Tim Chaves (MBA 2015) is the founder of ZipBooks, a free accounting app that helps small business owners get paid faster. Tim founded and sold two small businesses before coming to HBS, where he made the decision to dive into the venture-backed startup world. We recently caught up with Tim to discuss what the HBS experience is like for entrepreneurs. Here’s what he thought you should know:

1. There are mentors available for aspiring entrepreneurs

Students have access to so many incredible founders, funders, professors, and industry experts at HBS. 

One of our key advisors at ZipBooks is Sam Clemens, whom we met through the Rock Center Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program. Sam was the perfect match for us, as we were exploring SMB software-as-a-service opportunities and he had co-founded one of Boston’s most successful startups in that space. He was incredibly generous offering his time and mentorship while I was at HBS, and since ZipBooks’ founding, has acted formally as an advisory board member.

I was also amazed at how willing professors were to give their time and act as mentors. During my final semester at HBS, I decided to explore my startup idea as an independent project, and brought on Srikant Datar as my faculty supervisor. Srikant was amazing.  He met with me frequently, made connections on my behalf, encouraged me, and gave difficult feedback where necessary. Since graduation, we’ve kept in touch and plan to bring a ZipBooks-related project into his Design Thinking and Innovation course this fall! Other than Srikant, I’ve kept in touch with several professors who have continued to mentor and advise me since graduation.

2. Many of your classmates will be also be working on entrepreneurial ventures

I’ve been really impressed with how many of my sectionmates have gone on to work on entrepreneurial projects. Six of my sectionmates (out of about 90) founded startups directly after graduation, and four others started search funds (looking to buy and run a company).

One of the coolest startups to come out of my HBS class is Lovepop, a manufacturer of amazingly intricate 3-D popup greeting cards. They’ve gotten some major media attention in the past few months, including making a deal on Shark Tank!

3.You’ll discover you can learn about entrepreneurship at business school 

I wish I’d known how much I’d learn from a practical perspective at business school, even as an entrepreneur. It would have made me even more excited about going! I knew that HBS would be a great place to interact and build great relationships with some of the brightest minds and hardest workers in business; I thought it would help open doors if and when I wanted to raise venture capital. But I had the mistaken idea that entrepreneurship is learned exclusively through experience, and that mindset kept my previous small businesses from being as successful as they could have been.

At HBS, I learned how to analyze deeply into the economic principles that drive startup success (LTV > CAC!) and learned more qualitatively from the experiences of hundreds of case protagonists, many of whom came and spoke to us in class. One of my favorite courses at HBS was Founders’ Dilemmas. It was taught by Noam Wasserman, and it gave us leading-edge research on what can make or break a startup. I think about at least one of those discussions every single day I’m working on ZipBooks.

4. An MBA from HBS will allow you to take some career risks

I did my summer internship between RC and EC year at Google as a product manager. It was an amazing summer and I felt lucky to get a full-time offer.  I had a few weeks to decide whether I’d go back to Google or start something on my own—which is what, deep down, I truly wanted to do.  I agonized over that decision; Google was a sure thing! And startups are speculative at the best of times, especially before you’ve even started building the product or putting together a team.

I’ll never forget the advice from my Venture Capital and Private Equity professor our final day in class.  He told us that our careers now had a baseline -- with an MBA from HBS, we’d always be able to find work to provide for ourselves and our families. And because we had that baseline, we should feel confident in taking risks, remembering that “risk” isn’t just downside--its volatility that goes both ways.  The more risk we take, the greater upside potential we have, while our downside is always limited to the baseline we established at HBS.  

That lesson gave me a ton of confidence moving forward with ZipBooks, and I’ve been incredibly happy that I did.  Even though I had some great opportunities that were hard to turn down, for me, the HBS experience was the perfect segue into founding a venture-backed startup.