Accepted.com has started a new blog series offering our readers a behind-the-scenes look at selected MBA programs. We hope to offer you a candid picture of student life, and what you should consider as you prepare your application.
Here are some excerpts from an interview with a recent graduate of INSEAD with a General Management background, who launched a company with a fellow student he met at school.
INSEAD’s programme lasts only ten months. How does one plan to get the most out of it?
You must have a plan and razor sharp focus. The short timeframe makes the INSEAD programme incredibly intense. It is easy to get seduced by the 24-hour cycle, the fun, the fact that you are always busy. But those with no plan end up with nothing. This is where leadership really comes in. You must have a strategy. If you’re fine with being a plodder, that’s OK, but be clear about it. If you want to find your plan at INSEAD, that’s OK too, but start refining it immediately because you are being thrown into a giant vortex of chaos and you don’t want to spend 6 months stressed. There are those who love that, and they come for the networking and the intensity, but these are usually the guys who have made and sold a few companies already. Of course there’s an element of luck, but the days of graduating with a handful of offers for high paying jobs in London are gone.
How close did you stick to the goals you stated on your application?
You were focused on entrepreneurship. Was INSEAD a good match?
Yes absolutely. I targeted the school because it is super-entrepreneurial. I arrived knowing that I wanted to start a business. The person who is now my business partner and I came there for the same reasons.
How did you make the school work for you?
My business partner and I met at the very beginning, in class. We clicked immediately over a shared idea. Then we used the year to refine the idea and launch the company. We tailored the curriculum to fill in the missing gaps in our knowledge, and develop our business plan, our strategy and our marketing. We interviewed professionals to learn about the industry we wanted to target. And we were lucky enough to win the Business Venture competition, and some funding.
The alumni network has been incredibly important, too. As a new company, we have to do things on a tight budget. The alumni network has helped us with all that stuff you have to do when you build a company. We have been able to reach out and get feedback, connections, advice and help. Using the network to open doors has been incredible.
Did the location affect your experience?
The main campus, in Fontainebleau, is in the middle of nowhere, and it is gorgeous. This makes student life very intense. “What happens in Fonty stays in Fonty.” At the same time, it is close to Paris and, being a city person myself, it was nice to be able to get into Paris easily. Singapore is also fascinating, but when I went over in January, 250 of the 300 students of my class went (versus only 150 of the August group.) Imagine moving to Asia with 250 of your best friends! This makes things surreal but really great. The country is fascinating. It was valuable and enriching to get insight into the psychology and sociology of the Asian market. The alumni in Sing were very active in receiving us. The school connected us with people from the business world, which gave us students a chance to grill them and learn from their “scars” to get the real story. The school is very good at doing this.
What did you find out that the school offers that you couldn't find out from the website or an information session? When I got to Fonty, I already had a business degree and had worked for several years, so the curriculum looked like a lot of the stuff I had already done and/or studied. But when world-class professors teach material you already know, it takes on whole new meaning. It’s a hard thing to quantify, but hearing someone turn something you “know” upside down, and leaving the classroom with all of your neurons firing, thinking about things a new way and discussing them into the night…. you expect that to happen at a top school, but it was so much better than I had imagined.
What kind of leadership training or mentoring did you receive at INSEAD?
Of course you get a lot of technical training at b-school, but at the end of the day leadership is not just mastery of technical aspects, is it? There were some great electives in this vein. Strong professors teach to multiple layers of experience. If you come in already knowing a subject, at INSEAD you will be able to pick up other things. For example, instead of teaching me about financial modeling, which I already knew, the professor was able to teach me all about creating value from the very same material. Learning about leadership is something that comes through in the individual experiences of the professors rather than through the curriculum. Their experience is our teacher. And deep insight is what distinguishes the good from the great.
Of course, this mentoring is still ongoing, as I am in regular touch with the alumni network.
Did you tap career services?
I was lucky. I came into the programme knowing that I wanted to start a business, so I did not need Career Services as much as some others. But I used CS in other ways, like to find other entrepreneurs in the INSEAD network, and they were incredibly helpful.
What was your best day on campus?
Oh that is a tough question….from the very first day, it all becomes a big, beautiful blur. The professors warn you, “This is going to be a marathon. Save some energy,” but the truth is that you are 100% full power for the entire 10 months. There were many, many great moments.
How about a favorite class or event?
The one-week elective trip to San Francisco. We again met people from the business world and INSEAD alumni, who were all great.
What were the main challenges?
The short timeframe. Even though that was one of the main things that attracted me to the school, I could easily have spent more time there. Because of this, you must be ready to pounce at all times.
Last words of advice?
Make sure that the school is the right match for you. I have a friend who came to INSEAD because he wanted to work for McKinsey. He was clear and committed. They saw that and he was rewarded.
The school will not create an epiphany for you. Create your own opportunities and stick to your strategy.
By Paris-based Accepted.com editor Tanis Kmetyk, who has well over a decade of experience advising applicants to INSEAD and other top MBA programs. She’d be happy to share her expertise with you when you apply too.