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B-School: Becoming an entrepreneur while studying an MBA

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Vishnu Chundi, co-Founder and CEO at AssetVault, shares his MBA journey. From starting his own fintech to paying off his student loan in 3 years, this is his inspiring story and advice for budding entrepreneurs. 

I did my full-time MBA at London Business School during 2015-2017 and took out a Prodigy Finance loan for both years, covering my tuition only. I repaid my entire student loan within 3 years of graduation, and started a fintech company backed by Techstars London, while studying my MBA.

My company, AssetVault is a multi-award winning fintech based out of London. Since 2016, AssetVault has been associated with several of the world’s leading fintech accelerators and innovation programmes including SXSW Fintech Finalist, UBS Future of Finance, Munich Re Mundi Lab, Accenture Fintech Lab, and PwC Scale Lab.

Prior to B-School, I worked at the UK’s first fintech unicorn as a product manager and before that was with Bain and Company, India. I studied electronics engineering and physics at BITS-Pilani, India and read nanotechnology at Cambridge University.

In this blog, I’ll share advice on how and why you should pursue entrepreneurship opportunities during B-School.

Starting-up while studying my MBA

During the third term of my first year, my co-founder, Farid, and I started AssetVault. We raised our first round of funding from Techstars London. My summer internship was with AssetVault in London and fortunately, the Techstars programme coincided with the summer break. So it was a fantastic entrepreneurial experience / opportunity. One of the most effective ways of trying out entrepreneurship is to actually do it. It is hard to grasp these concepts theoretically.

My primary reason for doing the LBS MBA was to become a founder. To be perfectly honest, I believed there was a 60% chance that I could actually accomplish that during the two-year programme at LBS. 

Screenshot from my essay

Let me get the most frequently asked question out of the way: “Do you need an MBA to become an entrepreneur?”

The short-term answer is “No”, but in the long-term it certainly helps.

Here’s my advice on taking the plunge:

  • The MBA is a platform to stretch yourself and create a new work identity
  • You can take some daring shots in your first year and have the second year to recover/pivot if your experiments fail (or if you discover that the chosen path is not for you)
  • You are a full-time student probably for the last time in your life. As you have work experience, you already know what you do not like work-wise, and you’re aware of your skills and knowledge gaps.
  • I realised that I would regret significantly if I did not give entrepreneurship a go during such a ‘safe zone’ where there are tons of resources to help you on this path (Incubator, Institute of Entrepreneurship, Clubs, London incubators)
  • Opportunity cost would only increase in the future with more responsibilities
  • Insurance policy of a top-tier MBA degree to land a job in case I failed. Strangely, I discovered that cultivating the entrepreneurial muscles makes you more attractive to prospective employers especially technology companies that need people that are ‘value creators’ with little or no resources (which is the essence of entrepreneurship)
  • Succumbing to peer pressure and chasing the ‘hot jobs’ is one of the most common ways of racking up regret points. It is very important to me to live a life without regrets

For more advice, check out this LBS video where I provide tips for aspiring entrepreneurs.

Growing desire among students to start-up while in school

The percentage of students actually starting-up during their MBA programme (1-5%) is low compared to the ones that express an interest at the beginning of the programme. About 60 out of 400 people wanted to start-up companies in my class, but approximately 5 actually achieved this.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Entrepreneurship is perceived to be risky and it is risky
  • Student loans and accumulating interest – nobody wants to default
  • Chasing popular jobs due to peer pressure
  • Lack of sufficient tuition waivers or scholarships for entrepreneurially-minded students

The MBA Diversity Paradox

Even though the top schools boast a lot of diversity in terms of nationality, gender, geography, industry and functional experience of students prior to the MBA, the story post-MBA becomes much more predictable. A large majority of graduates end up in consulting, technology and finance. Most students also switch jobs within two years of graduating. We can read a few things into this: perhaps mob mentality led to the first job or graduates realised that this industry is not for them.

Taking calculated career risks

One of the biggest deterrents of taking career risks is the lack of a strong financial foundation. There’s not enough personal runway to dip your toes in new avenues and break free from the proverbial golden handcuffs. Assuming you do not have family wealth or a full-ride scholarship that covers living expenses, doing an MBA from a top 20 school is expensive and requires considerable planning.

If you want to start your own company while studying your MBA, you’ll need to plan for even more scenarios – including managing your student finances. For advice on how to pay off your student loan while pursuing entrepreneurship, read my blog for strategies that helped me get out of student debt in 3 years.

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