My Entrepreneurial Awakening as a “Student” in Harvard Business School’s Endeavor Program
I recently became a student again - and it felt fantastic. Maybe because the school was Harvard. But maybe also because the other “students” were a special group of select entrepreneurs from around the globe, tasked with exploring ways to scale their businesses beyond their countries of origin.
In 2017, Jobsity was singled out in the global Endeavor Program for innovative entrepreneurship. This landed me an invitation to Harvard for an immersive learning experience with other Endeavor entrepreneurs.
My experience at HBS has been a point of inflection in my great adventure as an entrepreneur, and it’s too interesting a process not to share. I want to tell you a little bit about how it was to return to being a student and live in “dorms” surrounded by people that are changing their environments with simple ideas, but big visions.
It was an intimate and personal time that I shared with colleagues addressing problems, exchanging ideas, finding synergies, and enjoying the diversity of thought among these successful entrepreneurial leaders.
In terms of the intersection between academics and business, you can’t get better than Harvard. Their famous case study methodology is some of the best documentation of business practices and strategies and, of course, its professors are world renowned.
The Endeavor Program exceeded my expectations: the materials we used and the environment created melded together for an unforgettable, truly impactful experience.
So, who are the Endeavor entrepreneurs?
If you’ve heard of the Endeavor Program, you might think, “small startups that need a boost”. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Two of my entrepreneur peers’ businesses at Endeavor are valued at more than 1 billion USD, and many surpass 50 million. Other companies represented there are sub-companies of large corporations as well.
Needless to say, Endeavor not for small players - it’s for ambitious, smart entrepreneurs who want to scale and generate impact. For example, a successful local tourism company that dreams of dominating the entire region could be part of Endeavor to work on scaling a regional business model. The leaders of such a company would benefit greatly from being part of Endeavor.
Endeavor is a platform for entrepreneurs to meet people and make the necessary contacts to expand, carefully analyzing the market and considering the economic models that fit the reality of their companies.
Diversity is king.
Diversity fuels creativity. Harvard knows this, and this year they outdid themselves. When I arrived, I met 45 people from more than 17 countries. They put us in different groups based on our backgrounds and experience, everything minutely calculated for the groups to be as diverse and productive as possible. And we were able to accomplish a great deal because of the richness of our cultural and thought diversity.
Every morning our group met in our “social space” to discuss the case studies from the day before and troubleshoot shared challenges in our own companies. The spaces were great: nothing distracting, just a whiteboard, some markers and a few other materials to spark ideas. It was a fantastic opportunity to bounce new ideas off each other and prepare for the days’ events.
It may have been surreal to learn about my peers’ sales strategies in a dorm room, but the uniquely intimate environment really made everything flow toward learning, networking and, ultimately, identifying business solutions.
I can’t stress enough the importance of the diversity factor in this program. Any retreat can give you a room with a whiteboard. The difference was that here, we were in groups of entrepreneurs from all over the world, working across borders to open opportunities in new markets.
Each person I met through the program is having a tremendous impact, not only for their company, but on a larger scale, affecting the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.
For example, a business leader I met had been granted dozens of millions of dollars in financing (through the Endeavor network) to replicate his company’s model throughout the African continent. It just goes to show the power of the Endeavor network; the members are leveraging it to transcend what anyone thought they were capable of.
Sometimes, we business owners can get really isolated, only thinking about the immediate problems we’re facing, bogged down in our own strategy. Endeavor gave us a chance to take a open up and glean expertise from the businesses around the world with the same challenges and dreams. The people that form those businesses are powerful change-makers, an important group of international friends to share struggles and common goals.
New business opportunities emerge.
Endeavor is also a place to make deals. I was surprised that the participants, speakers, and professors were so open to making new business opportunities a reality on the spot. Trainings and classroom discussions often ended in deals that united projects. I found myself doing the same: coming up with new initiatives with entrepreneur peers.
After this program, I see my company with new eyes. I’ve been able to identify our role in this huge market, answering the big question: why do we exist? Just finding the answer to this question is helping us exceed the performance of our competition, making me think in a different way. Now I have to follow in the footsteps of other entrepreneurs to see if my theory is right and if we’re able to scale. Make mistakes quickly and correct them quickly, as Robert Wessmen from Alvogen said.
You might say that there are plenty of ways to meet other business owners around the world, but the Endeavor Program gave me an experience so well thought-out and structured that we left this 7-day (12 hours a day!) with new knowledge and connections that will last a lifetime.
The Harvard methodology
In my MBA, many of my professors used HBS case studies - the Endeavor Program gave them a fresh look. The professors themselves are successful entrepreneurs: Shikhar Ghosh, for example, was one of the creators of the technologies that now maintain the internet, named one of the “Masters of the Internet Universe” in Forbes alongside Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
But the experience doesn’t stop there. The professors are the same people that wrote the case studies, did the research and interviewed the entrepreneurs. Normally, they are consultants for other entrepreneurs, helping them to address the most complex problems through feedback in Executive Courses and research with the students of the MBA program.
In half of the case studies we worked on, the entrepreneur highlighted in the study was sitting right in the class with us, responding to our questions and comments. Having access to these people is a truly unique experience. It’s a simple concept: being in the same room, but a powerful one.
Then, there are the facilities themselves. The classrooms are designed with eight interchangeable boards and three projectors - the professors manage incredible tools to make each lecture as interactive as possible. Their enthusiasm exceeds that of a millenial! They run, jump, pacing from one side of the room to the other, and playing devil’s advocate like I’ve never seen (and I lived in New York for 12 years!). When the lectures ended, the learning didn’t. During lunch, they set up group discussions and at each dinner a different special guest was invited to give a presentation.
Inspiration demands action after an experience like this. The great lesson I take with me from HBS and the Endeavor Program is that there are many ways to analyze your model and how to scale.
At Jobsity, we’ve done some preliminary exercises and found incredible inefficiencies that none of the players in our industry are fixing. Now we’re interviewing employees, former employees and clients to find the reason for these inefficiencies and discover new ones.
The entire experience was an epiphany. I am a changed entrepreneur, ready to dream big and scale the operation of my business. The Harvard-Endeavor partnership is enabling entrepreneurs like me to recognize the path that will turn their big visions into reality.
I’ll leave you with a few phrases from lectures and discussions that stayed with me:
Hope is not a strategy.
Remember, don’t run out of cash.
If dreaming big costs the same as dreaming small, why would you dream small?
The CEO is the Chief Hiring Officer of the next level executives.
If you want to be a great CEO, a great parent, a great sibling, a great partner, great at everything, you cannot have it all. You have to decide to be your best to what is more important to you, knowing that you will not be your best in everything else. But once you decide, just relax and execute.