Learning Business Fundamentals

Most business schools start their first-year students with a set of courses that get everyone on the same page, teaching certain fundamentals that serve as a foundation for the rest of the education. If you are considering putting together your own business education, I recommend that you do what regular MBA students do and start by taking a variety of courses that cover the major business disciplines. This website is dedicated to the premise that you can get an MBA-style education, on your own, for a fraction of what you would pay for even the cheapest MBA program out there. This is possible thanks to the existence of open educational resources (OER), massive open online courses (MOOCs), and other free and low-cost resources that make high-quality education available to pretty much anyone.

These days, in addition to individual business courses, there are a variety of course series that cover those fundamentals. The nice thing about a course series, is that some of the work of designing your curriculum is done for you.

Below are a few options for readymade course series that teach business fundamentals to people without a prior business background.  While the list of topics they cover varies slightly, what all these programs have in common is that they will teach you to understand and speak the language of business.


Business Foundations Specialization

University of Pennsylvania Wharton Business School on Coursera

The Business Foundations Specialization from Wharton Business School on Coursera consists of five courses, plus a capstone project. The courses provide an introduction to marketing, financial accounting, managing people, corporate finance, and operations management. I took versions of three of these courses (accounting, marketing, and operations management) back when they were first introduced (the current courses are condensed from the originals), and I can personally attest to the high quality of the content. I still use concepts I learned in these courses every day at work. At $79 per month, it’s a good value when you consider that you are learning from some of the top professors at a school that is consistently in the top 5 MBA programs in the US. The full program can be completed in about 6-7 months, at a cost of around $500.



I have been very interested in the Certificate of Readiness (CORe) from Harvard Business School’s extension program, HBX. CORe consists of three courses, on Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting. At $1,950 this program is more expensive than the others on this list. However, I think there are some good reasons to consider it. First, the Harvard name pulls some serious weight, even if you’ve take just a short program like this one. Second, the program offers some flexibility to students. You can choose a standard 12 week program, an accelerated 8-10 week program, or an extended 17 week program, depending on what fits into your schedule. You can also elect to earn credit (for an additional fee). Third, the level of personal interaction in this program is high as compared to other online courses. From what I can tell, the interaction is more similar to an online degree program than what you would find in a MOOC.


Business Fundamentals MicroMasters

The University of British Columbia on edX

One newer program is the Business Fundamentals MicroMasters from the University of British Columbia. This MicroMasters is offered on the edX platform. Like the other MicroMasters on edX, this program can accelerate a Master’s degree. So, if you decided to continue to get a full MBA from UBC, this program would count towards that degree. When you consider the offer of credit towards the full MBA, the $720 price tag is actually very affordable. The series consists of six courses, including Business Foundations, Business Communications, Introduction to Accounting, Organizational Behavior, Introduction to Marketing, and Introduction to Corporate Finance. The program can be completed in about 9 months.


An Entire MBA in 1 Course

For a very inexpensive introduction to business, you might want to look at Chris Haroun’s course on Udemy, An Entire MBA in 1 Course. I have reviewed this course in depth elsewhere on the blog. It is a great resource, and at $50 (with No-Pay MBA’s discount), it is very affordable as compared to the other options on this list. One drawback is that it is just a single course, so you are only getting one person’s perspective. That said, it is about as comprehensive as any single course you will find. Particularly if you are an entrepreneur or working in a startup environment, or if you just need to gain a basic understanding of business and don’t have much time or money to invest, this is a great choice. It’s also fully on demand and self paced, so you can access any part of it at any time. NB: One thing to be aware of is that unlike the other options on this list, this is not the kind of course you would list on your resume, though it works just fine for increasing your general level of business skills and savvy.

Writing the Next Chapter

Of all the chapters in my book Don’t Pay For Your MBA (HarperCollins, 2017), my favorite to write was Chapter 5. That’s because Chapter 5 is about how to craft your career, a topic that I find endlessly fascinating.  In my book, I suggest approaching your career as a series of hypotheses and experiments, just as an entrepreneur who uses Design Thinking would approach designing a new product. I also emphasize the importance of innovation, creative thinking, and storytelling. I believe that every career (and every life) is a story in progress. The better you become at piecing together the bits of that story into a coherent narrative, the more easily you can convince other people (potential employers, bosses, investors, etc.) of what your next step ought to be and why you are ready to take it.

This process of crafting a narrative story out of your life and career relates directly to the question I am most frequently asked about the No-Pay MBA project: What can you do with a self-directed business education? It’s a question that is probably on your mind as well if you’re considering going down the DIY MBA path.

When I wrote the book, I didn’t yet know what my next step would be. At the time, I was working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Rwanda and running No-Pay MBA as a side project. In Chapter 5, I wrote some of my hypotheses about what my next career step would be. These included starting my own consulting business, continuing to work for USAID, and joining a startup in educational technology.

Courera - Earn your Degree Online

Shortly after I finished writing the book, I got an email from Dhawal Shah, the founder of Class Central. For those who don’t know it, Class Central is the best search engine and review site for MOOCs. I used the site a ton during my studies, and I had connected with Dhawal as a fellow entrepreneur in the MOOC space. As his business was growing and he found himself in need of new talent, he thought of me. His message came at just the right time. I am now working for Class Central as part of the core team. Because Class Central is a startup, that means doing whatever needs doing, from writing articles to attending conferences to strategizing about the direction of the business. Although I couldn’t have foreseen stepping into this particular role even a few months before it happened, it is a perfect fit.

Will a No-Pay MBA be part of your story?

This blog is a chronicle of my experience using free and low-cost resources from the internet (primarily MOOCs) to create my own version of an MBA, a project I started in 2013. I’m not blogging as much these days, since I finished the education and put all of my best insight into the book. Now, my main goal with this website is to reach the people who can benefit from reading my book.  You may be here because you are researching options for affordable business education. If that is the case, then you may be one of the people I am trying to reach.

Whenever I am deciding whether I need a book, I like to listen to the author talk about their work. If the same if true for you, and you are deciding whether you need Don’t Pay For Your MBA, you can hear me on some of the podcast interviews I’ve done surrounding my book launch.  These include the How To Be Awesome At Your Job Podcast, Everyday MBA, and StartEdUp.

I’m also happy to hear from you, whether you are considering pursuing a self-directed business education, or if you’ve started down that path. I love connecting with self-directed learners who are considering or have pursued the NPMBA method. If you want to get in touch, the contact form on this website is a direct line to my inbox.

Business and Financial Modeling from the Wharton School

Here’s wishing you the best of luck writing the next chapter in your story!


After “An Entire MBA in 1 Course” Chris Haroun Still Has You Covered

This Silicon Valley venture capitalist turned Udemy entrepreneur will teach you everything you need to know to succeed in business.

Note: This post contains affiliate links.


Chris Haroun has found a calling. Having spent time in a variety of high-profile business careers, including financial analysis, management consulting, and Silicon Valley venture capitalism, he now spends his days creating courses as one of the most popular instructors on the learning platform Udemy.

I first wrote about Chris Haroun’s blockbuster Udemy course An Entire MBA in 1 Course back in 2016. Especially after having taken so many academic business school courses from the major MOOC platforms, I was impressed by how comprehensive, practical, and enjoyable Chris’s course was.

Since then, Chris has created a veritable business school on Udemy. In addition to An Entire MBA in 1 Course, he now has courses on finance, management, accounting, personal productivity, job interviews, and many other topics. Not only that, his flagship course has been translated into 11 languages.

While “online course instructor” may seem an unlikely profession for someone with Chris’s background, it is in fact a perfect fit. As a course creator, Chris is part business professor, part entrepreneur, part life coach. His passion for helping others succeed is palpable in every lesson, as is the creativity that has gone into building his impressive library. (For an example of that creativity, check out the trailer for his new course on presentations and public speaking.)

Furthermore, his courses have made him one of Udemy’s greatest success stories. They have been purchased by more than 250,000 students in 196 countries. Chris sees himself as part of a sea change in higher education. “I feel that this is the last generation of kids that feels like they have to go to university. I think that in the future a lot of people are going to bypass university by just learning concepts online,” he says.

“I think that in the future a lot of people are going to bypass university by just learning concepts online.”

Recently, I got the chance to check out several of Chris’s new courses, those he considers next steps after An Entire MBA in 1 Course. These include The Complete Personal Finance Course, The Complete Presentation and Public Speaking/Speech Course, and The Complete Job Interview, Resume/LinkedIn and Network Guide. As with his original course, I was impressed with the new courses, and would strongly recommend them to anyone studying business, or really anyone.

You’ll find links to the courses I reviewed here (Personal Finance, Public Speaking, Interviewing) as well as at the bottom of this blog post (with a significant discount from the list price on Udemy). For a discount on Chris’s original course, An Entire MBA in 1 Course, click here.


Why I Recommend Chris Haroun’s Courses


They Are Highly Practical

Chris’s courses contain a wealth of information and advice, drawn from his expansive career, life experience and education. He offers practical tips and suggestions that are immediately applicable to both work and personal life. This is stuff they don’t necessarily teach in business school (or anywhere in higher education).

“I went to business school, and they didn’t teach us how to manage our money. How ridiculous is that?!”

Knowing that so many people are missing this critical information, Chris was inspired to create courses to fill those gaps. As he says of personal finance, “I went to business school, and they didn’t teach us how to manage our money. How ridiculous is that?! They teach you how to manage other people’s money, but not your own.”

They Are Highly Engaging

As I mentioned earlier, Chris’s passion for his subject matter - and his students - is obvious. While making courses has been a lucrative venture, it’s clear that Chris isn’t just in it for the money. Just as he recommends in his course on presentations and public speaking, he speaks from the heart. Having taken literally dozens of online courses, one thing that really carries me along is a professor’s enthusiasm and energy. Chris has that in spades. It often feels like he is talking to you directly.

Each course is filled with useful materials and real-world exercises that prepare you for situations you will encounter. For example, The Complete Personal Finance Course contains a fully-featured Excel spreadsheet that walks you through your complete financial picture. Once you have taken stock of your finances, the course (and the accompanying spreadsheet) help you figure out how to improve them.  Likewise, The Complete Job Interview, Resume/LinkedIn and Network Guide includes a workbook to help you identify your strengths and help you effectively showcase them. 


Chris Haroun Is Incredibly Supportive

At the beginning of all of his courses, Chris says, “Please ask me as many questions as you want to during and after this course. I am here 24 hours a day, seven days a week to humbly help.” And he means it. Last year, Chris answered over 2,000 questions from Udemy students. That’s more than 5 questions every single day.

Chris is just as much coach as he is professor. He speaks often about his own learning experiences, often stemming from mistakes. He’s been there, and he gets it. Sometimes you just need someone to tell you that you can do it. Chris does that, then he shows you how.

In The Complete Job Interview, Resume/LinkedIn and Network Guide, he walks you through how to prepare for an interview step by step. He gives advice on how to mitigate any perceived weakness and how to arrive totally prepared. He even includes templates for materials he suggests you bring to the interview, ensuring that you are the very most impressive candidate.


I am thrilled to announce that Chris is offering a generous discount on his courses to readers of this blog. These courses normally cost up to $200 on Udemy. You can get them here for $19.99 each.

Have you taken one of Chris Haroun’s courses? Tell us what you thought of it in the comments below.

100 Days of Business Education

Join me in the #100DaysOfBizEd Challenge.

Have you heard of the 100 Days of Code Challenge? This incredible concept leverages the power of social media to help people stay motivated to learn something new. People who take on this challenge pledge to code for 1 hour a day for 100 days. They make a public commitment on Twitter using the hashtag #100DaysOfCode. Part of the challenge also involves encouraging others who have taken on the challenge, using social media.

The 100 Days concept works for any endeavor that requires practice and consistency. Now, in addition to #100DaysOf Code, there are many challenges using this methodology, including #100DaysOfWriting, #100DaysOfFitness, and even #100DaysOfKindness.

If you’re new to this site, I blog about my project to replicate a traditional MBA using free and low-cost resources from the internet (primarily MOOCs). I finished that project some time ago, and I even have a book out on the subject of doing a self-directed business education.



Now I’m feeling a need to refresh some of my skills and to revisit some topics that I didn’t fully cover while I was doing my No-Pay MBA.  Also, it’s January and I’m making goals for the New Year. Two of my goals for this year are 1) to become an Excel power user, and 2) to get better at social media marketing.

My goals for the year:

1) Become an Excel power user.

2) Get better at social media marketing.

How the #100DaysOfBizEd Challenge Works

This month, I will be starting my own challenge, 100 Days of Business Education. I’m using the hashtag #100DaysOfBizEd, and I’m adopting the same rules as the #100DaysOfCode Challenge.

1. I pledge to work on my business skills (primarily Excel and social media marketing in my case, but you could work on any business-related subject) for 1 hour per day for the next 100 days.

2. I will tweet my progress each day with the #100DaysOfBizEd.

3. I will use social media to encourage others who join the challenge.

New Year, New Career_728x90

Will You Join Me?

Do you have business education goals you are trying to reach in 2018? If so, please join me for the #100DaysOfBizEd Challenge!

Click here to tweet your commitment to joining the challenge.

The First Truly Free MBA Degree

The Smartly MBA is 100% online and 100% free for students.


Note: This post was originally published on August 22, 2016 and was updated on December 8, 2017. This post contains affiliate links.

Folks, hang onto your hats. The free MBA has finally arrived. Over the past several years we’ve seen a variety of business education options tailored toward price-sensitive students. Starting around 2012, MOOCs made it possible to get a top-tier business education for free (minus the degree of course).


Since then, there has been an explosion of MBA programs and other business credentials, all costing less than a quarter of a traditional MBA. In 2015, the University of Illinois launched its iMBA through Coursera, a MOOC-based MBA degree for $22,000 - still a big chunk of change but much more affordable than a typical top-25 MBA program. That same year,  the University of the People premiered its “tuition-free” MBA, though students still need to pay about $2,000 in testing fees to get the credential. HEC Business School now also offers an online Master’s in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (also through Coursera) for 20,000 euro. And earlier this year, MOOC provider edX introduced a new suite of MicroMasters programs in business, all at around the $1000 mark.


Still, none of them has managed to do what Smartly has done. Smartly offers the only truly free MBA degree. Not a scholarship, not free-to-audit, but a fully free business education resulting in an MBA degree.


How the Smartly MBA Works


The Smartly MBA was created by a company called Pedago, which was founded by Tom Adams, Alexie Harper, and Ori Ratner, all of whom worked together at the language learning company Rosetta Stone. The Smartly MBA is built on Pedago’s interactive web and mobile app. “We had succeeded in bringing active learning principles to the language learning market, but were frustrated that most of the online learning industry was stuck in the lecture-and-broadcast mode of instruction. So we decided to start Pedago with the mission of delivering mobile-first, bite-sized lessons on an active learning platform that could support content in any subject-area,” says Harper, Chief Product Officer at Pedago.


The Smartly MBA is delivered online through a highly interactive technology application. No PowerPoint, no lectures. To complete each lesson, students must interact with the system constantly, every 8.7 seconds on average. The curriculum includes 600 lessons on 9 business subjects, a full MBA education.


The program is one hundred percent free for students. Smartly makes its money on the back end, by charging recruitment fees to the employers Smartly expects will eagerly snap up its graduates. Job placement is an integral part of Smartly’s offering.

HEC Paris v2 720x90

Students are accepted by application only. So far, Smartly has had about 2,000 students go through its programs, including both currently enrolled students and alums.


Perhaps even more incredible than its price is that fact that students can finish the program in just nine months. That’s about half the time it takes to complete a traditional MBA.


“We were frustrated that most of the online learning industry was stuck in the lecture-and-broadcast mode of instruction.”

Is it really an MBA?


At present, the Smartly MBA is not accredited, meaning it hasn’t been reviewed and accepted by one of the official bodies that accredits business schools. However, Smartly is licensed to offer an MBA degree by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in Washington, DC. Smartly decided to launch their offering into the marketplace without waiting to complete the lengthy accreditation process, which can take multiple years. Smartly does plan to seek accreditation in the future.

“These aren’t your typical online MBA students. These are Ivy Leaguers, entrepreneurs, investors, top-tier coders, consultants, and graphic designers.”

Who’s doing it?


The typical Smartly student has already achieved considerable academic and career success. That is certainly the case with Yash Jain, one of the members of the inaugural Smartly cohort. Jain currently works as a strategic business development consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton. His a long term goal is to become a venture capitalist in the area of health technology. Jain holds an undergraduate degree in Biomedical Engineering from The George Washington University and a graduate degree in Biotechnology and Entrepreneurship from the University of Pennsylvania. He describes his ideal professional role as “the bridge between the engineering and business worlds.”

While Jain did have some hesitation about joining an unknown and untested online MBA program, he says those fears evaporated once he started to meet the other members of his incoming class. “These aren’t your typical online MBA students,” he says.  “These are Ivy Leaguers, entrepreneurs, investors, top-tier coders, consultants, and graphic designers.”  


Smartly’s students interact through a social learning platform that accompanies the interactive software. This is where students in each cohort do collaborative group work and case studies online.


The catch? You probably won’t get in


Does a free MBA sound too good to be true? Well, for most people, it still is. Smartly advertises itself as “the world’s most selective MBA.” With an acceptance rate under 7% and an average GMAT score among accepted students topping 700, Smartly beats out programs like Harvard, Stanford and INSEAD when it comes to selectivity. So, while its technology program is scalable, Smartly serves the same kind of students that would typically be found in the most elite MBA programs. Members of Smartly’s first cohort have work histories that include Morgan Stanley, Accenture, KPMG, McKinsey and Company, and Google; and academic transcripts that include schools like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale. This year, two of Smartly’s MBA students appeared on the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 List. To put that into perspective, Harvard Business School had 4 alumni on the same list.

Going forward, Smartly plans to keep its MBA highly selective but says that the company is still solving an important problem for many talented students. Not everyone who is able to get into a top MBA program can afford to go. With the Smartly MBA, price is not a barrier. Thanks to its scalable technology, Smartly can accept more students than many on-campus programs can. Of the top 10 business schools worldwide, Smartly is on pace to be the largest in enrollment in 2018. Additionally, as the company expands, it plans to develop other programs and degrees that will be open as well as free.

New programs to meet the needs of more students


In addition to its signature MBA program, Smartly has recently launched two more offerings, a Business Certificate program and an Executive MBA program. Like the MBA, the six-week Business Certificate program is free for students. It also includes access to Smartly’s virtual network of students and career network.

The 12-month Executive MBA program is geared towards mid-career professionals with additional courses in management, leadership, entrepreneurship and strategy. Admission is weighted more on career achievements, and the curriculum emphasizes peer activities with group projects and collaborative case studies. The EMBA also features optional on-site weekends in Washington, D.C. for networking and business-oriented activities. At $9,600 the EMBA isn’t free, but it is much more affordable than many other comparable programs. 

Coursera Business Vertical



Smartly is currently accepting applications for the Free MBA and the Executive MBAInformation about the Business Certificate can be found here



What do you think about the Smartly MBA? Is it a good option for people seeking an affordable business education? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Are you interested in starting a No-Pay MBA?

Enter your email to get the first chapter of my book "Don't Pay For Your MBA"