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Israeli Shachar Bialick spent the first decade of his working life founding and backing start-ups before he dropped everything to move overseas and take an MBA.
“I decided to have a year off,” he says of his time at the Fontainebleau campus of Insead, on the edge of Paris. “Self-improvement is important to me.”
After graduation, he was hired by another entrepreneur to help Checkout.com, an online payments venture in London, develop its web and mobile interface.
Within a year, though, he was back to founding businesses. He started Curve, a fintech company, to simplify personal finances with a single bank card for multiple accounts from different providers.
Bialick took the plunge after consulting former classmates at Insead, his only network of UK contacts when he arrived in London in summer 2013. They have been key to getting funding and feedback on the business plan.
“Moving for the first time to London after my MBA, the only network I had was through Insead friends and alumni,” he says. “They played a vital role as a sounding board in Curve’s early days — in fact, some still do today.”
The pitch, says Bialick, is “mission control for your money”. The concept was born from his frustration at managing various bank accounts.
“The world of money is disconnected,” he says, adding that his aim is to solve a problem created by too much choice in banking while providing a better service than traditional lenders.
“We have too many cards, too many accounts, and too many products and services we use to manage our money,” he adds. “Curve is my biggest, most ambitious business so far. We are aiming to create an entirely new category in the banking system.”
Since its launch in 2015, Curve has raised $12m in venture capital funding and added corporate partnerships to extend the services it offers, such as an expense filing system provided by Xero, the online accountancy service.
Among the first investors was Seedcamp, a London-based seed fund for early stage ventures across Europe, whose founding partner, Reshma Sohoni, is a fellow Insead alumna.
Sohoni says Insead has provided several possible investment leads. She brought Bialick to meet her investment committee shortly after Seedcamp had started to look for companies to back with its first €20m fund.
“Curve is a complex and therefore more defensible business and to say Shachar is hardworking would be an understatement,” she says.
One of the main reasons Bialick chose Insead was the chance to build an international network of people like Sohoni, an American who worked in India and Japan before moving to the UK. The school’s MBA classes are arranged to ensure that no one nationality dominates any cohort.
“For me, an MBA wasn’t about the curriculum, it was about the people,” he says. He also learnt hard skills that have helped him as a business owner, citing management accounting and organisational behaviour as being especially valuable.
“MBA schools are very good at building close-knit alumni networks but Insead is particularly well-known for it,” Bialick adds.
“The fact you can pack all that learning and new experiences into one year [rather than two on most US MBA programmes], was even better.”
Insead’s classes provided a better understanding of how to nurture an organisation, and how to give and receive feedback.
“No matter how successful you’ve been, at a school like Insead you meet extraordinary people,” he says. “It’s a clear reminder that you can learn from every person and every conversation, if you listen.”
MBAs divide entrepreneurs between those such as Bialick, who says his studies gave him the skills and networks that helped in the development of Curve, and those who feel all these advantages can be learnt by doing.
Bialick has sympathy for such views. “I’ll be the first to admit that nothing beats trial and error and the fastest way to learn is to swing into action,” he says, adding that if he hadn’t gone to business school he would probably have taken a year off travelling.
“The real question is what would I have done today if I didn’t go to business school, to which my answer is I don’t know, as its impact on my life has been so significant.”
Jargon buster: ‘Scale’
Not so long ago, it was cool to have a start-up. But in the inflationary world of entrepreneurship, just starting something is not enough. You need to turn your business idea into a scale-up.
Yes, the terms are jarring but the entrepreneurial community has gone a step further: now, the way to refer to success is to say that you “scale”.
Scales are something you stand on to see how fat or thin you have become; they are found on fishes; they are also what your children should practise each morning as they aim for their grade five trumpet exam, even if it drives you and your neighbours to distraction. Such long-standing and useful definitions should not be tainted by the addition of unnecessary jargon.
Start-ups is a phrase that, while not perfect, is generally accepted and does not need improvement It certainly does not need to be supplemented by a word that sounds more than a little fishy.
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