MBA

Things I Learned from Crowdfunding my MBA

Crowdfunding my MBA was one of the best decisions I ever made – I learned as almost as much from the process as I did from the course itself. Here I’ll give you a quick view on how I did it, what I learned from it, and what you might also take from it.

In 2011 I made the decision to study full time for an MBA. Having dedicated my early twenties to sport, my chance of competing at the Olympics or having a meaningful career in sports had gone, and it was clear I was going to have to play catch up in the business world.

I took the GMAT and was lucky to get a decent enough score to apply to Cass Business School, which I chose because:

  • It’s in London
  • It condenses the course into 12 months
  • It has a top 15 European ranking

All I had to do was find the £35k course fees plus a year of living expenses – I reckoned I could survive on £10k – so £45k in total.

At first I wasn’t particularly worried; Natwest offered MBA loans which would cover the costs. But what I hadn’t reckoned with was the 2011 financial crisis and its impact on lending. I found the MBA loan scheme had quietly been cancelled, although I could still apply for a £10k career development loan which would cover my cost of living. With no other means of funding, that was that – was my MBA finished before it had even begun?

How I did it

Although the financial crisis was affecting loans, it was also affecting everything else. Interest rates were falling and the stock market had nosedived. Investors were scrambling for any kind of return. Was there a way in which I could use this to my advantage?

The answer I came up with was crowdfunding, and the InvestInPete.com scheme (no longer active) was launched. I built a financial model that would be attractive to risk-taking investors who couldn’t find returns from the plummeting stock market, while being safe enough for me to pay back in a three year period after graduation.

Taken from investinpete.com – the InvestInPete financial model from 2011

I needed to raise £35k, so to gain a bit of momentum I signed up 3 friends in the pub who laughed at me, laughed at me some more, and then relented and gave me £5 each out of pity. One of my friends suggested printing InvestInPete t-shirts. Why not?

£35k to go

I began a direct marketing campaign to everyone I knew that I felt fell into a ‘risk-taker’ profile. Four of them came back to me, loving the idea – one wanting to invest £2k, another three with £1k. Suddenly this was real.

But then something weird happened. I had people I didn’t really know start to get in touch -they wanted to invest – and they wanted t-shirts! The money started to accelerate. £500 here, £250 there. A handful more at £1k, and then another for £2,500. I had 23 investors. It started to add up.

£12k to go

By the time August came around it was go/no go decision time for the MBA. I had already raised £22k through the InvestinPete scheme, and figured I could do the rest. Cass Business School here we come.

Each year, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, alumnus of Cass and founder of EasyJet, awards a scholarship to an MBA candidate. The award criteria boils down a straightforward question – ‘why you?’ In response, I pointed him to investinpete.com and told him that if I wasn’t chosen, I’d invite him to invest anyway.

He replied with a cheque for £12k and ‘good luck, don’t pay it back’.

Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou
Target achieved

Post MBA I landed a good job in enterprise IT and paid back my investors within the three year period, saving me a little bit in interest. Was it worth it? Absolutely. I now have a fantastic job running the commercial teams at Countercept, and while I draw every day from my time at Cass, I learned almost as much from the InvestInPete process as from the MBA itself.

What did I learn, and what can it teach you?

There are four major lessons I learned from crowdfunding my MBA, and I still try to apply all of them on a daily basis:

Lesson 1 Try to carry the mindset that ‘everything is possible’. By approaching challenges and setbacks with a positive outlook, you will be far more likely to creatively overcome them. Which leads to…

Lesson 2 – Always look for opportunities in your challenges. In this instance the financial crisis led to MBA loans being discontinued, but it also created an opportunity for me to disrupt the traditional investment market. I cannot tell you how useful this approach is at work; particularly in a fast-moving industry like cyber-security.

Lesson 3  – Take risks when appropriate. The InvestInPete scheme carried substantial risk to me, but at the time I didn’t have any dependents or financial commitments and so it made sense. It sounds obvious, but if you don’t take risks then you’ll see no reward – you have to push the boundaries a little sometimes.

Lesson 4 – Don’t take yourself too seriously.  The t-shirt thing was a bit of fun but it’s what my investors remembered. Whatever industry you’re in it’s easy to get lost in spreadsheets, reports and powerpoints – adding a bit of personality can make all the difference.

If you’ve been inspired to fund your MBA in a similar way and want some more advice, or want to discuss the pros/cons of MBA programmes in general, please do ask me – I’d be happy to help.

 

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