Thursday, May 19, 2016 at 4pm

Military Background + MBA = Entrepreneurship?

Challenges that lie before the entrepreneurship career path

Before I stepped into a classroom for the first time in five years, I already had entrepreneurial ideas. At the same time, I was not sure who I would work with, when it would happen, what we would do, or why I would be excited. Even at this earliest stage of aspiration, the open road of entrepreneurship held more than just the chance of autonomy and broad impact; it also offered the fear of failure.

The challenges for me to take the leap into entrepreneurship were threefold – trust, passion and the idea of a personal roadmap. Originally, there were two more challenges – competence and confidence. My time at UBS, Tesla Motors and at business school helped resolve these first two. Finding a solution on the last three was not as easy. While several interesting opportunities developed during my time in business school, nothing resolved these three challenges in an adequate manner. Fortunately, I found an exciting position at LinkedIn where I was confident (and correct), that I could continue learning and growing – maybe not by starting my own company, but by taking a step in the right direction.

Overcoming these final three challenges was hard for me. Trust can take years to build as I saw both overseas in the Army, as well as in training environments and various business situations. Without the right passion for a product or business, I knew I would lose focus and fail to contribute to my full potential. I also knew some roles and businesses might not align with my own goals and personal roadmap.

Fortunately, an incredibly important aspect of business school, and something which is often undervalued, are the friendships you make there. In my own case, a close friendship with Momchil Filev (cofounder and CEO at BestReviews), began before I even arrived on campus. Both located in the San Francisco Bay Area, we met at an event for admitted students in the spring of 2012. Trust began to develop.

The passion took time to build and grow. Momchil and I met regularly during our time in business school which provided a great platform for testing out entrepreneurial ideas and to develop skills and insights. While we both experimented with different business situations, concepts and tests, we also developed a passion for working together. In addition, we realized we had some important complementary skills and balanced each other in a positive manner. As this passion and trust grew, I felt confident we would work together at some point. It was surely just a matter of time before these entrepreneurial ideas materialized.

Four years after meeting Momchil in Palo Alto, I now work alongside him to help arm consumers with clarity and confidence in their purchasing decisions via in-depth reviews. Taking an often unloved product like an air mattress or paper shredder, testing them, and then sharing what we learn with our users is pretty exciting. In my own role and day-to-day duties, I use an array of the skills I developed at West Point (the United States Military Academy) in the Army, at business school, and from my mentors and friends from each of these chapters of my life.

The military gave me incredible comfort in operating in a risk-filled world. While there are many (sometimes hundreds), of risks in entrepreneurship and related business situations that you can never fully mitigate, there are also many that you can hedge with proper planning, rehearsals and clear thinking. Doing so is hard work and you almost always reflect back and find mistakes. Once risk mitigation is hard-wired into your thinking, it provides huge value in many respects, not least in terms of pursuing entrepreneurial ideas. However, this same mentality can also foster a reduced appetite for the complete unknown. Every startup project is, to some extent or another, a complete unknown. When do you take the plunge?

I wrestled with these dynamic tensions of risk versus a desire for autonomy and impact and eventually used a mixture of advice from wonderful mentors, game theory and, most importantly, a sense of how I wanted to spend my days. Working with amazing people is something I was happy to place greater value in, given its alignment with trust, passion and my own personal roadmap. Leaving a steady paycheck was not easy, yet I never look back.

 

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Ben Faw is cofounder and COO of BestReviews, focused on arming consumers with confidence and clarity to make their purchasing decisions. Prior to Harvard Business School Ben attended West Point, and is also a graduate of Ranger, Airborne, and a variety of other military schools.