Back to School: 15 Classes Every Entrepreneur Should Take

Now that summer is officially over and everybody’s going back to school, we decided to take a look back at the undergraduate and MBA courses that helped shape our worldview as entrepreneurs. Once we started reflecting on these courses, we realized that they’re not the typical core classes you’d expect - so we reached out to our portfolio CEOs to ask what helped shape them as entrepreneurs and CEOs. Here’s what they had to say:

The Unexpected

“I would say that the Music Theory taught me that there are lots of ways to get from C to G, and some of them can be dissonant, but they still get your there. Most of them have already been done. If you want to be successful in music, you need to rearrange the notes in such a way as to be sound good to most people, but if you really want to be successful you might need to arrange them in a way that no one has done before.” - Dave Hendricks, Co-Founder and CEO of SeriesX

“History. History is littered with cautionary tales of blowhards and megalomaniacs and how they stumble and fall. Learn early how to check your ego at the door early.” - Whitney Casey, Co-founder and CEO of Finery

“I took a class on Design Thinking at the Engineering School even though I was an English major. The class was focused on customer research, finding bright spots, five ‘why’ exercises and the ‘textbook’ included chapters from Dan & Chip Heath's Why Things Stick, Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and case studies from companies Pixar and Oxo. One weekend we did a workshop with two IDEO employees on student issues on campus like cafeteria waste, Greek rushing and dorm living. It's the only class where I still read the textbook.” - Lisa Flynn, Co-founder Rosso & Flynn

Importance of Sales

“By far the most underrepresented topic in business academia is sales, and sales is so important to scaling a business. I was fortunate enough to have taken a class that focused on sales in business school. I believe it was called: Building and Managing Professional Sales Organizations. I would highly recommend seeking either academic or practical/real world experience in this discipline as part of the education process.” - Lucas Braun, CEO of OnRamp

“Every university and MBA program has entrepreneurship classes now and those are all great.  Each functional area class (finance, accounting, marketing, etc.) all serve good roles for laying a foundation of knowledge. There are all kinds of other classes like negotiations, etc. that are also great. I’d say one of the best trainings to be an entrepreneur is a sales job and not many universities even offer a class on this topic, so if they offer one, definitely take it.” - Tom Ball, Co-founder and Managing Director of Next Coast Ventures

Understanding People and What Motivates Them

“I’m very glad I focused a lot of my MBA work on organizational design and other HR-related courses. I never really understood how important is to fully understand what is motivating employees and how best to thing about organizational design, compensation and how power and politics come into play.” - Michael Smerklo, Co-founder and Managing Director of Next Coast Ventures

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“I really enjoyed the leaderships classes. The hard skills that you learn in the core classes (accounting, finance, marketing, operations) were table stakes in my opinion. Leading People and Organizations was the best leadership class I took. It talked about personal motivators and motivating people around you. Another great class was Creativity and Leadership. The professor just called it ‘Happiness Class’ but the administration didn't approve that as the official title for a business school course. The class covered the drivers of personal happiness in both life and a career. Super important for an entrepreneurial career that can be isolating at times.” - Ricky Garcia, Senior Associate at Next Coast Ventures

“Tony Robbins. Many, many life skills for an entrepreneur and leader.” - Kurt Rathmann, Founder and CEO of Scalefactor

Outside the Classroom

“Funny, as an undergrad I wanted to be either an architect or a filmmaker, and studied both at USC…but didn’t take any classes related to entrepreneurship. Then, as an MBA at UT, I was on the corporate finance/energy finance track …and again didn’t take any classes related to entrepreneurship (and ended up at Enron!). I’ve learned by doing. By starting, operating, investing, advising and closely observing a few dozen startups over two decades – and most of it hasn’t been pretty. I wonder if the money spent on my MBA had instead been invested in a portfolio of early stage deals in Austin at the time -- what would that be worth?” - Brian Cruver, Founder and CEO of AlertMedia

“Supplementing my courses with learning outside of the classroom proved to be the best thing I did, including a fellowship at a local VC firm.” - Ricky Garcia, Senior Associate at Next Coast Ventures

Core Curriculum

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“Undergrad: Business Communications - taught me how to talk about business in various contexts (e.g. internal meetings, client meetings, PR, interviews, public speaking etc). During my graduate studies: Strategic Marketing - learned a ton well beyond marketing and more about overall business strategy via case studies; learned good frameworks for evaluating businesses and forming future strategies to grow.” - Richard Jalichandra, Founder and CEO of 101 Commerce

“The one class that sticks out was Jim Nolen’s Small Business Finance class, which offered real-world glimpses into real Austin businesses, and covered valuation extensively. Also, my financial modeling class (heavy Excel with uncertainty/probability of outcomes added in) has remained useful/critical.” - Brian Cruver, Founder and CEO of AlertMedia

“My best MBA class was Technology Strategy.” - Manuel Rosso, Co-founder and CEO of Rosso & Flynn

Hit the Books

“A book I read in business school really sticks out to me - The Goal - a great book about how processes can help or hurt and how important is to get everyone on the same page. A book I am glad I read before becoming a CEO - High Output Management by Andy Grove.  Ben Horowitz made all early employees at Loudcloud read it and it was best book on management I have ever read. I think every business school should teach it.” - Michael Smerklo, Co-founder and Managing Director of Next Coast Ventures

“At HBS I took Founders' Dilemmas taught by Noah Wasserman, it is a great class and a wonderful book.” - Julia Cheek, Founder and CEO of EverlyWell

E2E: 20/20Next Coast Ventures