Arnold Kling  

Can Entrepreneurship Be Taught?

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Arnold's Intriguing Idea... The Big Lie...

My answer has always been "no." Read this post, from a venture capitalist.


there are two ways to build a company.

You can design it from scratch, figuring out exactly what you want to build, getting it all down on paper, raising some money, and then building it. And there are plenty of success stories for that way of building a company.

Or you can just find yourself doing a startup because something you started as a hobby, or to serve your own needs, just took on a life of its own and you have no choice but to evolve it into a business.

The "intelligent design" approach is what gets taught--how to write a business plan, and so forth. The latter approach--evolving the business--appeals to me more.

I've always felt that going to business school was a substitute for being an entrepreneur, not a complement. Those who can, sell. Those who can't, sit in class.

In my own book on entrepeneurship, Under the Radar, I use the phrase "learning by selling." I think that trying to get somebody to pay for something is the most educational experience you can have, at least if you want to be an entrepreneur.

My hypothesis is that most entrepreneurs would rather do anything than sell. Design a cool product, yes that's fun. Make fundraising pitches to investors--well, it's no fun getting turned down, but the ritual itself is stimulating. But selling? Dealing with suspicious, unpredictable customers? It's obviously necessary, and yet you'd be amazed at how easily entrepreneurs talk themselves into avoiding it.

And, in my humble opinion, taking a course in "marketing" (business schools do not even want to use the "s" word) is one form of avoidance.


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CATEGORIES: Business Economics



TRACKBACKS (6 to date)
TrackBack URL: http://econlog.econlib.org/mt/mt-tb.cgi/402
The author at Mike Linksvayer in a related article titled Learning by selling writes:
    Arnold Kling: I’ve always felt that going to business school was a substitute for being an entrepreneur, not a complement. Those who can, sell. Those who can’t, sit in class. Kling goes on to say that activities like product design and p... [Tracked on November 23, 2005 5:39 PM]
The author at De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum in a related article titled É possível ensinar empreendedorismo? writes:
    Não. Não adianta espernear. É não mesmo. Claudio... [Tracked on November 25, 2005 9:35 AM]
COMMENTS (3 to date)
Randy writes:

I think it is important that we find a way to teach entrepreneurship. I say this because I think that in this modern economy, the skills of an entrepreneur are required of nearly everyone. The key to success for any worker is to identify a need, develop the skills to meet that need, and market (sell) those skills.

I think there is a personality type associated with successful entrepreneurs which probably cannot be taught. But there is also a skill set that I think can be taught. The first step is for the student to understand that the world does not owe him or her a job.

John P. writes:
My hypothesis is that most entrepreneurs would rather do anything than sell. Design a cool product, yes that's fun. Make fundraising pitches to investors--well, it's no fun getting turned down, but the ritual itself is stimulating. But selling? Dealing with suspicious, unpredictable customers? It's obviously necessary, and yet you'd be amazed at how easily entrepreneurs talk themselves into avoiding it.

Prof. Kling, this is fascinating. It would be great if you could post on this (specifically, on what one learns from selling and why it's so hard) at greater length.

Lex Spoon writes:

Check out Y Combinator, a startup school where the teachers are themselves successful entrepreneurs, and where the students actually build a business in the course of the program.

http://www.ycombinator.com/about.html

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