J. Brian Anderson

technology. venture. learning. together.

- 13 - Why I went back to school for an MBA

I had been contemplating going to graduate school for about 5 years waiting for a right time, thinking about how, when, and where I would go to get my MBA.  Not to mention the existential question of what I expected to get out of the experience.  I admit, it was a tough decision with all that has been said about reasons not to go, I don't disagree with much of what those smart people have said, (for example link).  It's expensive, it can be overly academic and rarely even non-practical.  What's more, there is a huge opportunity cost in treasure and time.  Something that isn't often acknowledged is that most b-school programs have a decided educational bias toward management in large corporate organizations which may or may not fit with your long-term objectives.  


On the other hand there is well-studied, quantifiable value in going to a top tier school.  Great programs provide a breadth and depth of knowledge in every area of business; yes...  finance, marketing, operations, quant, accounting, strategy, legal, economics etc. (see the Kelley Core). You're surrounded by brilliant, hard working, A-type personalities that often bring out the best in you and your peers.  And if it's important to you, or you're switching careers, top programs have companies recruiting hard for their graduates, searching for the best and brightest to fill their ranks as managers and eventually be executives of the future.  But one of most important opportunities a full-time program gives its students is the opportunity to steep in subject matter, to soak up what you don't know and to take your time to fully absorb what you need.


All that aside I have reasons I'd like to articulate as to why it was right choice for me then and now.

  1. The Business Analytics major within the MBA offered at Kelley School of Business.  Specialization is powerful, this point was no more hammered home than at the Innovate Indiana Fund where the majority of our funding was and is geared towards data driven startups.  Most young companies either sell, distribute, aggregate or analyze data as a part of their core business.  Yet even in those savvy businesses questions about how to monetize and use their data are very frequently asked.  What do we do with the data we collect? How do we synthesize that data to make better product, cash, and customer decisions?  Where and how do we even begin to analyzing what we have?  With my econometrics background I knew how to frame these questions but my hope is that my focus within this program will even better arm me with a more relevant tool set and programmatic knowledge to aid me in answering these pressing questions.
  2. I can continue to work with the great entrepreneurs at the Innovate Indiana Fund that I'm working with today.  I can reasonably justify stepping back to pursue this curious, challenging, and enjoyable endeavor in part because I get to continue working with the fund, people, and entrepreneurs I am today.  This means cultivating new deals, helping entrepreneurs as I did before, and engaging with new communities more fully than I was once able to.
  3. Intellectual pursuit.  While it could have been possible to continue working full-time while completing a graduate program part-time, I didn't want to short change the relationships I could build and the intellectual freedom I might pursue while pursuing my MBA full-time. For many this full-time pursuit is not practical and doesn't represent the most financially prudent decision, but for me it was doable.  


In conclusion, for all the years that I have done well (or in some cases, not) and for all the good and even great companies and people I've had the opportunity to work with, I can do and be better.  During countless meetings with talented entrepreneurs, technologists, and companies, I've always been challenged by my peers to be better and consistently asked them to be better as well.  To strive for more, to learn faster, to set achievable and stretch goals alike.  My pursuit of an MBA was my opportunity to heed my own request, to take some of my own medicine, to work harder, learn more, and genuflect at the altar of knowledge.   I am grateful for the experience, skills, and wisdom.

That is all for now.  




[ Of course everyone has reasons for revising history to fit an agenda, to build a narrative that promulgates a story they would like others to believe, but I've truly enjoyed and gained much from my time at the full-time MBA program at KSB. ] 

[ ... and when I'm finished the program I'll be posting a full post-mortem on the experience, the good, the bad, and the ugly. ]

- 12 - A Quality I don't like. ( - a rant blog -)

I had a difficult phone call with a very good entrepreneur in which I told them that I didn't like the product they were building.  It was in a busy space, with no definable barriers to entry other than the power of network effect (among other reasons) and I told this person that I didn't think the opportunity was going to be a winner.  Tough feedback right?


Point is, I told him how I actually felt - no punches pulled, no mistruths floated.  I *try* to do this because I respect his time and his tremendous intellectual capacity.  Which brings me to something I don't like and see in the entrepreneurial community in the Midwest, people who when asked for guidance, advice and candor from advisers/investors/business execs/thought leaders - say "you're doing great" "awesome idea" "keep it up!" when they simultaneously turn around and talk about how they don't like the exact idea or venture they were just praising.  This is a form of grin ******g as described by Mark Suster.


Seriously, what is the goal here? To protect someone's delicate sensibility? To make yourself feel important by telling them what they want to hear so they come to you again?  So they'll endorse you on LinkedIn and then tell everyone how great you are?  


This is absurd.


Being polite is telling someone who's greatest resource is time, exactly what you think in the very moment you feel like you've got quality feedback in a balanced polite manner.  This means an appropriate mix of positive and negative feedback in the proper ratios as to reflect your best summation of reality.      If all you had was the next few years of your life - and the work effort dedicated to your project, startup, business wouldn't you want to climb the learning curve as fast as possible?  Or shut down a failed effort quickly? Or pivot/succeed with speed?


The whole Lean Startup effort while perhaps a bit overplayed (but still, really good), is about building LEARNING ORGANIZATIONS , startups that test their ideas and learn from them.  No telling the truth about a company, an idea, or a concept is a big disservice and not at all helpful.  Avoid this and shoot for transparency... it'll go a long way.  

- 11 - Quit complaining about Millennials

Article I really like about Millennials...

1. They work harder than you think

2. They've largely been derailed by the economic crisis in 2000 and 2008

3. They're super bright and likely more tech savvy than most

4. They're looking for feedback (which people usually don't give when they're in 'survival mode' )

5. They exist in a give / give modality as opposed to give / take mode ... demonstrate your value by helping them


Read on... 




Then watch this...  1:32:00 sit down with Fred Wilson of Union Square...



- 10 - Why I like @Sproutbox

I spent a Friday two weeks ago with the software venture-accelerator program called RunUp Labs put together by Brad Wisler, Mike Trotzke and Kacey Martin (of Sproutbox) whom I've worked with for a couple of years and it clicked with me.  The reason why I like their software development, mentorship, and entrepreneurial drive is that they help entrepreneurs climb the learning curve fast.  Here's why ...

1. the right focus at the right time.

Common trap, it's easy to see all the work early stage technology companies need to accomplish but it's hard to focus on which opportunities/work you should actually be taking on.  Steve Blank and Eric Reis talk about this all the time, but it's really hard to do, Sproutbox knows how to do it, and they should.  They launch about ~10 - 15 companies a year.  They take big ideas distill them down, wire frame them, and get into the build, launch, learn cycle really fast, 2 - 3 months fast ...  (that's fast).

2. conflict-of-interest free

I won't generically throw outsourced development shops under the bus, because there are quality programs/groups here locally that I like quite a bit.  That said, the downside of outsourcing software development is it can and often does create conflict or misalignment between parties.  If you pay a developer without a equity component or more importantly, REAL risk sharing - they're oriented towards building exactly what you ask for,  what's the problem there you ask?  This product that gets built isn't always timely or the best minimally viable product (MVP).  Meaning, as long as the money is flowing from entrepreneur to developer - bring on the complexity (in the worst cases).  Sproutbox doesn't accept payment by entrepreneurs, they invest their own development resources and usually their own cash.  In other words they're self-moderating on topics like feature creep, entrepreneur alignment and scope.  [Founders should think long and hard about outsourcing development functions in their startups.  There are 49 shades of gray to this but if you don't agree listen to this blog post by Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures - it's a nuanced topic.]  

3. been there, done that

Brad and Mike (with the help of others) have started, built, and exited a platform company.  This isn't their first rodeo and importantly, while they have great expertise, they also have deep contacts in companies in many different industries, meaning if they don't know it, they probably have friends who do.  This is far more important than many realize.

Lastly and importantly, once they start investing in you, they trust you, whether you're a first time entrepreneur or a seasoned business vet - they'll work with you and don't get into the habit of second guessing or bait-and-switch relationship building.  They know that not every idea, startup, or business is going to be successful but they're fantastic partners on the build-launch-learn cycle and you should take a very close look at them if you're looking for someone to help launch your startup whether you're in Indiana, the Midwest, or the Left or Right Coast.

-- Agree or disagree please feel free to post comments, arguments, or general banter at your discretion. Inappropriate or inflammatory statements with be moderated but challenges and disagreements are more than welcome. --

DISCLOSURE: I'm a friend of the Sproutbox team, a mentor in the Sproutbox/RunUp Labs program and an investor in Cause.it.

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