Sunday, September 30, 2012

The One "Free Play"

First things first -- congrats to Navid and Shelly!

Football fans are familiar with the concept of a "free play," but to anyone who's not, it's basically where the defense jumps, but the flag is thrown after the ball is snapped, and the offense can basically do whatever it wants...once.  A bomb to the end zone, a crazy reverse, or whatever else you can conjure up on the fly is fair game, because a) if you get a result you like, you can keep it, and b) if you don't like the result, you can just say "thanks but no thanks."  You'll accept the five-yard penalty, and it's just like it never happened in the first place.

As an aspiring entrepreneur in a b-school program, I think there's one time where you essentially get the equivalent of a free play: the summer between your first and second years.

Here's why:  Assuming you're in a two-year program, that time has to be used somehow.  The most conventional way to spend it is to take an internship with a firm you hope to eventually work for.  If that works out, that's a pretty sweet deal, as an end-of-summer offer for post-grad essentially winds you down into what could be one of the least stressful years of your adult life (work-wise, at least): a second year of an MBA program for someone with a guaranteed job offer in June.

However, sometimes things aren't so simple.  You might not be sure what you want to do, you might intern for a firm that doesn't give full-time offers until the next spring, or you might not be able to squeeze through the door in that round (the major consulting firms actually have fewer summer intern spots than they do full-time job offers to give MBAs).  Even better than any of those, maybe you have a business idea that's been marinating between your ears for a while.

By using that summer to launch, rather than dive straight for the corporate alternatives, you've limited your opportunity costs to "just" the money you could have made (admittedly, that could be substantial...though I would argue against that with a long-term view), the potential full-time offer you maybe coulda sorta gotten, plus the time you spent with your start-up...but as stated earlier, that time had to be used somehow...you're not any closer or further from finishing with either alternative.

Let's say your idea takes off.  Well, awesome.  Need I say much more?  Not at this hour, I don't!

Let's say you wind up somewhere in the middle.  That's sort of okay, too.  You can keep developing it during your second year.  Maybe you build some decision points into the next 10 months.  Maybe you can keep it alive as a side entity while *really* paying your bills elsewhere.

Let's say it bombs.  Spectacularly.  You launch in late May, only to find that the market research you never bothered to do before has finally shown you the idea is a sure failure.  You never secure a revenue stream, let alone outside funding...and you engage in shouting matches with your co-founders regularly.  By August, you've vowed never to utter words like "start-up" and "venture" again.

Even with that third event node occurring, what would you really have lost?  Okay, yes, the money and experience from somewhere else.  But you're still fully in the game for fall corporate recruiting.  On top of that, there's no nagging voice in your head saying "What about the all-in-one Pandora/Facebook/Google+/Highlight proximity network social media gathering space streaming music loving file sharing website I could start in order to become the next too-cool-to-care billionaire?"

Nope, that voice would be gone.  And considering how annoying it might sound, the dollar value of its absence might even outweigh the summer internship pay at Bain.

Seriously, though, you'd also have a really cool story during interviews when you get asked, "So...how did you spend your summer?"  You've got all kinds of lessons learned, new wisdom, and the "failed entrepreneur" merit badge to put on your sash.

I don't see ANY of those as being bad things.  Kind of like a toss to the end zone after the yellow flags land in the neutral zone, I'd even say it sounds like a no-brainer for those with the guts to make the throw. 

1 comment:

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