Lots of people want to be entrepreneurs. But from Dr. Noam Wasserman’s experience, it isn’t as easy as Shark Tank can make it look.
“Every would-be entrepreneur wants to be a Bill Gates, a Phil Knight, or an Anita Roddick, each of whom founded a large company and led it for many years,” says Dr. Wasserman. “However, successful CEOs and founders are a very rare breed.”1
Dr. Wasserman has made it his goal to help others understand the common decisions, strategies, responsibilities, and pitfalls of aspiring entrepreneurs. This work has inspired two bestselling books, published research in top academic journals (e.g., Management Science, Strategic Management Journal, Academy of Management Journal and Organization Science), and multiple features and columns for the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Forbes and Inc. magazine.
At Yeshiva University, we’re fortunate to be able to benefit from his expertise every day in the Sy Syms School of Business—and as a student, you could, too. Keep reading to learn more about the man who wrote the book on entrepreneurship, his strategies for success, and his influence at YU Sy Syms.
That is a mindset that will help you excel in whatever domain you are in, whether it's in large companies, whether it's in your personal life, any of the ways in which you're going to be able to learn, how to make better decisions, how to deal with uncertainty, how to be able to perceive opportunities and pursue them. So, some of the key things about our online graduate programs is that it puts choice fully in your hands. You can participate from whatever part of the world you want to be in, but you're also going to be able to build your network, be able to have a lot of people you're going to be able to meet, that'll be able to be the foundation of the network you're going to be able to find jobs with, and then be able to leverage it.
So, we've taken the same, very sophisticated approach to being able to develop the master's in real estate, to the master's in accounting. Being able to have the same power of putting a lot of the optionality in the students hands in terms of how quickly they're going to be able to learn things when they want to be able to start learning it within the year. Not having to geographically relocate to New York City, being able to use all the power of online teaching, and be able to really tailor it to the best of your being able to learn the right material in the right way. Participate from wherever you are, being able to have you do it at your own pace.
Being able to have the professors, not just use lectures, but be able to have all sorts of other ways in which they can have you practicing the skills, being able to have you do a lot of the things that are going to be the application compliment to what you would've been learning conceptually in the classroom. All of those are where I've become even more confident that the new programs are going to be even stronger to be able to prepare you for jobs and for the world than what we would've been able to do if it were just still in person and using one mode of instruction.
Grounded in Academic Excellence
As far as educational backgrounds go, Dr. Noam Wasserman’s is strikingly impressive: he received a PhD from Harvard University, an MBA from Harvard Business School (graduating with high distinction as a Baker Scholar), a BSE in Computer Science and Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and a BS from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Despite being voted “Most Likely to Become a CEO” by his MBA section, Dr. Wasserman decided to pursue academia as a career and to enter the PhD program. Before going to Harvard, he was also a Principal and Practice Manager at a management-consulting firm near Washington, D.C., founded and led the Groupware Practice, and worked as a venture capitalist in Boston.
An Affinity for Entrepreneurialism
After graduating with his PhD and MBA from Harvard Business School, Dr. Wasserman went on to become a professor there for 13 years. During that time, he focused his research on the early decisions that founders face that can make or break a startup and its team.
“When I analyzed 212 American start-ups that sprang up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I discovered that most founders surrendered management control long before their companies went public,” Dr. Wasserman says. “By the time the ventures were three years old, 50% of founders were no longer the CEO; in year four, only 40% were still in the corner office; and fewer than 25% led their companies’ initial public offerings…We remember the handful of founder-CEOs who make it to the public markets, but they’re the exceptions to the rule.”
The Founder’s Dilemmas
Building on that initial research and a subsequent decade of inquiry, his first book, “The Founder’s Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup”, was born. Based on data collected from 10,000 founders, The Founder’s Dilemmas has now spent a decade on Amazon’s Strategy bestseller list and won the Academy of Management’s annual Impact on Practice award. His second book came six years after that: “Life Is a Startup: What Founders Can Teach Us about Making Choices and Managing Change” (Stanford University Press, October 2018). Life Is a Startup became an Amazon #1 bestseller in Entrepreneurship and won the Gold Award from the Axiom Business Books Award in the Success/Motivation/Coaching category.
Dr. Noam Wasserman created Harvard Business School’s most popular entrepreneurship elective, “Founder’s Dilemmas,” for which he won their Faculty Teaching award, University of Southern California’s Golden Apple teaching award, and the Academy of Management’s Innovation in Entrepreneurship Pedagogy award. In 2018, he was named to Poets & Quants’ “Favorite Professors of Business Majors'' list. He also taught Founder’s Dilemmas courses at Stanford Engineering and Columbia Business School, receiving perfect teaching ratings at both schools.
“One of the key things about being able to learn entrepreneurship is developing your entrepreneurial mindset,” he says. “That mindset is what will help you excel in whatever domain you are in; whether it’s in large companies, your personal life, or any of the ways in which you need to learn how to make better decisions, deal with uncertainty, perceive opportunities, and pursue them. That’s why we have made entrepreneurship a core building block of our graduate programs at Sy Syms.”
The Move to YU
Indeed, in 2019, Dr. Noam Wasserman moved to New York City and accepted a position as the dean of the YU Sy Syms School of Business. In his first year as dean, Dr. Wasserman led major collaborative initiatives to strengthen every part of the school, especially the master’s degrees: he and the faculty led the launch of the Mitzner MS in Real Estate degree; sparked a complete rethinking of the in-person, 2-year EMBA program that led to a new online MBA program; and started knitting together the disparate grad programs into a cohesive suite that shares electives and other resources. This includes all aspects of the MBA, MSA, and MSRE programs.
“We’ve taken a sophisticated approach to developing the online master’s programs. We put a lot of choice and flexibility in the students’ hands: how quickly they’re able to learn new things, when they want to learn it, and being able to do it all without having to relocate to New York City. This way, we can use all the power of online teaching and tailor it to learning the right material in the right way,” he says.
Next up for the MBA program is joint degrees with other Yeshiva University graduate schools, such as Cardozo Law School (a JD-MBA program) and the RIETS rabbinics program (joint rabbinics-MBA program).
True to his roots, entrepreneurship is a key component of the Sy Syms graduate coursework. It’s rare that you have the opportunity to learn from the man who wrote the book on which your course (and many others) is based; but at Yeshiva University, any MBA or MSRE student can take Dr. Noam Wasserman’s Founder’s Dilemmas course and benefit directly from his advice and experience. This allows for a unique overlap between concentrations and a broader perspective of entrepreneurship in business.
MBA students also have the opportunity to work closely with a fledgling startup from the United States, Israel, and elsewhere to experience the realities of starting a business and contribute to a startup’s development. For further business immersion and real-world learning, they also have the option to participate in a five-day residency in Israel or New York.
“To really be prepared for what you’re going to do in the workplace, you not only have to learn the concepts and theories, but you have to practice the application. When you apply something, you’re able to see ‘Where did I go wrong? What are the nuances that I hadn’t anticipated?,’” he says.
What’s Next at Sy Syms
With all three online master’s programs at full steam ahead, Dr. Wasserman is focused on continuing to elevate the high educational standards that YU Sy Syms has set. That also means investing in internships and networking opportunities for students, recruiting more startups for the YU Innovation Lab and sharing the Sy Syms story with others.
“I’m confident that the new programs are going to get even stronger than they are now and prepare you for jobs and for the world,” he says. “You’ll be able to build your network and meet a lot of people who can be the foundation of the network with which you can find jobs.”