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TiE pros, Oxford MBAs share trade tricks

The TiE panel offered the participants an insight into a range of issues in business from how to find the right customer to how much equity should be given to an investor.

india Updated: Feb 22, 2006 19:38 IST
UK Bureau
UK Bureau
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MBA students and young entrepreneurs had a unique opportunity to get first-hand information on what to do and what not to do to make a business venture successful at a panel discussion at the SAID Business School in Oxford. It was organised by the TiE UK, a global not-for-profit organisation of entrepreneurs who strive to foster and promote the interests of entrepreneurship.

Chaired by the noted economist Alpesh Patel, board member of TiE UK and founding Managing Director of Agile Partners Asset Management one of the best performing hedge funds in the world, the panel offered the participants an insight into a range of issues in business from how to find the right customer to how much equity should be given to an investor.

According to the panellists, who consisted of successful entrepreneurs Tim Cook, James Caan, Rishi Khosla and Conor Foley, the customer is always right. Nothing new but what these 'been there, done that' entrepreneurs had to say is: The 'right' customer is always right.

"One has to segregate customers to find out who is the paying customer and who is not," pointed out Foley, managing director of WorldSpreads, which provides high quality sports and financial betting services to a global audience. He also believes advertising is a waste of time and money. "In my personal experience advertising doesn't work. 90 per cent of the money is wasted."

While Foley focused on the customer, Cook, managing director of Isis Innovation, tackled the issue of business plans. In modern times, young entrepreneurs cannot think of starting a business without one that is foolproof. However, Cook cautioned those who make 100-page business plans where theory gets in the way of reality. "Don't get away from fundamentals." One must stick to the crucial areas such as the importance of cash flow, he explained.

All the successful entrepreneurs stressed on the importance of understanding and reflecting on failure. Understand why business fails, said Caan, serial entrepreneur and CEO of private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw. He disclosed how he learnt the least when his businesses kept doing well but far more when they started failing. "Always realise that there will be a downside," Foley added, "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."

Khosla, the youngest panellists and CEO of Copal Partners a leading business and financial research firm, reminded the audience that one must be optimistic but also realist in their business approach. So, does an MBA help? "Yes, the network you develop and create gives you a natural break in the career," he added.

Interestingly, none of the panellists have obtained an MBA but they do believe an MBA helps. But again as Cook explained, "MBA is a useful tool. A chisel is also a useful tool. But it depends on who uses it." He also added that an MBA is not a substitute to what you can learn in a company.

Caan concluded by saying, "you have to be passionate about the business you get into, not about being an entrepreneur."

First Published: Feb 22, 2006 19:38 IST