The Final Lesson: A Professor’s End-of-Semester Notes

(and what he hopes his students actually learned!)

(Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr)

(Photo: Moyan Brenn/Flickr)

To my Entrepreneurial Finance students:

It’s been a long and arduous journey, and our time together has come to an end. I really enjoyed being your professor and pedagogue for these past several months. This class was composed of an extraordinary group of students, each with unique personalities and diverse backgrounds, all of whom I learned a great deal from myself.

Although this course was called “Entrepreneurial Finance”, I treated it as “Finance for Changemakers.” To this end, we covered a wide variety of topics, from financial statements, breakeven analysis, profitability, forecasting, pro formas, working capital, time value of money, valuations and capital budgeting, which will all serve you well in the future.

Apart from these finance concepts, I also exposed you to real world knowledge and experiences. We learned about Nikola Tesla and the entrepreneurial mindset; we played with bitcoin and debated the future impact of crypto-currencies; we ritualized mindfulness exercises in class to expand your creative and comprehension capabilities; we created real plans for real businesses and broke the ice on your first crowdfunding campaign; we researched the history of money and learned what really gives it value. We even explored the true value of your education and the impact of your dreaded student loans!

Yet all these lessons were just an excuse for what I was really teaching you throughout the course: how to open your mind and step outside your box. To accomplish this, I had to push your boundaries, both mentally and emotionally. I had to teach you more efficient ways to break down and absorb information, and give you enough work so that procrastination was not an option. I had to allow you to fail exams and take them again so you could experience the fruits of perseverance, especially when you were discouraged. Ultimately, I had to create an environment where you had to adapt to a new pace and style of iterative learning.

Why did we do all of this? Because on the other side of your diploma is a rich yet very different world waiting for you: one that does not follow the rules of academia and where every day is a test of your will and awareness. A world where the single greatest determinant of your success is how quickly you can learn, perceive and adapt to your environment.

In the end, you all survived, and passed! I’m incredibly proud of what you’ve accomplished and very excited for your future. As your final capstone and send off, I summarized a short list of takeaways from the class and valuable nuggets of wisdom I learned throughout my life that may serve you now or some time in the future.

Best wishes to you all, and now, go create something!

Professor Mehta

  1. There’s no such thing as failure; there’s only success and learning. Remove the world ‘failure’ from your vocabulary. Those who worry about failing miss the key lesson. Declaring something a failure assumes a limitation of time and opportunity. Learning, on the other hand, is a mindset of infinite opportunity. You may have received an F on the test, but that does not mean you will never learn the material. It means your previous attempt did not work so you must learn why and then alter your strategy. If you look at every missed expectation, every so-called “failure,” as a learning opportunity, your growth is unlimited.
  1. Everything changes. Nothing is absolute, even science. Be open to new ideas, perspectives, and experiences, and avoid clinging to old ideals and beliefs too tightly. New perspectives and experiences help build your well of ideas to pull from for future innovations. Even if 99% of a new idea seems irrelevant or false, look for the 1% that is relevant and that will be 1% more knowledge than you had before. Entire global movements have been triggered from that single spark.
  1. Have faith and trust. There are many unseen forces with far greater influence than you alone have on your life and the world around you. Do everything you possibly can to succeed, and then when you can’t do any more…let go (of all your expectations). That’s when the magic happens.
  1. Redundancy and repetition leads to mastery. In marketing and advertising, they tell you that a person needs to see an advertisement multiple times (impressions) before it has any influence or the ability to trigger a behavior. In sports, a similar principle applies: you begin by drilling a skill or motion until you perfect it, such as kicking a ball or shooting a basket. The same is true for learning. If you have to do the same problem over again in different ways, it allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the nature of the problem. To really learn something, you have to see it from a minimum of three different perspectives in order for your mind to have enough data and reference points to lock it into your brain. Otherwise, after all that work, it won’t stick, and you’ll forget most of it in a few days when the pressure is off.
  1. You are your greatest hurdle. You assume too much. We all do…some less than others but it’s still too much, and usually towards the negative (“I failed the exam!”). Drop your assumptions, or you’ll block new information and opportunities from reaching you. Fear (False Evidence Appearing Real) is rooted in false assumptions, and all negative emotions are rooted in fear (insecurity, judgement, jealousy, frustration, anger, resentment, not feeling worthy, etc.). To avoid falling into this trap, collect more information and data which can help give you a much fuller picture of your situation. This in turn will relieve you of unnecessary stress and prevent you from making bad decisions.
  1. Start early. Michelangelo didn’t sculpt David the night before it was due. He chipped away at it for almost 2 years with extreme vigilance. This is what it takes to build a masterpiece: time, focus and space. This is also true for learning. You will only retain 5% of the information if you try to cram for an exam a day or two prior, but if you start a week or two before, then the amount you retain goes up to at least 50% (10x). Your brain digests information and emotions at night while you sleep and this produces a compounding effect, like earning interest on your knowledge. If you want optimal retention and a deeper understanding of the material, you need to set a schedule and chip away at your assignments, projects and exam reviews over a longer period of time to gain the intended benefit. Were I to return to school as a student, I would use every class as an excuse and opportunity to exercise my ability to start things early and manage my heavy load with the least amount of effort and stress.
  1. Look through all your material. All the even-numbered answers were in the back of your textbook the whole time. There were appendices, charts and other tools that would’ve made your HW and lessons much easier if you knew they existed. When you receive your material, look through it thoroughly to see what tools you have available to you. When you have a job and you are given reports, look through the table of contents and flip through all the pages to see what’s there. The world is not linear, nor should you be.
  1. Leverage your resources. In finance we learned about leveraging other people’s money through investors, banks and lending institutions. It’s a powerful concept, but money isn’t the only thing you can leverage. You can also leverage other people’s time, knowledge and experience, especially if they’re willing to offer it. In more cases than not, these are more valuable than money. Also, leverage different websites and online resources like fiverr, kickstarter, and more to help get your ideas organized and to help execute your plan.
  1. Follow through on what you say. The majority of people in life (perhaps you!) say they’ll do something, but then they forget or are easily distracted by something else and don’t follow through. The #1 way people measure you in the professional world is your ability to follow through on what you say. Your word is your reputation. If you told someone you would pay them back, then pay them back early. If you said you were going to send them something, send it to them before they remind you. Every reminder knocks your reliability factor down by 20% and chances are when there’s a new opportunity, they will choose to work with someone else who’s more reliable. Trust and reliability are your two greatest marketing tools, but if handled carelessly, they will also be your biggest hurdles.
  1. Ground yourself and breathe. Create a morning ritual and take at least 10 minutes a day to do nothing else except sit and breathe. Meditation and mindfulness all starts with breathing and has been proven to increase performance and proficiency. If you want to go deeper then try the 60 day challenge and meditate for 45 minutes a day, which as the Harvard Research study demonstrated, can also rebuild your brain’s grey matter. See how you feel after that. You just might be able to reclaim all those lost brain cells from those fun nights!
  1. Use the 80/20 Rule. As applied to business, the Pareto’s Principle states that 20% of a company’s clients represent 80% of its revenue. It’s also true that it takes 20% of your time and effort to accomplish 80% of your tasks. Conversely the final 20% of your goal, takes 80% of your effort, which is a much poorer return on your investment of time and effort. This is true for most things in life, so use your time and energy wisely, and don’t get stuck in trying to perfect that final 20%.
  1. Professor Mehta’s 90/10 Rule. It takes 10% more effort to be 90% better than everyone else (your competition). Whether it be in sports, academics or career, most people tend to put in just enough effort to get by, therefore it really only takes about 10% more effort and awareness to really stand out and shine.
  1. Summarize everything. You are your best teacher and the best way to learn and retain information is to break it down into smaller, easily digestible pieces and then summarize them in your own words as if you’re going to teach it to someone else. That little extra time it takes to do this will boost your understanding by 80% and save you significant time and stress later.
  1. Preparation is the key to success. Most games in life are won by preparation and well thought out plans. Take 20 minutes in the morning to plan your day; take 20 minutes in the evening to summarize and digest your day and plan your next day; and then execute in between. The more you practice this, the easier your days will flow and the more mental resources you will have available to handle the unexpected since there will ALWAYS be a curve ball when you least expect it. Be ready.
  1. Ideas and innovation come from a diversity of exposure and experience…seek them out. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in the world, but it’s not on CNN or FOX. You have to go off the beaten path to find it. Explore different countries, cultures, industries, entrepreneurial ventures, business practices, ideas, perspectives, blogs, media and anything not mainstream. By the time something has become mainstream, it’s no longer cutting edge; in fact, it’s on the verge of becoming obsolete.
  1. The 3 P’s (Patience, Persistence and Perseverance). This is what it takes to succeed in anything–school, work, relationships, building a company or creating something of value that will change the lives of billions of people. Those who follow the 3 P’s clearly outperform those who do not. Of these, patience is the hardest, so exercise this muscle with every opportunity that presents itself.
  1. Attitude is more important than knowledge. Getting an A doesn’t mean you’re a stellar student, nor does getting an F mean you’re a terrible student. The best learner is the one with the best attitude; the one who’s the most open and receptive and the least critical and judgmental. When you’re open and receptive you can experience the greatest revelations in the smallest of things, which leads to faster and more efficient understanding. When you’re critical and judgmental of yourself and others, then you’re blocking the inflow of valuable information and the only way you learn is if a brick hits you square in the face. In other words, you require significant pain to learn, which is very inefficient.
  1. Allow gratitude to transform you and others. Gratitude is nothing more than a grateful attitude. It is the highest form of emotional intelligence and when you’re feeling it, you emit a powerful resonance that transforms you and everyone around you. When you’re in a state of gratitude, you attract incredible amounts of information, knowledge and resources to you with the least amount of effort. Gratitude is also a powerful grounding tool. If you want to try an exercise to experience this for yourself, write 5 things you’re grateful for every morning for the next 30 days, and watch what happens with your perception of yourself and the world around you.
  1. The way to change the world is to change yourself first. Your outer world is simply a reflection of what’s going on in your mind. If you want something to change in your world, then you have to change your mindset and the way you view the situation first. As Einstein once said, “No problem can be solved by same level of consciousness that created it.” Mastering the human mindset is the ultimate pursuit of every great entrepreneur, inventor, creator and changemaker.
  1. Your ultimate value is not measured by your success and accomplishments; it’s measured by how you make others feel. Everything in life, including finance class, is another opportunity to interact with people and discover new ways to work through challenges while still making others feel valued and validated. People are mysterious beings and you never know who is in the position to help you when you least expect it. Be kind and compassionate to others and somewhere along the way your kindness and compassion will be rewarded 10x. In short, don’t be a jerk.
  1. Be on time. The most important information and exchange is usually in the beginning and the end of a class, job, meeting or event. Show up early and leave a little late, not the other way around.
  1. With responsibility comes power. They say with great power, comes great responsibility. However, it’s also true the other way around. The amount of power (influence) you have is directly proportional to how much responsibility you take on, whether it’s for your class project, job or for your life in general. It’s easy to blame someone else when something doesn’t meet your expectations, but when you do, you forfeit all power and influence to reform the situation into what you want. However if you take responsibility, you’re now in the driver seat and not a consequence of someone else’s actions.
  1. Communicate. Believe it or not, open (and courteous) communication solves 95% of all problems and conflicts. If you’re not happy with someone or something, meet and communicate with them. Be careful with firing off emails and texts. The emotional tone in a one-dimensional black/white communication is easily misinterpreted by the receiver, especially when there is a conflict. The bigger the concern, the more important it is to talk to them in person or at least on the phone.
  1. Listen, don’t assume. Ninety percent of communication should be listening. This is the most difficult skill to develop, which is why many call it an art. It’s easy to project your fears, beliefs and biases on someone else, but a good listener is one who puts all their biases aside to truly understand the other person’s point of view. Business and changemaking is all about listening first and then taking action.
  1. Ask for help. Steve Jobs said it best, “No one has ever said ‘no’ to me when I asked for help.” Most people claim to not have the time to volunteer to help others, but if you ask, they somehow manage to make time. This is counter-intuitive, but people by their nature like to help others when and where they can, so don’t be shy to ask.
  1. Money is not real, but it can be used to create things that are. In a fiat based currency system like ours, money in itself is just a set of digits on a screen or a piece of paper with some ink that has no intrinsic value. It only has extrinsic value based on the belief and agreement of those who use it. Therefore, chasing the dollar and pegging your self-worth to how much money you have adds very little value to your life. It’s essentially trapped energy. However, using money to create things and experiences that matter and bring joy and meaning to others is its true purpose–and much more fulfilling.
  1. Track your health. Your mind and body are your chariots of life and your greatest assets, however, if you ignore or take them for granted, they will become your biggest liability. Learn about how your mind and body work and treat them both with the care and respect they deserve. Feed them quality food and water, avoid physically and emotionally toxic environments, minimize unnecessary meds, drugs, and chemicals along with processed foods, sugars and salts. Do everything in moderation to hedge your risk. Remember, your health is your wealth.
  1. How someone thinks is more important than what they think. A person’s mindset determines one’s thinking process and ultimately what thoughts and actions will emerge. If you can learn the operating system behind someone’s mindset and how they perceive the world, that will give you much more valuable information than what they know. When meeting a great mind or engaged in a conversation with a decision-maker (like your professor), ask about their creative approach or their thinking process of how they came to a specific conclusion. Understanding their mental framework will help you more easily navigate and influence their decision-making process, while helping you optimize yours.
  1. Manage your emotions. Your emotions are the rocket fuel for your life. They can be your greatest motivator and fly you to the moon, or your single point of defeat and send you crashing into the ocean. Understand how they work and what triggers them by paying attention to how you feel. If you’re feeling stress, than you’re most likely experiencing some form of fear and need to validate (or invalidate) your assumptions with more facts. Those who learn to master (not suppress) their emotions, learn to master life.
  1. Stay curious. Curiosity is the elixir of life. When your curiosity dies, you stop learning. When you stop learning, you stop living.

Ravé Mehta is an adjunct professor at Rollins College and teaches the intersection of finance, entrepreneurship and innovation. Mehta is also an award-winning engineer, tech entrepreneur, and bestselling author. His recent book The Inventor: The Story of Tesla is a bestselling nonfiction graphic novel based on the true story of Nikola Tesla as he battled his mentor-turned-rival Thomas Edison in the AC/DC wars to bring light and energy to the four corners of the world. You can follow Ravé on twitter @ravemehta.

The Final Lesson: A Professor’s End-of-Semester Notes