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MBA Startups: Virgin's Richard Branson and Pinterest CEO Share Key Entrepreneurship Tips

Entrepreneurship is on the rise and record numbers of MBAs are shunning traditional jobs in favor of start-ups. Virgin's Sir Richard Branson and Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann share their knowledge!

Thu Nov 21 2013

Sir Richard Branson is, perhaps, the ultimate entrepreneur. He is Virgin’s founder and one of the most recognisable figures in the business world. After pursuing his first entrepreneurial venture, a magazine, as a teenager, he has grown to own a brand of over 360 different companies.

There is an increasing trend in MBAs shunning traditional jobs in favour of entrepreneurial start-ups. A huge increase in UK SMEs is predicted this year and in the US, some business schools have reported record numbers of MBAs launching their own companies.

Sir Richard, speaking at a Google Hangout live-stream event as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week along with Pinterest CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann, says that the best business ideas are often those that make a real difference in the world.

Finding An Entrepreneurial Idea

He launched his first start-up, a magazine called Student, during the Vietnam War when he was 15. He aspired to end the conflict and become an entrepreneur out of a need. “It was a dreadful war and young people all over the world wanted to rise up and stop it,” he recalled.

“We had to become entrepreneurs in order to ensure the business survived.  Often the best businesses come when people have the idea and want to make a difference and in the process they end up trying to make sure more money comes in so they can survive.”

Growing your brand

Ben co-founded Pinterest in 2010 and the US-based company now has over 70 million users worldwide. Last week, it was reported that 18 per cent of MBA graduates from last year’s cohort at Stanford shunned traditional career paths to become entrepreneurs.

“I think that everyone starts with a small idea,” he said. “It’s important to give yourself enough time to build a product to get something out in front of real customers. In the process of building, you work out the kinks and the details.”

Sir Richard said that execution of your idea is crucial. “A lot of people have similar ideas and it’s really then up to execution (that distinguishes them): execution is incredibly important,” he said.

Your Team Is Essential

Many MBAs actually find their business partners while studying at b-school. Going it alone may be tempting, but building a team is crucial to start-up success. “Getting the right team of people out there to execute your ideas, to make sure that people get to know about what you’re trying to achieve, means building a strong team is critical,” Sir Richard added.

Ben agrees that your team is essential. He now has over 150 employees at Pinterest, many of whom have been with the company for less than a year. “Your team is everything,” he said. “What I’m trying to learn as a CEO is to create an environment to work together for a simple objective.

“Then even more importantly, identify what the environment needs for those people to succeed together.”

Sir Richard thinks that building a strong entrepreneurial team is “half the battle”: “Get out there and find people who are great to run your companies, who look for the best in people, who inspire people. If you can do that and if they are well motivated by what they’re doing, you can achieve anything, and you can build a great company.”

Financing Your Start-up

Finance is an issue that has always plagued start-ups. MBAs spend thousands of pounds on business education and will be keen to see a return on their investment. In response, many business schools have incubators and start-up schemes to help get SMEs off the ground.

In London, Cass Business School runs The Hangout, a free workspace for City University graduates to let their entrepreneurial juices flow. At Dartmouth Tuck’s School of Business in the US, the Maynard program subsidies 50 per cent of compensation for a first year student internship if they work in a start-up, based on market pricing.

But Ben says that outside funding is often necessary to get a great business idea off the ground. “When we got started… it was a tough time to raise money here in the US,” he said. “If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, there are two things that are important: pick investors that believe in the vision, because you need to be aligned about where you want to go one day.

“You should also pick investors with the same time-horizons. Understanding when they want their money back is an important lesson we’ve learned.”

Sir Richard agrees that funding can be essential to creating the next global brand. “Some businesses can do that (not bring in outside shareholders),” he said. “We’ve lobbied the British Government over the last three years to start entrepreneurship loans for young people,” he said.

“Eighteen months ago they agreed to do that, so there are now thousands of young people getting loans to start businesses.  I think this will prove to be a real powerhouse for the British economy.

“If other countries can follow that… sometimes businesses only need not an enormous amount of money to get going and so tiny amounts can create the new Virgin’s of the future.”

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society