Advice for Entrepreneurial MBA Students from a Successful Goizueta Alum

by on November 4th, 2017

Over the last few years, interest in entrepreneurship has increased among MBA students at many leading business schools. According to the 2017 GMAC Alumni Perspectives Survey Report, more than one in 10 alumni run their own businesses (11 percent)—the same percentage as those choosing to work in finance and accounting.

So, it’s not surprising that many top programs are increasing their focus on providing entrepreneurial learning opportunities within their MBA programs. At Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, for example, there are many opportunities to explore entrepreneurship through classes such as “Applied Entrepreneurship,” “Entrepreneurial Practicum,” and “Appcology,” which focuses on emerging forms of applications and services and how they are altering software ecosystems and commerce interactions. There’s an annual Emory Entrepreneurship Summit that is designed to encourage and support entrepreneurs across the university with pitch competitions, keynote speakers, and valuable networking opportunities. And recently, the one-year MBA class class also had an opportunity to hear directly from a successful alumnus about his journey as an entrepreneur.

Matt Fishman, a ’13 MBA and CEO and co-owner of Barking Hound Village, visited campus to talk about how MBA students can make the most of their time in school with an eye toward maximizing the success of their ventures down the road. Barking Hound Village, which Fishman and a fellow Goizueta alumnus purchased in April 2017, is Georgia’s largest dog daycare, boarding, and grooming business with six locations throughout Atlanta.

In addressing students at his alma mater, Fishman’s advice was wide ranging but coalesced around a few key tenets:

Focus on Your MBA Connections

After graduating from Goizueta, Fishman stayed in touch with his MBA classmates. He regularly met up with a group of five alums to discuss opportunities and ideas. It was from these discussions that the thought of purchasing Barking Hound Village came about. “One day, we started to run with the idea, and one thing led to another,” Fishman said in the question-and-answer session with current students.

Fishman’s Goizueta connections proved invaluable throughout the process. He purchased Barking Hound Village with a fellow Emory classmate, Matt Gryder, and since that day has had to protect that connection by putting their “friendship above all of it.” That’s meant a clear division of responsibilities. “We have an operating agreement that’s 50, 60 pages that divvies out duties, equity, all sorts of things,” said Fishman. “It’s constant checks and balances. It’s probably one of the most difficult things.”

Because the connections he made at Goizueta proved to be one of the most important aspects of his MBA experience, he encouraged current students to take advantage of every opportunity to meet new people in the program. “The most valuable thing that you’re going to get out of this place is the network,” he said. “You have to make yourself uncomfortable and sit next to different people, get in different groups, put yourself out there, meet people.”

Don’t Forget to Network

Alumni connections aren’t the only relationships that have been helpful for Fishman. Networking, in general, has been important to his success. For example, it was while Fishman was working as an analyst before business school at security and investment advisory firm Voya and dealing with investments in the pet space, veterinary roll-ups, and retail that he discovered Barking Hound.

As for Fishman’s advice to MBA students, “With networking, get outside your comfort zone.” He continued, saying: “Networking’s tough. Things don’t always come of it, but it’s a game of odds. For maybe 800 people, you get a few back. Be persistent. It gets competitive because everybody’s trying to distinguish themselves. You have to be real, be yourself.”

Understand Your Business

You need to understand your business before you jump into it. For Fishman, he learned a lot of what he needed to know about owning and running a pet business while he was at Voya. “I got access to the books, learned the layout of the land, and built a thesis,” he said. “It’s happenstance, and then you try to line up your cards as much as you can.”

But that was only the beginning. Fishman also took time to understand how to value a dog daycare company before they made any decisions to move forward with a purchase. “The equity side, you have to knock it out in the beginning. So that’s what we did,” said Fishman.

Then, from there, it was all about learning the business. Fishman considers himself a numbers guy, so he had to learn persistence and human capital. He also had to learn about the challenges of being in a service-based business. “You have HR issues,” Fishman stated. “You have leases. For every aspect of it, there’s a legal side that you have to think through.”

Cross Things Off Your Bucket List

For Fishman, starting a business was an item on his bucket list. “It was an itch,” he said. “ I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.” So, he decided to go after it at a time when failure would have relatively little long-term impact. This is the same advice he offers MBA students.

“If you have an idea, or you want to try something new and crazy, whatever, do it,” said Fishman. “If you have ideas, entrepreneurial ideas, take advantage of the fact that you have more time now,” he continued. “Think through or outline some ideas that you might have and chase after them. Look at everything from a downside case. If I’m going to do something entrepreneurial, I don’t yet have a family, so my downside was falling about as low as it’s going to be from here on out.”

So far it has all come together for Fishman since his ’13 MBA, and he encouraged students to take the same risks he did. “There’s nothing to lose with trying to do something and failing in the next nine months. So if there’s a bucket list, it’s to take advantage of your time.”

For more of Fishman’s advice, view the full story at EmoryBusiness.com.

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