Want to be a business rockstar? Skip the $250k MBA and read The Personal MBA

Disclaimer: This is a review of The Personal MBA. I have no prior relationship with Josh Kaufman, the author, and I am not being compensated for this review. However, Josh did send me an unsolicited pre-release copy of the book.

I started writing a long book review of The Personal MBA , but let’s face it, you don’t really care about this book. But you do probably care about results, and whether you’re an entrepreneur, soon-to-be entrepreneur, or even just a manager at BigCo, this book can help you get 80% of the knowledge that you’d retain a couple years after getting your MBA. The book isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely a very useful guide for understanding business at a high level, so if you’re not interested in the whole review, just get the book. Otherwise, read on:

What It Covers

The Personal MBA is actually three books, in my opinion. The first third covers the major business functions like product development, marketing, finance, and overarching concepts of value creation and delivery. The second third of the book is an excellent overview of a lot of different personal and group productivity systems and theories. Finally, the last third of the book covers business systems and how to create, analyze, and optimize them. This last section is the most abstract, but the author does a good job of giving examples to help the reader from getting too confused.

Who It’s For

You should read this book if you want to have a solid grasp of the different business functions and how they interact, as well as a lot of practical ideas and knowledge on actually getting things done. A good friend of mine quit her job earlier this year to branch off on her own, but she’s also been toying with going back to school, perhaps for an MBA. She feels like she doesn’t have a solid enough foundation in business fundamentals, and that’s exactly the type of person this book was meant for (I’m giving her my copy, in fact). But even if you do have a strong background in business and read lots of books about business, you should still read this book, because it does an excellent job of tying together a lot of concepts that you’re already familiar with.

Why It’s Different

My undergrad degree is in business and getting my MBA is a long-standing interest of mine, so I assumed that The Personal MBA would be an overview of the standard business theories and fundamentals, and that i would be familiar with all of it. Well, I was familiar with most of the concepts, but the way the book covers them adds a lot of value.

Though I didn’t realize it at the time, much of my undergrad classes and texts covered business from a 1950s perspective, assuming that you’d be getting a job in a large corporation and you’d have to go really deep into the subject of operations management, or international finance, for example. And now that i look back and compare the last few years since I graduated with what I learned in school, I realize that the theory was solid, but it was missing two things:

First, I never had any kind of class that looked at business from a more holistic position and really tried to weave together all the functions like operations, marketing, and finance to explain how they work together in enterprises of all sizes, especially small companies.

Second, my classes prepared students to be employees of business, not to create them. Even my classes on entrepreneurship weren’t reflective of what entrepreneurship looks like in the 21st century, particularly in a knowledge economy. I don’t think any of my classes mentioned shadow testing or dry testing, for example, and if they did, they really dropped the ball on explaining how important and valuable they can be.

The Personal MBA does a really great job at explaining business in a way that would be relevant for the majority of people starting a small business today, especially a technology or web startup. It’s chock full of recent examples of startups and small businesses that have used the principles discussed to win.


I have a few nitpicks, like it would have been nice to see a book recommendation at the end of each concept rather than all clumped together into an appendix, and I think the book could have benefited greatly by a running narrative of two or three friends each starting or purchasing different types of businesses that the trickier or more abstract concepts could have used as running examples. But these are relatively minor issues in an otherwise well-executed book.


Overall, I’d give the book a 4/5 and recommend it for most readers. It’s a good reference and refresher even for those who already know the concepts, and for those without a good understanding of the concepts, it’s an invaluable look at business from a holistic point of view. Order it here.

Ultimately, this is a very practical book about how we can create more value, which is something that all of use could use more of. I wish I’d had it before starting my business degree.