Vasco Sommer-Nunes is a tech-savvy serial entrepreneur. He developed a dating service while studying for his MBA in 1997 and launched a blog network in 2005—both of these went on to be bought out.
He’s now developing his third venture, Innsides, an online platform showcasing the world’s best interior design boutiques.
Vasco chose the MBA from Edinburgh Business School, the Graduate School of Business of Heriot-Watt University, because of the flexibility it offered. He didn’t want to be stuck in a classroom but instead wanted to be able to develop his business in Germany whilst studying.
For Vasco, Edinburgh Business School’s online MBA format meant he could learn and earn at the same time, as well as attend four-day on-campus intensive seminars in Edinburgh, specially designed for those who study independently online. He specialized in strategic planning, completing his MBA in 2000, and is using his MBA experience to mentor other tech startups.
As well as the general MBA, Edinburgh Business School offers five specialist online MBAs in finance, marketing, human resource management, strategic planning and oil and gas management, which is studied by over 10,500 students globally.
How are you using your MBA learnings to develop your latest tech startup?
When I reflect on my time at Edinburgh Business School and the program, I find it particularly remarkable that I always look for competitive advantages in the startups I build. It´s remarkable because identifying and building sustainable, competitive advantages was at the center of the MBA’s strategy courses.
For Innsides, I spend a lot of time on the model and constantly test the hypothesis of competitive advantage that we’ve developed; it´s an asset-less model that relies heavily on classical network effects, which will prove to be extremely valuable.
What challenges do you face?
I understand the drawbacks of such a model is that it is slow to get the incumbents to come on board. This model has killed quite a few startups already, since the incumbents simply have proven to be too slow to adopt new technology, which, theoretically speaking, is quite irrational. It is however the reality, so I know we need to be able to survive until they are on board.
Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at Edinburgh Business School?
I never wanted to spend much time in an academic setting. I wanted to get out into the market, solve problems, and build companies, but I wanted an excellent base to build on in order to be better equipped to succeed.
The MBA at Edinburgh Business School allowed me to do both with its flexibility. I could study the intense modules on-campus and the less intense ones before and after work—that helped a lot. And I enjoyed being in the ‘real market’ while being exposed to the academic theory.
Why the specialization in strategic planning?
Many people say that entrepreneurs are risk-takers. While that is true to some extent, it makes entrepreneurs sound like risk-loving individuals. I love being an entrepreneur, but try to minimize risk as much as I can. Strategic planning helps me to think of potentially troubling waters and how to circumvent them.
This is especially important at the beginning, when you´re starting. An entrepreneur has to be and do everything—it´s very easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks and forget about the iceberg in front of you.
I find strategic planning very valuable to adopt the habit of keeping your head up and understand where you are as an entrepreneur and also as an advisor when helping other entrepreneurs.
What advice do you have for anyone considering an MBA?
Do make most out of the network you develop when on-campus and do not underestimate the time you need to commit to it.
The timing, circumstances, and your attitude should be right. While I´m not somebody who enjoys academic work, I did enjoy studying and exposing myself to management theories. I was therefore in the right mood to study and was looking forward to the experience.