Super Cities №182 – Boring Business is Beautiful

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

To build or to buy

“Most popular elective at Harvard Business School, someone told me today, is about how to buy a small business and run it. Not “startups” in the tech sense, but good old-fashioned running something. Seems like a good sign,of something I dunno what.”

The startup world is extreme. Very few people are successful startup entrepreneurs, but an entire industry has cropped up with a distinctly obnoxious range of language, rituals, and social media-fueled nonsense. It doesn’t help that the startup world’s noise does not start with sound business principles.

For a variety of reasons, most people should not start a “startup.” They should not try to compete with the Stanford engineers and Softbank investors. They shouldn’t join this race because, statistically, they won’t win. But also because the work is not that interesting. The next – fill in the blank – startup is actually pretty boring.

Once they get beyond the hype, I suspect, many of these strivers don’t care about high-flying startups, per se; instead, they want to be their own bosses, do meaningful work, and create some value.

The course “Entrepreneurship through Acquisition” offers its students an alternative pathway to business ownership: “to complete assignments on topics relevant to buying a small company such as how to screen potential acquisition targets, the likely types, terms and amounts of debt financing, the typical deal terms and the items open to negotiations, the sources of equity investments, including search funds, private equity partnerships and individual investors.”

This course may be light on tired terms like “hacking” and “lean,” but students learn one of life’s most important lessons: how to make the numbers sing as an owner.

Cities need more boring, profitable businesses. First, we need the right people to operate them.

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