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Learning Series: startup or MBA?

Pankaj Sharma
Pankaj Sharma
// // Founding and running a startup can teach you more than an MBA course, and set you up professionally, argues Pankaj Sharma...

In a world where traditional educational paths have long been revered, the allure of an MBA from a prestigious institution has traditionally held a special place. However, there is a growing sentiment among aspiring entrepreneurs that starting a startup can provide a richer, more transformative learning experience than pursuing a conventional MBA. This shift in perspective is not without merit. Let’s delve into why embarking on the entrepreneurial journey can be the ultimate educator.

Learning through Mistakes

Though no one likes to make them, one of the best ways to learn is through your own mistakes. While MBA programs offer case studies and theoretical knowledge (including other people’s mistakes), they can fall short when it comes to real-world applicability. In a startup, each decision is a potential turning point. Successes are celebrated, but it’s the failures that become the most potent teachers. These failures are not just academic exercises; they have tangible consequences. This firsthand experience of the repercussions of one’s actions can be a powerful catalyst for personal and professional growth.

Embracing Challenges

The challenges that come with building a startup are diverse and unrelenting. From securing funding to developing a marketable product, founders are constantly pushed outside their comfort zones. In contrast, MBA programs provide a structured environment with defined syllabi and deadlines. There are few unknowns. It’s all laid out in front of you. While this structure can be reassuring, it often lacks the dynamism, danger and unpredictability of the real business world. Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, forces founders to adapt, innovate, and persevere in face of adversity. It’s these challenges that forge resilient and resourceful leaders. The ones that win through in the end.

Real-Life Experience

An MBA program may teach you about business concepts and management theories, but it’s no substitute for real-life experiences. In a startup, you’re not just an observer, you’re in the driver’s seat, making critical decisions that directly impact the company’s fate. This practical exposure provides invaluable insights that go beyond textbooks and lectures. It fosters a deep understanding of market dynamics, customer behaviour, and the intricacies of running a business. There’s nothing like the real, actual crunch of a cashflow crisis to teach you the difference between cash and accruals accounting.

Personal Growth

The benefits of entrepreneurship extend beyond the realm of business. The personal growth that accompanies the entrepreneurial journey is immeasurable. Founders learn how to manage stress, develop resilience, cultivate a growth mindset, build and work with a team. They also discover their strengths and weaknesses, enabling them to refine their skills and work on areas that need improvement. This self-awareness and personal development are often the most transformative aspects of starting a startup. Startups that don’t ultimately work will teach the founder so much, they will be a better future business leader, including in another startup, if they want to try again.

While an MBA has its merits, starting a startup offers a unique and profound learning opportunity. It’s a crash course in real-world business, where mistakes are the stepping stones to success, challenges are the catalysts for growth, and experience is the best teacher. Beyond business acumen, it fosters personal development, resilience, and adaptability. So, if you’re contemplating your educational path, consider whether the school of hard knocks and the entrepreneurial journey might be the ultimate classroom for your growth and success.


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Pankaj Sharma

Pankaj Sharma

Co-founder, former co-founder Toast My Curry, and couple of other startups, Pankaj is passionate about anything to do with startup life. With more than 20+ years in media, advertising and communication, Pankaj enjoys merging his passion of media and startup here at Startup News… apart from travelling around the world.
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