3 Entrepreneurial Skills You Won't Learn in Business School
Business school was great. I learned about a broad variety of topics I had never been exposed to before—accounting, finance, strategy, and marketing—all of which were very important in starting my own company, Bunndle.
But shortly after getting started, I realized there were a few things b-school didn’t cover that were really important to founding and running my business. Some of the skills I picked up along the way at previous jobs, but others, I only wish I had.
If you’re just getting started as an entrepreneur—whether or not you’re planning on b-school—here are a few things I recommend exploring.
1. How to Code
If you’re starting a technology company, odds are that you (or someone you hire) will need to build software. So, if you’re not technical, it wouldn’t hurt to get to know a little bit more about code.
One of the biggest jokes at Bunndle is how often I “break” the database. In my defense, it’s never really my choice to go into the database in the first place. But issues come up that need to be dealt with quickly, and sometimes our developers are swamped doing the important stuff. So, I learned a little MySQL, and I dive in now and then (trying not to break things, of course).
There were other times along the way when we needed to build mock-ups and a few simple web pages, but our development resources were tied up. The only thing I could do was to quickly learn Photoshop and some basic HTML, and pitch in. At one point, I even took a PHP programming class to understand the basics of our back end.
Beyond being able to help with the small tasks, I found that being able to use these tools helped me become better at knowing and defining the product. What’s more, knowing a little bit about the technology you use will help you communicate your business requirements more clearly, understand the limitations of the technology stack you’re using, and make better hiring decisions when bringing on developers.
If you’re interested in learning about code, there are a lot of resources available, including online tutorials, dedicated websites focused on a particular technology stack, and books that will help get you up to speed. Introductory courses are also available at local schools if you want a more in-depth review.
2. How to Sell
Although I took negotiation classes in school, where I learned about sales strategies and other textbook maneuvers, it wasn’t until I actually got out and started pounding the pavement for deals that I understood what it meant to sell. I was cold calling, sending out blind emails, pitching to customers, and getting rejected left and right. I realized early on that selling isn’t for the faint of heart.
Despite all of this, learning how to sell gave me vast amounts of information about our customers, our product shortfalls, and what people would pay for. And that’s really the key to any business: You must know how to make money—and the sooner you can figure that out, the better. Selling also keeps you close to your customers and allows you to adjust your business model to the changing demands of the market.
The best way to learn sales is simply to call on a customer and start pitching. If you don’t have anything to sell yet, try selling someone else’s product. The experience from both the successful and failed attempts will give you invaluable information about what you need to develop in your pitch.
3. How to Hire
More specifically, learn how to recruit. There are no classes for this—it is almost an art form, really. But hiring is the most important thing you will do as a founder, and getting this right is absolutely imperative.
What I learned about recruiting is that it’s a lot like sales. You are pitching your company to people and want them to invest their time and faith in you. You need to be able to find these people, target and qualify them as a cultural fit, and then be able to close them. This is easier said than done in a competitive hiring market. But investing time and effort into understanding the recruiting process will help speed things up.
Like sales, the easiest way to understand recruiting is to jump in and get started. You have to talk to as many candidates as possible and refine your pitch. You will need to discover where these candidates are and what will get them excited about working with you. Along the way, you will discover a process that works for you and develop your own personal style.
As founders, sometimes we think that all we have to do is come up with an idea and hire a few people, and everything gets done. Maybe that happens—some of the time. And you should certainly try to bring in experienced people in each of the areas above to help you when you can.
But being familiar with code, sales, and hiring will help you see the bigger picture. You become a better visionary and understand more of the levers that move your business. You become a better operator; more efficient at getting the business to run and making the right decisions.
And maybe you missed classes on these topics in school, but on-the-job-training can be the best form of education. Get smart about them upfront, and don’t leave it all to the pros. It will take you a long way.
Photo of woman at work courtesy of Shutterstock.
About The Author
Maxine is the founder and CEO of Bunndle. Prior to Bunndle, Maxine led business development and user acquisition efforts for Xobni and served as VP of Business Development at Viximo. Maxine has also held business development and operations roles at Yahoo! and Mochi Media, driving distribution and revenue. In her former life, she was a manufacturing engineer at Intel and KLA-Tencor. Maxine has an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a bachelor's degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from San Jose State University.