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5 Things I Learned From Starting A Startup, Not From My MBA

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“A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model”. – Steve Blank

By Maria Brilaki (Founder, Fitness Reloaded)

I am a Stanford Engineering grad and getting my master’s degree in business this month. Reflecting back on what I learned in getting the MBA, I realize that the knowledge I got is not particularly useful to me as a startup founder. There is a good reason for that.

As Steve Blank says, a startup does not really know what its product is, or who its customers are. An MBA degree helps people manage companies that already know what they are doing. They already have products that people buy, and they already know who their customers are.

Even though some knowledge from the MBA is transferrable to the startup environment, most of it is just not relevant, as the MBA is made for managing established companies, not startups.

Apart from working on the MBA, I was also running my own website on the side, Fitness Reloaded, where I still teach people how to create healthy habits while feeling good about that. I also wrote a book that is published on Amazon.

The knowledge I got from my startup is very different to the one I gleaned from getting my MBA. Today, I’ll focus on…

Here are 5 things I didn’t learn from business school, but learned through my startup:

  1. Customer analysis.In busines school, every case or exercise has customer analysis as a given fact. You may already know what their buying criteria are, or you may have enough information to understand what they care about.

    In a startup, you need to get this knowledge on your own. There are no facts – you need to go out there and find them.

  2. Pitching customers.
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    In my startup, I had to constantly persuade people why my site was different than other fitness sites, etc. Selling is the most useful skill for every entrepreneur.

    In business school, this is not something I practiced at all. There is no selling class – even though I think it would be really fun to get real or imaginary products and then try to persuade everyone else to buy them.

  4. Making stuff.
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    In a startup, you have to make stuff happen. I had to shoot videos, build websites, create mobile applications. I wrote a book. I was the one deciding the scope of each project, and I was the one following through until the project was completed.

    In business school, I had to do projects and assignments. I was not really making stuff. I was just following instructions.

  6. Creativity.
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    In a startup, you have to be creative. It’s a must. You need to iterate fast. You need to come up with new ideas to help your company grow on a daily basis.

    In business school, you can get good grades without making good use of your creativity.

  8. Writing effective emails.
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    Every entrepreneur knows how important writing emails is. How do you approach the media? How do you talk to mentors? How do you network with people using email?

    I am still figuring this out. Oh, and there was no business school class about this.


The fundamental difference between the knowledge I got from business school and my startup is uncertainty.

In business school, there is no uncertainty. You get a syllabus at the start of each class, and you know what to expect. If you are not sure about something, you can ask questions.

In a startup, there is no syllabus. There is no particular person that can answer your questions. You have to make it all up as you go. And I guess…that’s what makes things interesting, don’t you think?

I don’t want to imply that getting an MBA is not useful. It is. It is just that the knowledge it provides is better suited for established companies, rather than startups. At least that was my experience. What about yours?

Women 2.0 readers: Have you learned something in business school that you don’t think could be learned on the job at a startup? Let us know in the comments.

About the guest blogger: Maria Brilaki is the Founder of Fitness Reloaded. She helps people get results that stick in way that feels good. She is the author of “Surprisingly… Unstuck”, the bible of creating healthy habits. She is passionate to help people who wish they exercised more but don’t, do just that, through her web-service “Exercise Bliss”.