Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Periodically the big ideas from this blog need to be updated. This post is about a DIY Education or a Do-It-Yourself MBA. This post could be 100% wrong.

The signaling effect of an MBA is so strong that a friend told me that the correct lingo isn’t The University of Chicago MBA but rather Booth MBA.

Yet, the first principle of attending Wharton, Booth, Haas, or HBS is to learn something – and then keep learning somethings. The DIY or eXperimental approach shows up enough in interviews that it’s worth pointing out that the University of Hard Knocks offers different classes and different fees.

Fariq Tarid wrote “In 1989, I enrolled in college part-time. As I weighed the benefits of the classes against what I was learning and earning with my businesses, I decided to put off college and never finished.” His career before and during the Edible Arrangments success was all about figuring things out.

Eddy Elfenbein started a newsletter on microcaps that “was fun doing, very informative, a learning experience.”

Charles Lindberg wanted to be a pilot but the best education was in the skies, not the classroom. Bill Bryson wrote that when Lindbergh delivered airmail, “he acquired the sort of resourcefulness that comes with flying cheap and temperamental planes through every possible type of adversity.”

Meb Faber noted that Angel Investing is a DIY education. “I think the only way to learn this world (angel investing) is to do it and get some skin in the game, maybe even viewing it as an education expense given the high likelihood that these things won’t pan out.”

Elizabeth Gilbert‘s comments might be my favorite. “My parents would have seen (getting a degree or credentials) as a waste of money and time when you could just be out there doing the thing, and learning how to do the thing by doing the thing.”

Ben Carlson said: “For people trying to understand how the market works, for how business works, you can do a lot worse than dabbling in stock picking when you’re first starting out.”

Seth Klarman said, “I learned an enormous amount there (at Mutual Shares), probably more than in my subsequent two years of business school.”

Rich Snyder took over In-N-Out Burger when founder, and father, Harry passed away in 1976. At first, Rich was unsure of himself, having never attended college. But,  “He cobbled together his own kind of degree, attending leadership seminars and classes and seeking out mentors.”

Ken Grossman got most of his business education for the Sierra Nevada Beer Company when he ran a bike shop.

Alice Waters did a semester abroad in France, “but I never went to class.” Instead, she traveled, hitchhiked, attended art shows, consumed concerts, and ate at little restaurants where the fish were pulled from a stream and prepared fresh.

Ty Warner “seemed to have a genuine passion for the product. He was making a lot of money, but he was also using it as an extremely well-paid internship in the business of plush. Retailers Warner once sold to recall him quizzing them on which products were selling and which ones weren’t; Warner sought feedback on competitors’ products, too. What did they think of this idea? What about that? What if you combined this with that?”

In Damn Right Janet Lowe wrote that Charlie Munger, “began investing in securities and joining friends and clients in business endeavors, some of which proved to be graduate-level courses in the school of hard knocks.” Munger said that he learned the value of learning from his paternal grandfather who “had an attitude that was pretty damned extreme. And I would say his attitude was, you had a moral duty to make yourself as un-ignorant and as un-stupid as you possibly can.”

All that said, Morgan Housel made this point. “As a twenty-two-year-old, you’re showing your employer, ‘I did this for four years. I followed the rules. I checked the boxes.’ That’s the only thing you have on your resume, so people say ‘it’s just the signaling,’ but that’s extremely important for both the employers and for you as a student.”

Mark Suster has this advice:

My advice is often, “make sure that what you get out of working at this company is one or several of the following: a great network of talented excutives (sic) and VCs, more responsibility than your last job, specific industry or technical skills that will help you in what you do next, a chance to partner with companies that will increase your industry relationships, etc.” Learn now to earn later.

David Ogilvy also said to learn before you earn.

What would be the curriculum? Whatever you want. All of the examples listed learned something they were interested in. That’s the most important thing.

5 thoughts on “DIY MBA 101”

  1. Knowledge, signalling, network, and if you’re lucky some frameworks.

    One more quote (albeit not from a podcast): this time Will, in Good Will Hunting: “You see, the sad thing about a guy like you is that in 50 years, you’re gonna start doing some thinking on your own and you’re gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One: don’t do that. And two: you dropped a 150 grand on a fuckin’ education you could have gotten for a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library.”


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