix!! (not well at least).Here is the headline on the “we’re hiring” page from one of Fred’s fabulous start-ups (StackOverflow, a great site BTW): HELP US SPEND ALL THAT VC MONEY!Once a company raises money, it becomes very difficult for the newly funded team (and especially the new hires) to say “no, that costs too much, we are going with the lesser known and scrappy vendor / equipment / hire, etc.” A successful founder/start-up needs TWO obsessions: Domain and Frugality.The founder needs to be able to look the VC in the eye and say “no, we are NOT going to spend money like there is always more around the corner”. And the VC needs to respect this scrappiness and not insist on top line growth at all costs.This is exactly why the dot.coms crashed the first time around (ie: Webvan & all their MBAs). Is there anything different this time around??

    1. Eric Kennedy

      Lean startups, even those with lots of VC, are different from 90s era startups because they have the discipline to test an idea first before scaling up. The typical problem with VC funded companies is that they can invest huge amounts of money in an idea that doesn’t have traction, and then it is hard for a 30+ person organization to pivot to a new idea.The initial idea for most startups is wrong (just read Founder’s Stories for proof), and the Lean Startup movement embraces that fact.I personally experienced the problems with traditional VC-funded startups at Jobster in 2004-2007. Jobster invested over $15 million of VC in an idea that was fundamental flawed (even LinkedIn’s version doesn’t work) and then couldn’t realign the company around job search even after buying a large job search site. In total, they raised $52.5 million and the company was sold off in pieces for a fraction of that.Glassdoor is proof that Jobster could have pivoted to a new idea because it was founded 5 months after Jobster started imploding. The Jobster and Glassdoor teams are equally talented, but if you spend too much time working on a flawed idea, it can be really hard to get a big team to start over.Since it’s so cheap to launch a company, many startups that are raising large Series A rounds have already proven out their idea prior to funding.

      1. mike gilfillan

        “…are different from 90s era startups because they have the discipline to test an idea first before scaling up.”I’m not so sure. There were many dotcoms back the ’90s that bombed exactly because of trying to scale a proven money-making model — it was a big race to see who could scale the fastest without worrying about the bottom line. Hell, the whole point of raising money (after the seed) is to go negative and scale quickly. The problem was that everyone was thinking a little too grand and didn’t have the legal standing to get out of a lot of ugly commitments (advertising, office space, development, etc) when the sh*t hit the fan. I saw this first hand when my competitors when bankrupt (Dice) and shut their doors (Techies). In their push for the grand slam, VCs are incented to push their entire portfolio to the brink of disaster.Sounds like you’ve been through the same ringer in ’04-’07 (years after the initial crash). Will the VCs and the new rash of founders be able to contain themselves this go around?

        1. Eric Kennedy

          It’s nice of Fred to admit that that VC and founders interests aren’t always aligned. A friend and former VC pointed out that if they like an idea, their goal is to get as much of the company as possible, diluting the founders. Both Facebook and Google had heard VC horror stories from close friends, and that’s why they have their strange board and share class structures.Most companies do take a lot more money than they need, and then ramp their expenses whether they can manage the spend or not. Since I experienced the first dot com boom as an intern in 96-2000, and then experienced a failure in 2004-2007, I was very careful to raise less than we could with my current startup so the VC remain minority investors. We even turned down a term sheet in mid-2008 that valued our company at 2x the value from our angel investors simply because the VC would only invest if he could have 25% of the company. Since our angels had pro rata investment rights, the total dilution to allow that VC to participate would be almost 50%. Instead, we just raised a second round (with 25% dilution) from our angels.

    2. fredwilson

      i don’t totally agreelean is great until you’ve nailed itthen you do need to scale uptumblr and twitter both learned this the hard way

      1. vruz

        it’s a traditional opportunity cost thing.I don’t know why many people see it as a special all-or-nothing case.

  26. vruz

    little typo: methology

  27. vruz

    isn’t the current frothiness in the market counterproductive for the lean startup approach?you know, it’s too tempting to have a big hammer in the drawer and not use it.

    1. fredwilson

      we talked about that in class. it is an issue

  28. sade1

    The business school community is becoming increasingly progressive in their approach. Lots of top business schools are doing interdisciplinary work. Or have programs that force technical grad students into projects with business school students. It’s great!

  29. Guest

    “Don’t do the obvious thing.”That’s relative to “outsiders.” Most founders think they are in fact doing the obvious thing.

    1. fredwilson


    2. Brett Krasnove

      I think if you’re considering doing the obvious thing, it behooves you to find out why it hasn’t worked before. Perhaps you will see a gap in prior approaches that you can address. But if it’s obvious, usually people have tried at different angles and haven’t been able to nake a business out of it.

  30. Boris Fowler

    If you are not technical, get product experience. Get your hands dirty and work with engineers.I like this one because it, to me, embodies a large problem with our education today. Business students learn general principles of business, and engineering students know nothing about business unless they learn it outside of the classroom. Shouldn’t we be crossing boarders and boundaries to have engineers who understand business and business men who understand the basics of engineering?Thoughts??

    1. sigmaalgebra

      You are talking about teaching, as in education.In a research university, engineering is supposed to be about research. So, the professors of engineering are researchers in engineering and not business. So, they teach engineering, maybe from their own research, and not business.”Follow the money”? At a research university, maybe 60% of the budget is grants for research, mostly from NSF, NIH, etc. The grants are tough to get, and nearly only quite serious researchers get them, and these guys don’t spend their time on ‘course development’ outside their fields. ‘Grants for teaching’? Mostly ROFL.At a research university, B-schools are pushed heavily by the rest of the university into doing ‘research’. Still, B-schools have somewhat more freedom to spend more effort on course development and teaching.At a research university, math, science, engineering, and usually even business want to avoid professional, career, or practical education.There can be a point to research: The most powerful stuff I know for business came from research, some of it not very old when I learned it, some of it I did.Think of research as a Super Bowl long pass to the end zone and not teaching junior high blocking and tackling.Also, do some arithmetic: Start with what a suitable professor should pull down per year, the number of classes they teach, and the number of students per class. Add in some overhead for the Lacrosse team, the library, the weekly string quartet concerts, the art museum, the deans, the bell tower, grass mowing, stained glass windows, campus wireless, etc. Then see what each student has to pay. “THAT much?!”.There are teaching colleges and junior colleges.I’m not saying that this is a good way or the only way, but it is the way it really is. So, before deciding to go to Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, NYU, Hopkins, Duke, Georgia Tech, Chicago, U. Texas, Stanford, Cal Tech, or Berkeley, remember that they are all research universities. So are another 1-3 dozen.

    2. Kyle Pearson

      Totally agree with you. Biz students don’t get any real crossover to the “builders” world, while the engineering students have no clue how to make money off of the awesome stuff they create (yes, both statements are generalizations). So yes, we need more collaboration across departments.

  31. knowledgenotebook

    I love every word in this blog! But please elaborate on “Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.”Thanks.

    1. fredwilson

      i’ve done that a couple time farther up in this thread

  32. Money Bags

    1. Harvard Business School: Tuition + Living Costs for 2 years + Opportunity cost (80k salary) = – 260k2. Be an entrepreneur and join or begin a start up! Another 2 years! Living Costs + Personal Investment + No Salary! = -200k3. “More than 9 out of 10 start ups fail…….”4. Resume= HBS-Failed Start Up- Zero Work experience5. GREAT! GO JOIN A START UP! Less competition for me to accept a cushy gig on Wall St!Thanks Fred Wilson! So inspiring!

    1. Dave W Baldwin

      It’s really a matter of someone wanting to change the world. By the way, the rise of the machine will make it where cushy opportunities on WS will diminish.

      1. Oil Trader

        Change the world? Excuse me I just threw up.Let’s be honest and acknowledge what it all boils down to which is $$$$. All this VC/entrepreneur/startup blogging is heading in the wrong direction.Too many phonies kissing each others asses and pretending they’re friends with everyone that has a twitter account. Shameless self promotion trying to brand their VC name disgusts me.Fred, if you want to drive talent to entrepreneurship. Tell us your net worth. How much you’ve personally cashed out on each investment.

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          Yes, the majority of the population want big dollar, no risk and quick. OTOH there are those that don’t kiss ass and use their name with their opinion so nothing is hidden.Does Fred think I’m a flake? Maybe. It doesn’t matter since the more people like Fred who share thoughts on a blog increases the number of those that will state the honest opinion and accept criticism and/or advice in a true open manner.And that is how we can truly change the world. Just have a back up plan to conquering WS.

          1. fredwilson

            i don’t think you are a “phonies kissing each others asses and pretending they’re friends with everyone that has a twitter account”i think oil trader is a bitter old man or a bitter young man

          2. Dave W Baldwin

            Thanks, and I’ll send what I promised. Had to take my dad to angiogram-triple stent then to the farm in NE MO for farm meeting stuff.Unfortunately, many will want to give up due to exhaustion leading to envy, which takes you down the road of the deadly sins.

        2. fredwilson

          when mark pincus and i met in 1994, we were both basically penniless.he is now worth 10x what i am worth

          1. Scamville

            Mark Pincus is estimated to be worth $850 million….Baller!

    2. Anonymous

      I’m an HBS student and founded a startup prior to bschool. I’m thinking of doing it again. The problem is, Money Bag’s logic is actually dead on (except for the resume part – I’m sure you’d find a way to recover). Moreover, a reasonably interesting gig in finance could let you put a couple million in the bank in 5-8 years. That nestegg (compounding over time) could cover retirement as well as health insurance and college tuition for your future family, *given* you live conservatively. Then you can start companies for the rest of your life, if its truly your passion. Please convince me otherwise. I want to be convinced.

      1. Ex Finance Guy

        Life is not an NPV of future cash flows. If happiness and satisfaction don’t play into your equation, then you might consider a new equation…

        1. fredwilson

          oh man, that is a fucking great quote. going up on right now.

      2. Eric Kennedy

        Most entrepreneurs simply aren’t happy unless they’re running their own company. (You’ll see that sentiment a lot in Founders at Work.)If you are like them, you won’t be happy in finance and will probably wish you had started a company out of HBS. But it will be a lot harder to quit a high paying job to launch a company than it would be to start working on an idea while you are still at HBS. If you succumb to “consumer therapy” and buy a house or car on credit to make up for being unfulfilled by your job, it will eat into your nest egg and make you feel more risk averse.The problem with the “deferred life plan” is that the high paying job that is suppose to fund your future passion always requires more years than expected and changes you in the process.

        1. mike gilfillan

          Well said.

      3. Kishin Manglani

        Regardless of how much money you have, you cannot buy time.Those 5-8 years will be wasted. I am a student and entrepreneur, and the one piece of advice I always get from the successful ones is start sooner.

    3. Mark Essel


  33. Nik Souris

    Great points in the post and the disqus, particularly on the evolving classroom experience- Live note taking- Non-disruptive sub-conversations amongst the participants- integrating commentary with video- End of class/session documentationDoes anyone know of any, as ShanaC called it “yammer for classroom” solutions?

    1. fredwilson

      i’d like to invest in this concept

  34. Dmo

    Fred, do you have any old blog posts or suggested articles on Lean Startup Methodology. I am a young reader and am not familiar with this term. Much appreciated

    1. Andrew Blechman

      Hi Dmo – I’m in the same boat and found Eric Ries’ blog helpful (http://www.startuplessonsle… as well as Steve Blank’s ( Enjoy the sites, they’re great resources for launching and sustaining a business.

      1. fredwilson

        thanks Andrew. Eric and Steve are the aces in this lean startup thing

      2. Dmo

        Thanks Andrew!!!

  35. Volnado

    Tweet streams for notes… school is getting so much easier

  36. paramendra

    If HBS has become an entrepreneur school, I say respect.

    1. Jareau Wade

      Well, there have been a few startups coming from recent HBS grads lately (e. g. Rent the Runway, Birch Box) and when I was visiting last week I of a few more current students starting up ventures. Great to see!

      1. paramendra

        I got to meet one Rent The Runway founder last year at a JP Morgan event. She was great.

  37. Dave W Baldwin

    Like what you report regarding HBS!There are a few comments regarding the different sides of Education (Business/Engineer)….you have to instill in the kids the benefit of not burning bridges and collaboration. If your friend who is the engineer can focus on that while you take care of the business hacks, more will be accomplished. At the same time, you have to communicate (not try to throw around impressive words) on what is working/not working which will truly meld the minds…

  38. awaldstein

    I’m late to this thread as I was on a plane without connectivity yesterday. Really a stimulating post.’Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.” is a key statement. If fact, channel and social should be native as well. Bolt ons rarely feel natural.Its all chicken and egg problems at their core.Someone asked me lately how my favorite biz model for wine, Naked Wines, found its first paying angels. I’m not certain but I bet it evolved naturally as both continued funding and marketing and sales for the model out of the initial investment.Naked BTW, is a cool and new model and worth a look if you are interested in models for wines and community. Check it out here “Naked Wines…a social approach to online wine markets that really works” @

    1. fredwilson

      will check it out arnold. thanks for the tip.

      1. awaldstein

        Another tip for the Jura wine lover….Hard to find wines from biodynamic producer Ganevat are @ Chambers Street Wines. Unusual. Interesting. Field blends, Trousseau and a Burgundian like Pinot Noir.

  39. Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    Hmmm, found this post sitting here in the comment window and not in the thread. ? When will technology just do as I command without the drudgery of clicking “post”! #iamanidiot #failIt is a great day in America everybody!So very good to read this…I have been very concerned about where education is going, though NYU is doing a cool thing with ITP and the Gallatin School.Glad to hear about innovation in B school education…hope it will trickle down to the masses. If only the elite schools offer these insights, we will continue to struggle to recover as a society.

  40. Ethan Anderson

    This is a great post, Fred. I’m an HBS grad and big fan (and supporter) of Tom Eisenmann. However, I’m not sure I agree that tweeting during class is a good thing. There have been many studies (including this report just issued by McKinsey & Co.) that humans just can’t multitask as well as we think we can. Information isn’t absorbed and we lose huge amounts of

    1. fredwilson

      i guess note taking in class is bad too?

      1. knowledgenotebook

        I would think not. It’s more of a question if a student is capable of effective note-taking. A little while ago a study indicates that most high achieving students take selective notes, that is, their notes are not copious but focusing on key points, and critical elements or terms and concepts that the student does not have a full grasp.With regard to tweeting in class, why not? If the subject matter is not demanding, that is, one mind is able to handle multiple small tasks simultaneously… however, this is different from McKinsey’s report on multi-tasking, which makes an overall assessment.

    2. fredwilson

      and whenever McKinsey reports on something i do the exact oppositegroupthink of the utmost and total garbage

  41. Laura Fitton

    Good stuff Fred, thanks very much for sharing, and kudos to Tom for having his class tweet. Tho we hashtagged and broke the “laptops down” rule in my spring 2009 HBS “Twitter for Business” lecture for @amcafee, the class was wildly amused by/uncomfortable with it at first because it was a big deal at the time. Glad profs are getting the value and it’s not *as* weird anymore.Warmly,Laura

    1. fredwilson

      the cool thing is everyone was tweeting on the phonewhich is where i tweet too

  42. Ken Jansen

    WOW. That sounds like an incredible experience to have been in that class.

  43. Nate Westheimer

    So glad you enjoyed yourself. I know @bussgang was looking forward to it.The only thing I’d change is this:”If you are not technical, get product experience. Get your hands dirty and work with engineers.”I’d change it to:”If you are not technical, learn to code SOMETHING. There’s not a single consumer product I use on a daily basis that was not built by its founder.”But I may be sounding like a broken record here…

    1. fredwilson

      i mentioned your story in class is an inspiration to me and hopefully all of them too

      1. Nate Westheimer

        shucks… :)how’s your coding coming along? whip anything up at music hack day?

  44. Edward

    Hi Fred, nice post! But I most intrigued by “If you are not technical, get product experience. Get your hands dirty and work with engineers”. Could you elaborate a little bit more on this please? I am exactly this kind of guy, albeit my effort in trying to learn coding!Thanks!

    1. fredwilson

      get a product management job in a startup that will allow you to work closely with the engineering team. and try to understand their craft and the tools they use to do it

      1. Edward

        Thanks a lot Fred!

  45. Mo Koyfman

    i love this post.simple, but profound points to keep in mind.those students got lucky 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      it was the excellent prep i got at Spark that morningsuper fun hang

  46. Trivedin

    Bit late to the party but I see encouraging signs of entrepreneurship at more B-schools, including where I study part-time at University of Chicago-Booth.Groupon investor and co-founder Brad Keywell actually ‘teaches’ a course at Booth on Technology startups and entrepreneurship and after sitting in one of his classes, I find tremendous value add of merging first-hand experience with theory on this topic.

  47. Jamie Lin

    The more difficult the problem is to solve, the harder it is for new competition to come in, once you’ve solved it.

  48. MyATM Holdings

    It’s so nice of you to share your experiences in HBS. I loved it!

  49. Clyde Smith

    “Domain expertise to the point of obsession is highly correlated with the most successful entrepeneurs in our portfolio.”I think that goes for content creators like myself as well.

  50. mkrigsman

    Wow, simply fantastic wisdom. Thanks so much for sharing!

  51. Mark Motive (

    HBS did produce Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg after all. So I’d say it is an entrepreneurial school.Video interview with Zuckerberg: http://www.planbeconomics.c

    1. fredwilson

      not HBS, harvard undergrad

  52. Allen Price

    “Get product experience”, “hunches come from power users”, and “domain expertise”: All suggest that B school isn’t the best (or at least the only) place to look for successful founders. In fact, that’s true. Over 2/3 of entrepreneurs seeking funding have at least 10 years of experience and over 40% had at least 15 years of experience (

  53. fredwilson

    yup, same thing

  54. Dave Pinsen

    Charlie,Sending you an e-mail about something.

  55. Matt A. Myers

    I agree, this is one of those nice reminder posts.. Most of the points resonated with me, but the following made me think BINGO!! and Super BINGO!!!- Ideas that most people derided as ridiculous have produced the best outcomes. Don’t do the obvious thing.- Monetization should be native and improve the experience for users.- If you have an idea that you can’t get out of your head, do a startup. Otherwise join a startup.