If you’ve ever wondered what Twitter, Zynga, Foursquare, and Tumblr all have in common besides being massively successful consumer internet companies, look no further than Union Square Ventures. USV put early money in all four companies and is considered one of the top funds on either coast. I sat down with their co-founder and partner, Fred Wilson, who is known for not only picking great companies, but also for his blog AVC, which discusses entrepreneurship, VCs, and the startup world.go The focus of our talk was entrepreneurship from an MBA’s perspective.
Does business school make sense for people interested in startups and entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes and there’s no reason why people can’t come out of business school and start great companies. The teams that started Bump came out of Chicago’s Booth was incubated in Y Combinator and funded by Sequoia. I can tell you a dozen other stories of MBAs launching successful startups. So, there’s no reason why you can’t come out of business school and do a startup. I think that MBAs can make great entrepreneurs so I don’t think that there’s a positive or negative to it. There are lots of paths to becoming an entrepreneur; you just need to find the right one for you.
Are there any pitfalls you see MBAs consistently make when working on a startup?
Yes, I call it analysis paralysis. I think it’s a problem for MBAs, particularly those from more financially-centric business schools. Schools have the idea that their best and brightest will all go on to Wall Street or consulting so they have a really rigorous analytical curriculum and the reality is that doing a startup is a lot of gut instinct in the beginning. It doesn’t have a lot to do with analysis and I think a lot of people get paralyzed by analysis. I’ve found it is better to just jump in there and build something the market wants and take it from there.
Where would you suggest a person work if they don’t want to start something directly from business school, but are still interested in being an entrepreneur some time in the future?
I would suggest working at either a really well run big technology company like Google or a rapidly growing startup. If you’re going to take the startup route, look for a company that has already gotten traction. You want to work somewhere you can learn and grow as an executive. Try to find exciting places that has 50 people today, but will have 500 people two years from now. Tumblr could be that company, we’ll see.
One of the big trends in the tech community these days is being product-centric. Are we seeing a shift from CEOs spending time in multiple areas of their business to focusing all their time on their products?
There are a number of very product-centric CEOs, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Pincus come to mind. They tend to delegate large pieces of the rest of the business to other people and just stay very engaged with the product and I think that’s a very effective model. Not every CEO has that DNA in them. If you’re not obsessive and passionate about your product it may be the wrong choice to make as a CEO, but for those CEOs that are very product-centric it’s a great way to run your business.
Is that something you look for?
It really depends. Each CEO has to be deeply engaged in the parts of the company that matter the most and for many companies that’s the product. They need to delegate because they can’t do everything.
You’ve been blogging since 2003 and have developed a large following in the startup and entrepreneurship crowd. Do you see blogging as a necessary tool for professionals to establish credibility in their field?
Blogging is really hard. 9 out of 10 people who start a blog give it up after 1-3 months. There are some people like me who fall in love with it and can incorporate it into their work and life and for those people it’s a fantastic thing to do. It’s not a reasonable suggestion that everyone have a blog. Twitter’s a different story, anyone can be on Twitter. You can always retweet a message you see or occasionally post a message or link. If you’re serious about using social media in the furtherance of your business interests then you should be on Twitter, but blogging is a whole different story, you have to love it to make it work.
If you haven’t signed up for twitter yet, you may want to give it a try at https://twitter.com/signup. Any feedback or comments can be sent to me at @yofrez and if you’re interested in entrepreneurship or startups check out Fred’s blog at www.AVC.com