There's a much-needed change taking place in the business world as more women create their own companies and share their stories with other aspiring founders. For many of these women, the path to that success starts with business school—an MBA is an invaluable tool when it comes to helming an organization. And while being in charge comes with a host of responsibilities and obligations, many of these founders still take the time to help women who are new to the journey.
That was on full display on June 28 at "GirlBoss: Inspiration from Female Founders," the third event in CommonBond's 2018 MBA Summer Series. At the event, Chicago Booth MBA student and CommonBond business intern Obi Mbanefo hosted a panel featuring Jenna Kerner, co-founder of Harper Wilde; Yi-Hsian Godfrey, CEO and co-founder of Apiari; Alison Bloom-Kiefer, co-founder of Know Your Crew and senior product manager at CommonBond; and Cindy Kim, co-founder and co-CEO of Silver Mirror. All five participants shared the wisdom of their experiences for the aspiring founders in attendance.
The Importance of Education
All of the panelists went to business school, but each got something different out of the experience. Kim, for instance, started at Wharton, but ended up leaving early to focus on building her startup. Nevertheless, she described her time there as "crucial," saying that it gave her time to figure out what she wanted to do and to build a network. Bloom-Kiefer agreed on the importance of network-building, and added that business school gave her the confidence she needed to approach enterprise companies once she was building her own company.
Kerner was of more of a mixed mind on the experience. While she said that without going to business school, she never would have founded her company, she acknowledged that at the same time, it was a very expensive investment and working on her company during that time period wouldn't have cost as much. Godfrey understood, describing how in her experience, business school is less about what you learn and more "a boot camp to help you schedule and prioritize." Those life skills are what set her up for success, more than any specific syllabus or textbook.
Mbanefo agreed that education is important, but the real-life demands of working in the business world sometimes interfere with it. She mentioned that many business schools understand this strain, and allow students to take a leave of absence during their coursework. That lets them pursue time-sensitive opportunities but still eventually finish their degrees.
Creating a Company
Many people think of starting a business as something you're either going to do or never going to do; either way, you know beforehand and there are no surprises. The truth, though, is different for many successful founders. Of the panelists, only Godfrey described herself as someone for whom it "wasn't unnatural" to start her own company. Kerner, Bloom-Kiefer, and Kim all became founders by seizing opportunities that emerged while they were pursuing other interests—Kerner was happy at a startup, Bloom-Kiefer was working in innovation, and Kim had left finance to work at a pair of e-growth startups in South Korea.
Whether it's a long-standing plan or more spontaneous, though, starting a company becomes an entirely different process when it's undertaken with a trusted partner. All four panelists started their companies with co-founders, and all were glad they had made that decision. Godfrey recommended anyone looking to start their own company do so with a co-founder, telling the audience, "It's lonely at the top. It's really lonely if you're a solo entrepreneur."
That said, there's a lot that goes into finding the right co-founder for you and your business. Kerner recommended aligning yourself with someone with a similar work style and personal values, bringing up the example of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak as a famously incompatible couple. Kim agreed, but also stressed that while your values should overlap, your skills don't need to—in fact, different areas of expertise will only broaden your business's abilities.
Learning and Sharing
In the course of finding success, all of the "GirlBoss" panelists learned what it takes to found a thriving company in an environment that's not tailored to their experiences or needs. For instance, there's an undue pressure put on working women to find a balance between their professional and personal lives, and that exists for founders whether their companies are just starting out or are well established. Kerner described her own experience of navigating those waters, as when she was starting her company, she and her boyfriend incorporated her co-founder into their decision to move to a new city—ultimately, each of them had a vote as to where they ended up.
While the road to creating a business is hard, success teaches a lot, and all of the panelists had some parting words of advice to share with their audience. In regard to taking the first step, Godfrey said, "Don't overthink it. If you want to do it, get started." Bloom-Kiefer offered a measure of comfort, telling listeners that while it may feel like other people in your position have all the answers, everybody is winging it. Kerner advised that the first time you do something, you have to look for the truth between all the opinions you get. Finally, Kim advised would-be founders to create their own destiny and luck. This valuable series of takeaways will surely spur on future founders in attendance.
The MBA Summer Series continues through July 26th! RSVP here for the remaining 2018 Summer Series events. And if you're thinking about going to business school, make sure to check out CommonBond's MBA loans.