Small Business Q&A: Achievements Outweigh Education and Experience

Q: When it comes to succeeding in business, which do you think
is more important: education or experience?
-- Regina M.

A: Regina, have you seen the television show, Fear Factor? If
you haven't seen it you've probably heard about it. Fear Factor
is the show where they put contestants through all sorts of
pseudo-death defying feats like bungee jumping off a bridge over
a pool of crocodiles and driving a car through a wall of fire
(you know, the stuff we did for fun in high school).

The contestant who overcomes their personal fear factor wins the
cash and prizes (usually at the cost of their dignity, but I

The highlight of Fear Factor is the eating competition. That's
when contestants are invited to partake of all sorts of culinary
fare. Yummy stuff like monkey brains, all manner of live bugs
and spiders, moose intestines, old fruitcake (the horror!), and
my personal favorite, live giant worms. At this point the
competition becomes not so much who can overcome their fear
actor, but who has the lowest gag reflex.

Your question makes me feel a little like those contestants,
Regina, because no matter how I answer I am opening a can of
giant worms that I will undoubtedly be forced to eat later.

My highly educated peers will argue that education is much more
important than experience, while my highly experienced peers
will argue that experience is more important. Either way, it's
worms ala carte for me.

Oh well, I've eaten more than my share of crow over the years.

How much worse can worms be?

It's important to understand that the success of an entrepreneur
is not measured by how much education he or she has or how many
years of experience are under his or her belt. An entrepreneur's
success is measured by achievements, not words on a resume.

By definition, an entrepreneur is a risk-taking businessperson:
someone who sets up and finances new commercial enterprises to
make a profit. Entrepreneurs start businesses. The smart ones
then hire MBAs to run them.

Let's start with education. Is a Bachelor's degree or better
required to succeed in business? Of course not. An MBA from
Harvard might give you a leg up in a job interview, but it
certainly doesn't guarantee that you will succeed in business.
Nor does it automatically mean that you will be a better business
person than someone who didn't finish high school. Knowledge
is a good thing - if you know what to do with it.

Perhaps it is the academic environment itself that turns mere
mortal nerds into budding entrepreneurs. The late '90s proved
that college students with no experience beyond organizing a
frat keg party could start businesses that would exceed all

Many would argue that the key to success for most of these
ventures was that the founders (or the VC financing them) were
smart enough to know that while they had an abundance of education,
they needed experienced managers to really run the show.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin were college students when they
started the company that would become Google. They were smart
enough to bring in Eric Schmidt to be chairman and CEO when the
business took off. Schmidt was the former CEO of Novell and CTO
of Sun Microsystems. A PhD, Schmidt is a man of education and

Jerry Yang and David Filo were candidates in Electrical
Engineering at Stanford when they started YAHOO (Yet Another
Hierarchical Officious Oracle) in 1994. They brought in Tim
Koogle from Motorola to run things shortly thereafter and now
the company is led by Terry Semel, who previously spent 24 years
running Warner Bros.

Now on to experience. Is experience a prerequisite of business
success? Again, not at all. Many experienced entrepreneurs
gained their experience in failed businesses, so experience
does not instantly translate to success.

So, when it comes to succeeding in business, which is more
important: education or experience? While neither is as
helpful as a rich relative, here's the answer that will
hopefully help me avoid those worms: Both education and
experience can play a large part in business success.

The more important question is can you succeed in business
without one or the other, or even without both? And the answer
to that one is: yes. Can I get ketchup with those worms?

Many successful businesses were started by first time
entrepreneurs who never went to college. Natural talent,
ambition, drive, determination, and good old dumb luck have
fueled many success entrepreneurs, myself included. I don't
have a degree (I drove past a college once. It looked hard,
so I kept going). Would a degree have helped make my business
trek easier? Perhaps.

Then again, I know people with advanced degrees who are flipping
burgers at McDonalds. It's good experience, I suppose.

A combination of education and experience (and a variety of
other things) is the best recipe for success. As the old saying
goes, "There is no better education than that which comes from

In the end, it really doesn't matter how much education,
experience, talent, luck or money you have. It's what you
do with it that matters.

Here's to your success.

Tim Knox, Founder
For more information on starting your own online business visit, the website for online

About the Author

Tim Knox as the president and CEO of two successful technology
companies: B2Secure Inc., a Web-based hiring management software
company; and Digital Graphiti Inc., a software development company.
Tim is also the founder of, an ebusiness
dedicated to the success of online entrepreneurs.

Tim Knox