Nailing down your MBA could help give you the business savvy you need to launch your startup or rise in the ranks of your current company. But not having that celebrated diploma hanging on your office wall doesn’t mean you can’t find your path to success.
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CNBC reported on research from Wealth-X which found that only 13 percent of today’s global billionaires have an MBA. That’s not all: Only 30 percent of those billionaires have a bachelor’s degree. Those statistics indicate there is something else at play for these billionaires besides a formal education.
I have found this to be true for my own life. While I am certainly not a billionaire, I am a college dropout, and everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned by execution. It's paid off: By the time my friends were out of school, I was already earning six figures and had four different investments making money for me. While those buddies were in college, I hustled; and by age 23, my income was already $140,000. By the time I was 25, my company had passed $1 million in revenue.
So, the message here is that there’s no right path to success, but there is more to learn in business than lessons on strategic differentiation. If you’re waiting to step into a role as a great business leader, with an MBA in hand, you could be taking a detour to success. Instead, focus on some of the leadership lessons you can acquire right now. Here are four leadership lessons you won’t learn in business school.
1. Scale slowly and organically.
Jeff Haynie, writing for Recode, nailed it when he described how impossible it is to scale quickly as a startup: "You need a lot of things," he wrote, "to make scaling fast work that are inherently a mismatch at a startup, including well-defined processes and people that work well with and know those processes well."
In other words, a strict structure isn't exactly the hallmark of a startup. Nor is a strict structure a priority for most small businesses looking to launch into a cycle of rapid growth.
Instead, start scaling by automating your business processes first; for example, create training videos to onboard new hires quickly. Then, use that time you’ve earned, putting it back into your workweek, to focus on more client-relationship building, and organically add services and new clients.
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The time to scale is when you have revenue in place to sustain the growth. Scale too fast without a solid process and revenue model in place, and your business will topple like a house of cards built too quickly.
2. Get ready to sacrifice.
In theory, anyone familiar with hard work and growing with a company knows that sacrifice is required to realize success. The reality of what those late nights in the office and missed moments with your family really means only starts to sink in long after you’ve gotten your MBA.
Take some comfort in knowing that you’ll at least be in good company as you’re figuring out what you’ll need to sacrifice. Success interviewed accomplished entrepreneurs, including Barbara Corcoran, about their sacrifices. Corcoran described how she took a full-time job and left her company in the hands of a partner while she paid down her looming six-figure debt.
While her bosses loved her, she said, she hated being an employee. Yet, in the end, she recognized that swallowing her pride and making the sacrifice was a good move and helped save her company.
Be prepared to make your own sacrifices to capture the success you’re looking for. That might mean sacrifices, like Corcoran's, of working for someone else or moving back in with your parents — as 30 percent of today’s millennials are doing. Just remember that these sacrifices are temporary, and can make your success more satisfying in the long run.
3. Diversify early and often.
Business school might tell you to monetize early, but that doesn’t always mean what you might think. For example, instead of focusing strictly on trying to turn your freemium SaaS project into a premium model, think about your income stream with the big picture in mind.
As a SaaS developer, you could offer consulting on the side, create a coding course for your peers or get paid to speak on the future of the SaaS industry.
The point is, diversify early and often. Recognize that you may need to launch side gigs just to make ends meet to get your business up and running — because unfortunately, securing funding isn’t always a reality for business owners and entrepreneurs. But using your income streams to bootstrap your business is within your control.
As a 23-year-old, I worked hard to diversify and increase my revenue through investments and by bootstrapping my successes. I invested in stocks, a commercial apartment complex and five startups (one of which tripled my investment).
There’s no reason why you can’t do the same. For example, today’s investors can crowdfund their way to a robust commercial real estate investment with a service like RealtyMogul for just a few thousand dollars down. The income streams you develop now could end up opening the door to a new business in real estate or a position as a silent partner in a startup that you never considered before.
4. Practice gratitude.
Turning gratitude into a daily practice isn’t on the radar of enough of today’s business leaders, despite the immeasurable professional and personal benefits. But, according to Psychology Today, gratitude opens the door to more relationships. I’ve discovered that relationship-building is a big factor in success, and so make a habit of helping others, as a way to network and forge more personal connections.
Gratitude also improves your overall psychological mindset. This can be crucial for entrepreneurs and business leaders who all too often suffer from depression and chronic stress in silence. Entrepreneurship and growing a business is not for the faint of heart, and we could all use more gratitude to help us remember why we were optimistic enough to jump into this arena in the first place.
Then, what I personally love about gratitude is how it anchors you to the present to fully embrace and benefit from each experience. It's like that new business inspiration that popped into your head when you were paying close attention to a speaker at a conference. It helps you gain a foothold on the work-life balance we all need in our lives.
So . . . an MBA? A diploma can be beneficial for someone who needs a solid understanding of business principles and making new connections. But earning one doesn’t necessarily turn you into a great leader.
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Instead, you can reach out to mentors in your industry to help guide you through the process, and seek out people who know more than you and have been there before. At the end of the day, true leaders surround themselves with the talent that can help drive them forward. That's not something you can do in a bubble, because a bubble will only put you on the slow route to success.