I spoke to Omar Zenhom, host of the The $100 MBA Podcast and founder of The $100 MBA company, about how the traditional college model is being disrupted, why communication skills are the most important, the choice of being an entrepreneur or an employee, the biggest challenges of starting a company, and his best career advice.
Omar Zenhom has worked in the education field as an ESL teacher (English as a Second Language) and he spent 10 years living and teaching ESL in Dubai. Throughout his teaching career he was always interested in entrepreneurship. He started The $100 MBA company back in 2013 after dropping out of Wharton and his podcast was launched in the fall of 2014. Today the podcast stands as one of the top-rated podcasts in all of iTunes. He’s on a mission to revolutionize business education forever as the curriculum developer, content creator & head instructor at The $100 MBA.
Dan Schawbel: Education is one of the industries that is being the most disrupted by technology and new startups. Why do you think the traditional college model is broken and how can schools adjust to the new reality of the economy?
Omar Zenhom: In this day and age, the notion you need to spend 4 years to gain the knowledge and skills to start any particular career is ridiculous. Education not only needs to get more practical and but also more affordable.
I think traditional higher education needs to offer more practical, short courses that allow their students to enter the workforce earlier. They can continue their education as they gain real world work experience. So instead of 4 years of education then start working, they should consider offering 3 month programs that can be built upon each other as you progress in your career.
Schawbel: What do you think are the most important skills and course that a professional should take to stay relevant in today’s world?
Zenhom: I believe communication skills are the #1 skill every profession should invest in improving. This is why I recommend starting a blog. A blog forces you to cultivate an opinion on your subject matter and articulate your opinions clearly on a regular basis. Your ideas, products or services are worthless if you don’t know how to communicate their value effectively.
Schawbel: There’s a lot of hype around choosing to be an entrepreneur instead of employee and avoiding college to start a company instead. What is your take on this? Who should pursue what path?
Zenhom: I think you should always take the path that avoids debt. If you can go to college on a scholarship or pay for it as you go with a job or freelancing, I say go for it! But if you are about to make the decision to go into $100,000 dollars in debt to go to college or start a business, you’re asking for trouble for a very long time.
You can start a business online these days for a few hundred dollars and practically zero overhead. If you can support yourself while building a business, do it. There is no better time to take risks with your time (not money) than when you have minimal responsibilities. Get a few roommates, use public transport, work from home. Lower your expenses as much as possible and grow your business while the stakes are low.
Schawbel: What do you believe are the biggest hurdles to starting a business that don’t get discussed enough in our society?
Zenhom: The biggest hurdle I believe is not having the right long-term mindset, not understanding it takes longer than you may think to achieve your professional goals.
It takes nearly a decade for a doctor to go through their Bachelor’s degree, complete Med School and complete their residency program to be even be considered a doctor. Yet, many of us want to become the next Richard Branson in 6 months.
Give yourself the chance to grow and improve. Your first 10 years in any field is mostly spent figuring things out and understanding how you can excel in your own unique way.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
1. Most of us need time and experience to figure out what our calling is. It’s just not going to pop in your head one day, you need to start doing things, building things and even breaking things to figure out where you can add the most value. Stop worrying about what your passion is and just get working.
2. Read biographies. Biographies give you perspective. They show you how hard a particular path in life really is and how long it takes to get any traction. They also outline the potential pitfalls and challenges you may face along your journey. They also reassure you that if you’re struggling, that’s just par for the course. Here are my take aways from the top 3 biographies I read this past year: MBA899 Must Read: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, MBA890 Must Read: The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and MBA765 Must Read: Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
3. Always be profitable. Debt is your worst enemy. Debt will stop your dreams in your tracks. Avoid debt at all costs; avoid it like the plague. Always spend less than you make- in life and in your business. That’s why I never make a hire unless I can pay their salary for 6 months with cash. That’s why I never buy a car unless I can buy it cash. No loans, no debt, no cry.