My HEC Paris Journey, Part II: First Two Months

Written by Azat Mardan

It’s already been two months since I was accepted into and joined the MSIE program at HEC Paris (Master of Science in Innovation and Entrepreneurship). Right away, there were two courses that I needed to pass within a month of July 2019. Luckily, there was a summer break in August. So the deadlines for the final exams were extended one month (into the second month of the program). The first two courses were Entrepreneurial Strategy and Boosting Creativity. Let me share a little bit about the courses and the final exams.

Entrepreneurial Strategy

The Entrepreneurial Strategy: From Ideal to Exit course is led by an experienced entrepreneur who founded and sold multiple companies. Just as the name of the course suggests, we’ve covered everything starting from an idea for a startup/business to an exit (sale) of it. In between, we’ve covered sales, management, and other topics. The scope of starting, running and selling a business is vast so unsurprisingly the course lacked depth. However, for someone absolutely new to startups or someone starting a traditional businesses, this course can be good. I offers a high-level overview of what it take to have a successful exit (or two).

The main take away is that as an entrepreneur you should start small with as little money as possible, then focus on sales and only then on the team, international expansion and scaling up. The two aspects are the most important: starting fast and doing sales yourself first. I agree. A lot of people don’t start and those who start at a risk of never making it, because they never have enough money coming in from sales. Or their product is not needed, because they didn’t do sales to test the market and the product.

For me this course was a good refresher of some of the tools and techniques. I was surprised at the end that the only option was an exit by an acquisition. About a decade ago, I would have imagined someone building a business that can be kept running for years or the one that can go to an IPO. It might be a sing of a winner-takes-all economy where small startups can’t compete with giants long term and can’t continue to survive by themselves either. Startups just have to sell out or die. Even the most successful like Twitter and Snapchat struggle with becoming profitable for many years. So maybe founders of Instagram and WhatsApp did the right thing that they sold to Facebook which had sales and ad but lacked the new audience.

Boosting Creativity

The Boosting Creativity course was a very unusual one. We had to draw aliens, coffeeshops and learn about scarf knitter. I liked that my creative limits were pushed. We used different techniques and templates to be more creative. I even liked some of my coffeeshop ideas and think they could be a real business (one of them is teashop — a coffeeshop without coffee).

The main take away is that happiness and the positive attitude help creativity. The more positive emotions someone has the better the chances of being creative. Also, creativity is about using normal object in a new way. The last take away is that restraining the number of options (less choices) makes experienced creators more creative while it has no effect on novice creators. It’s counterintuitive because everyone thinks that having more options leads to more freedom and creativity. Not so much… and my personal experience proves it. When I write and turn off internet I can be more creative when I have various websites within an easy reach just for an inspiration (often just a distraction).

Final Exams

For this masters degree, HEC Paris requires a final exam for each course. These exams are conducted via Coursera and Examify (another separate company from HEC Paris and Coursera). I was surprised with this format but the exams turned out to be pleasant and convenient. The exams give more credibility to the degree because they make it very hard to cheat.

The convenience is in the fact that I didn’t need to drive to a test location like Prometric or use antique PC computer with a QUERTY layout. I like my MacBook keyboards and use the Colemak layout. The exam is done with the camera and mic on. Also, I shared my screen and showed that my table is clean and there’s no one else in the room. These things are required to prevent looking at notes (these are closed book exams) or any cheating.

The time slots are abundant. The proctors sit somewhere in India but they are very polite and helpful (when it comes to rules but not the questions themselves, of course).

Wrap up

Overall, I’m very satisfied with this MSc from HEC Paris so far. I love, love, love the self-paced aspect, the practicality of the courses, the peer-reviewed assignments and the proctored final exams. I just don’t like to sit in traffic trying to get to the classroom. I prefer video lectures to live tutors.

As far as practicality, I already started to apply some of the skills I learned in Boosting Creativity in my life and work. But there’s no time to rest. There are two more new exciting, interesting and useful courses in September 2019: Business Strategy and Strategic Management of Innovation. I even ordered a text book. Onward!