I've decided to pursue a Bootstrap MBA

My next twelve months will be dedicated to a single meta-framework that I call the Bootstrap MBA. This name makes sense for two reasons:

  1. I want to bootstrap an MBA-type education for myself.
  2. My primary goal is to learn how to bootstrap businesses.

Below I will discuss why I started this project and what exactly my plan for the next 12 months is.

Let’s start with why.

Why learn independently?

The curriculum in a structured program are rarely optimal for individual students. Every learner has a different backstory and hence will find different kinds of things illuminating. But in structured programs, everyone is forced to consume the same type of content and move through it at the same pace. Moreover, the chances that the teachers in the program are exceptional are slim.

In contrast, if I bootstrap my education, I can focus solely on content that speaks a language I can understand and only learn from the best teachers. I can learn at my own pace.

The main selling point of structured programs is the piece of paper you get at the end. At the end of my Bootstrap MBA no one will hand me a certificate. But I’m convinced that this is not a problem. On the one hand, certificates are for people who want a job and this isn’t something that appears on my bucket list. On the other hand, smart people know already that certificates primarily measure how good you are at following orders and little else. Hence, I wouldn’t want to work at a company that puts too much emphasis on certificates anyway.

A superior alternative to a certificate is a portfolio of real-world projects. And this is exactly what I will be building during my Bootstrap MBA.

“Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.” - Isaac Asimov

I already have some experience with self-learning. While I was enrolled at university, I was basically an autodidact. I barely attended lectures. Instead, I followed my own curiosity and spent my days in the library. While this worked okay for me, my approach back then was completely unsystematic and hence certainly not optimal.

I quickly learned that the biggest challenges of self-learning are to stay on track and to stay motivated.

For example, there are infinitely many books you could read and hence it’s easy to fall into a purely passive mode where you only consume content. But to make progress you need to apply what you learn and actively check your own understanding. Deep understanding requires effort.

But if you’re learning on your own, it happens quickly that you only do comfortable things like reading books and watching video lectures. Applying and checking your understanding is a lot more uncomfortable and is hence often avoided.

For this reason, I’ve decided to invent a meta-framework for myself that defines certain boundary conditions within which I will operate for the next 12 months. My hope is that it will allow me to hold myself accountable and give me a clear sense of progress.

Why bootstrap businesses?

First of all, I don’t want a regular job. I like working on my own projects and being my own boss. I have zero interest in participating in office politics and in doing what is necessary to have a successful conventional career.

“Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” - Farrah Gray

But I’ve also no interest in participating in the “startup game”. I don’t want to write applications for accelerators and rely on the opinions of gatekeepers.

My goal is not to become a billionaire. Instead, my dream is modest financial independence. And I’m convinced that the best way to achieve it in a way that is in agreement with my values is by bootstrapping businesses. I want to build things that I believe should exist and that others find useful.

The Bootstrap MBA itself is just a first example. It is my modest attempt to be the change I want to see in the world. The traditional education system is broken beyond repair. I’m convinced that independent learning journeys are the future of education and that portfolios will replace certificates in many areas. Hence my hope is that my experiences will inspire others to try something similar.

How to bootstrap an MBA

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything” - Dwight D. Eisenhower

I’ve identified three key areas I want to focus on:

  • Ideation
  • Software Development
  • Marketing

Each of them is an essential skill I need to master to be able to bootstrap successful businesses.

  • I need to understand, how I can come up with suitable business ideas and how I can evaluate their potential.
  • I need to learn how I can make my ideas a reality. Software development seems like an ideal choice for sustainable bootstrapping businesses. (Alternatives would be content product development and physical product development.)
  • The best idea executed flawlessly is useless if no one knows about. Getting the world out is one of the key challenges, especially for bootstrapped founders without a large marketing budget.

(In addition to the three core topics listed above, I have much longer list of electives (buying businesses, community building, etc.) that I would be interested in learning if I find the time.)

With this list of topics at hand, I needed to decide how to go about it. I decided to select a small number of books as the cornerstones of my learning journey:

  • MAKE by Pieter Levels, General Overview
  • The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick, Ideation
  • Generating Product Ideas by Artiom Dashinsky, Ideation
  • The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber, Management
  • The Personal MBA by Josh Kaufman, Economics
  • Dotcom Secrets by Russell Brunson, Marketing
  • Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl, Software Development
  • The Millionaire Fastlane by MJ deMarco, Mindset
  • Keys to Great Writing by Stephen Wilbers, Marketing

While I will certainly consult additional sources, I will try to keep these additional readings to a minimum to make sure that I’m not just passively consuming content. I want to make sure that I divide my time effectively between:

  • Acquiring knowledge. Reading books, articles, case studies.
  • Solidifying knowledge. Writing and talking about my learnings.
  • Applying knowledge. Generating business ideas, developing and launching software products, building a personal brand.

Hence, in addition to the curriculum outlined above, the Bootstrap MBA I invented for myself also contains a list of assignments:

  • Write down 5 business ideas each day.
  • Publish 2 tweets each day.
  • Write one blog post every week to share what I’ve learned.
  • Publish one podcast every two weeks to reflect on my progress.
  • Launch one product each month.

Hence, in some sense, the 12 Startups in 12 Months challenge is a subset of the Bootstrap MBA.

Update: As my first project, I’ve created an (admittedly unimpressive) site for my little learning experiment: Bootstrap.MBA

I should point out that the Bootstrap MBA is a living, breathing experiment. Nothing is set in stone and I will certainly make adjustments along the way. Hence, if you have comments, feedback or want to try something similar, I would love to hear from you! The best way to reach me is via Twitter or email.

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Written on August 1, 2020
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