Fearless: Demands of the life-changing MBA experience inspires engineer-banker-consultant to focus on startup opportunity

Fearless: Demands of the life-changing MBA experience inspires engineer-banker-consultant to focus on startup opportunity

Mohammed Jaffar - Co-founder Yanzo

Mohammed Jaffar has an especially diverse cultural and career background, growing up in
Nigeria where he spent most of his early life before studying in Lebanon and working across
Europe, the Middle East, GCC and Africa. He began his career in the UK as a consulting
engineer before moving to Dubai as a Management Graduate with a banking group where he
gained cross-departmental experience. He then moved into strategy consulting rising to director
within five years. Today, Mohammed is a co-founder of a tech startup that is revenue generating
with a team of more than 10 employees. His inspiration was partly driven by the MBA when he
found that part-time students simply did not have enough time for some of their day-to-day
chores. In addition to his Manchester MBA, he holds a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical
Engineering from the American University of Beirut and CFA certification.

“I was a banker but I knew that I didn’t want to work in banking all my life and so I looked for
something more related to management and strategy, and the MBA offered the best route to
accelerating my career. I couldn’t commit to a full-time programme and so the Global MBA was the
best choice and met all my requirements for ranking and reputation, while offering the opportunity
to connect with people face to face.”

Even when he moved into consulting and the company supported him with time off for workshops,
he knew he wanted to do his own thing but he didn’t know much about startups. With the MBA, he
was looking for more knowledge about business – he already had the foundations of accounting and
finance but electives such as VC-PE and Innovation convinced him that this would help lead towards
starting his own business.

“Half-way through the MBA, I was sitting with a group of friends (and eventual business co-founders)
who were all doing part-time master’s programmes at the time. It was clear to us all that we didn’t
really have the time to work and study and so we joined together to hire a PA and share the cost, to
help free up some time. It worked so well that we asked ourselves – why not turn this into a
business? – so we did.

“I believe the courses really helped me. For example, Negotiation - I realised that I do this every day.
I learned about marketing and game theory and the courses opened my mind. I was expecting this of
course but I didn’t expect all the experiences I had at the other University centres – this was a once-
in-lifetime experience.”

Mohammed took a month off to do workshops at the Singapore centre – a place he had never
visited before - and met with students and faculty there. He then went to Thailand on vacation
before joining workshops at the Shanghai centre (again meeting new people from different cultures)
followed by a visit to Japan, and back to Dubai.

“From the MBA, I got what I hoped and expected – and more. The network is really valuable and I
am still connected with fellow alumni through social media channels like WhatsApp and LinkedIn,
which are active. I recently joined an MBA induction session and the Annual Student and Alumni
Gala Dinner, where I met with Dame Nancy Rothwell, President and Vice-Chancellor. I also try to visit
the campus whenever I fly to the UK.

“The MBA made me believe that I was capable of owning and running a business. The startup
journey is not easy but there are VCs and incubators to offer support and we have always managed
to find a way. One secret to success is hard work of course but it’s also about not giving up. It sounds
simple but it isn’t. People keep asking me – have you failed yet? We have talked about shutting and
stopping the business, probably more than 50 times but we always decided to ‘give it another week
and see what happens’. It’s not over until you decide it’s over.”

In February 2022, Yanzo raised funding and since then the company has grown 85% month on
month, and is now accelerating even faster.

“Funding rounds are important and I learned so much on the MBA - I knew little about VCs so I didn’t
know how to pitch. With better understanding, it was clear that VC investors invest in people – they

back the jockey not the horse. The MBA was a great learning experience and it was amazing working
with different people and across different cultures. It opened my eyes and my mind to a different
way of looking at the world – it was a life changing experience for me.

Yanzo is now Mohammed’s focus and his full-time role.

“The MBA changed my mindset from the relatively conservative and cautious banking sector and
helped me to develop and see a different path. It took away my fear of being in a career where I
didn’t really feel I belonged. It also gave me the opportunity to test our new business idea and I still
use this experience today. The MBA helped me realise that there are other doors that can be opened
and I am sure I will have a much larger focus on entrepreneurship and new startup opportunities in
the future.”