Everybody is interested in entrepreneurship now, and many applicants have tried their hand at something entrepreneurial in the past. That’s especially true since the entrepreneurship emphasis has filtered through society into colleges, and many younger applicants are now trying for bschool after having had school-sanctioned venture-ish experiences while earning their bachelor’s. Or, maybe a buddy had some kind of summertime business and you helped out, and he ended up dropping out of school to go do it full time. Or you’ve been selling sneakers on eBay on the side, to support your habit of buying sneakers on eBay.
Having this sort of continuity of experience is one of the best ways to make your future post-MBA goals in entrepreneurship “real” for the adcom. It’s one of the most effective ways to be convincing and credible in your pitch, since “entrepreneurship” is about as common a goal these days as consulting is, in terms of what applicants say in their essays.
If you have had any such experience before — whether or not you’re planning to pitch entrepreneurship to the adcoms as your reason for getting an MBA — it can be additive, only because there are lots of people interested in entrepreneurship at bschool who have had zilch previous experiences, literally nada before coming to bschool. The schools need to have at least some proportion of students who have done that stuff in the past to at least some extent, in order to have a richer environment for everyone else interested. If half the stuff you learn at bschool is supposed to be from your peers, and if everyone is currently focusing on entrepreneurship as their key interest, then it’s to the school’s advantage to be admitting other students who can provide that type of peer support and input, to help the whole ecosystem.
(Total tangent: Did you notice how many times we’ve used the word “entrepreneurship” already in this short post? It’s annoying, isn’t it? Repetition of the same word too many times in close proximity can make the essay seem unpolished. When you go over your drafts for bschool, be on the lookout for such things; it can be one of those exceedingly subtle things that weighs down the writing. Since this essay isn’t going to be evaluated for any type of high-stakes opportunity like getting into bschool, we’re not going to go back and edit this and look for other ways to say the same thing. Instead, we point this out and justify leaving a more lamely-written post up on purpose, as a teaching opportunity for you all.)
OK, so in college, you entered some type of business plan competition and you won! And you and five friends built this business, and you actually got it up and running, and maybe brought in a few customers who you weren’t even related to.
But then, it got hard. All the ideas you had for this Next Big Thing turned out to be harder to implement than you imagined, and your partners were kinda jerk-os, and one of them just quit without even really saying anything, and another one kept arguing with you about everything, and then one of your customers left for the competition, and you decided you really want to go to law school anyway, and you decided to pull out. But the business was on its last legs anyway. There’s still a website out there and your LinkedIn says that you’re a founder but, well, no, it’s not really around anymore.
The way we’ve written this may give you a hint about how it should be treated on your MBA applications.
The business we just described is an extracurricular activity. It’s not something that you should overemphasize as “entrepreneurial experience.” Sure, you can definitely call it that — after all, you legit started a business, and you and your buddies won the venture competition and got a nice award, and all of that totally counts. You went out and did something, and you likely learned a lot.
But the thing is, lots of applicants try to make this experience out to be more than it was in their MBA apps. We’ve seen it, and counseled against it, and now we’ve heard some admissions directors at top schools mention it.
If you’ve done anything entrepreneurial, GREAT!! That really truly is a positive for your app, no matter whether it turned into something viable or not. Just having had that experience of going out and trying to build something from scratch is kind of a big deal, and the adcoms are likely to want to know about it.
But if you did this only during college, and the business did not survive that long after, or it did but without you participating, then unfortunately this experience probably is not essay-worthy. Your MBA essays need to almost exclusively be focusing on events, activities, and achievements from the past three years. (There are some notable exceptions to this rule, such as for Stanford Essay A and potentially the Yale ‘commitment’ essay, among others; we always spell those out clearly in the respective SnarkStrategies Guides for that school.)
Unless you’re still in college, or just graduated this year, then it’s usually not strategic to be pulling in any stories from college for your MBA essays.
So that means, this business you launched, given the description above, belongs on the resume under your Education section, where you’ll list out your college extracurriculars, and it’ll be included in the app dataset under college era extracurriculars, but probably nowhere else. If it’s the type of business we just described, which is really more of a college project than anything else, it does not belong in the Experience section of your resume. It belongs in the Education section. Similiarly, if you’re selling sneakers on eBay, that is totally valid to include in the resume, but it belongs in the section at the very bottom, called Personal or Other or whatever you’ve titled it. The only reason it would go in the Experience section with your other post-college employment is if you’re pulling in the big bucks from it as a full-fledged business, and you’re paying taxes on that money and supporting yourself in whole or in part from the revenues. If it’s solely in the hobby domain, then definitely still mention it on the resume, but it probably shouldn’t be overemphasized.
Don’t make things out to be more than they are. The adcom reader is truly sophisticated. They’ll be able to tell if you’re inflating an experience to be more than it was. (This goes for everything, but it’s something that is coming up more and more on this entrepreneurship stuff.)
If it is an extracurricular, it’s an extracurricular. If it was your job — you were truly trying to Go Big with this thing, you put all your everything into it and it was your one and only gig for an extended period of time — and when it didn’t work out, you were heartbroken and depressed and felt like a loser and had all sorts of anxiety and self-doubt…. then yeah, that belongs in the Experience section (even if you made no money from it).
These are certainly case-by-case situations, so if you have questions, leave ’em in the comments on this post, or we go through these issues based on what’s presented in the Comprehensive Profile Review, so that may be something to check out.
Want to go deeper into this topic? We’ve got a strategy guide for pitching entrepreneurial MBA goals to the adcom, which covers common issues we see when someone has a post-MBA goal of starting a company.