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September 08, 2009

Serving as an Entrepreneur in Residence at HBS

When I was at Harvard Business School (HBS) in the early 1990s, entrepreneurship was an afterthought.  When I joined the venture-backed Internet start-up Open Market in the spring of 1995, I was one of only a handful of graduates that joined a start-up out of business school (at a fraction of the salary of my classmates, I might add!)

Today, the entrepreneurship department is the largest department at HBS.  Students aren't just joining start-ups, they're creating start-ups.  The annual business plan contest is a huge draw and it is estimated that as many as 40-50 start-ups are created each year by students coming out of the school.  Today, 50% of all HBS alumni describe themselves as entrepreneurs 10-15 years after graduation.

I always love my visits back on campus, interacting with the students, judging business plan contests and hearing about the latest faculty research.  That's why, when one of my former professors invited me to join HBS as an "Entrepreneur in Residence" at HBS, I eagerly agreed.  It's a very part-time gig and will not take away from my day job in any way, but instead will give me a chance to learn from all the brilliant faculty and students running around campus.

I will be working, in particular, with Noam Wasserman, who runs a great course and blog about "Founder's Dilemma".  Noam's research in choices founders make and his very popular course will be a great learning environment for me as well.

So if folks have any answers to the question, "What would I advise HBS students who want to become entrperneurs", let it 'er rip!


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Co-founded a social venture (Gumball Capital) and would have to say you've got to have passion for your work because it's going to start off being very unglamorous. There's got to be something fundamental about what you are doing that energizes you. Find a co founder who you respect, get along with, shares your values of how to run an organization, and complements your skills.

Tell the entrepreneurs that money/wealth is a bi-product of pursuing a passion for a large goal that contributes to society (in many forms).http://bit.ly/6MTdR

Then explain that entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship are the same thing with the same disciplines and just a different model for cash distributions.

Great lessons. When I talk to great entrepreneurs, it's never about the money. Always about passion and change the world visions.

I think the biggest impact you could have, especially in b-school, is to convince as many of them to pursue entrepreneurial career. Venture business just doesn't quite get there, esp. right after b-school.

I just graduated from HBS this past June, so not quite real-time perspective but close.

1. Non-linear path. HBS cases are all "approved" by the company/person in question. 99% of the time, they show a very clean, linear path to entrepreneurship. Failures are rarely plumbed in any real depth.

2. Failures. About 75% of the cases I read are about successes. All the entrepreneurs I know well say that failure is intimately linked with success in their career trajectory. HBS kids are hardwired not to fail. We fear failure like a pox. I think this requires a fundamental shift in how we think about failures. Professors/EIRs can help facilitate this change.

3. Misc random advice. Use your summer internship to work at a startup where you can work very closely with the co-founder/entrepreneur. You're in a unique position where you understand the needs of your portfolio companies. Link them with your students. Sponsor field studies for groups of students to work with your startups. Encourage your entrepreneurs to post internships with the Rock Center.

Personal note. Please encourage more women and minorities to pursue this path. As a member of both, I often found myself in a room full of white men, even at HBS.

And thanks.

Jeff, congratulations on the new, "extra" job. One more thing to fit into your busy schedule!! As for the advice to give the students, at a Sloan (sorry) event hosted by Polaris (again, sorry) this subject came up. The brief advice I gave is here: http://bit.ly/bCzBA Not sure you'll agree with it for everyone, but for many people I think a stint in Product Management and/or Bus Dev at a large, well run company is one important ingredient for success.

I agree, Des. It's how I started my career - as a product manager at Open Market writing requirements documents and trying to ship product. Great experience for sure for any young aspiring entrepreneur.

Have the students read Blank's 4 Steps to Epiphany and Ries Lessons Learned Blog and they'll have a good entrepreneurial foundation.

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.



Thanks for this great feedback, Joanne. Your point about failures is
well-taken. My former colleague, Shikhar Ghosh, is working in this area.
You might want to chat with him or follow his work in more detail.

That's great news, Jeff. I enjoyed your commentary when you sat in on Noam's class this past spring and only wish you had been around for the full term! The course is a great one - in less than a year it's become a "must take" for aspiring entrepreneurs at HBS. I was honored to be a student in the class's debut term, and I credit the course for playing a big part in my decision to pursue my own start-up venture out of school. I'm sure the HBS '10-ers will benefit from your insights and experience in the year to come.

As far as advice, I'm only one summer into my pre-launch, pre-revenue venture, so I don't claim to be an expert, but I'd encourage students to think about their career decisions in terms of their personal and professional growth. Regardless or whether my venture fails or succeeds (and I'm working tirelessly to maximize the likelihood of the latter outcome), I have no doubt I'll learn more over the next 6, 12, 18, etc. months than I would in any alternative career path out of school. Whether the next stage of my career takes me to another start-up, venture capital, or to a larger company, I think this experience will be unparalleled.

Thanks, Alex. I used to call that "Internet time" but it's really "start-up" time. Kind of like dog years!


Jim Yang ('95A) here...Korea Study Trip? I echo Joanne's comments above - would like to focus more minorities into non-traditional career paths. I founded a boutique investment bank focused on assisting ethnic businesses. Would love to catch up and trade notes.

Thanks, Jim and great to hear from you! Our travels in Seoul feel like a lifetime ago but I still have fond memories.

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

Hi Jeff, I came across your blog when searching for entrepreneur in residence. I have a few ideas for existing products, but I don't know where to start. I am 23 now and when I was 14 I told Crest about an idea of mine and because it wasn't patented they took it. 2 years later I saw my product on a crest commercial! I don't have $10,000 to patent anything so I was thinking about selling my idea? Since you are an entrepreneur I am hoping you can guide me in the right direction on what companies would buy an idea or help finance it if I decided to start a company up of my own. It would be deeply appreciated if you could help me out and give me some kind of advice.


Well, who would have thought you'd be where you are now? Life definitely has unexpected twists and turns. When you come to think of it, the time you spent in business school was somehow a subliminal headstart. That start-up business school certainly took you to greater heights.

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