Over the last week there’s been alot of talk questioning the value of having an MBA in a startup – Giff Constable, Rob Chogo, Jon Steinberg, Charlie O’Donnell (All stateside and non of whom I know). I’ve an MBA in entrepreneurship, 20 years tech business development experience and now a startup. In my experience an MBA does not teach anything you don’t already know or can work out for yourself. However it does say something about you as a person. Unfortunately this counts for squat in a startup. As in sales and in a startup you are only as good as your last months or quarters sales.
Why do an MBA?
From my experience meeting other MBA’s Jon Steinberg summarizes really well why people undertake the MBA:
- Value in building a network
- Credential – certain employers require an MBA for certain jobs
- Need a break from work
- Career change
For me it was about adversity, learning and change. Adversity has been shown to be the number one driving force for successful entrepreneurs. I don’t have a first degree and dropped out of college. I’d been stuck on an educational ledge ever since. Some of my close family and friends strongly advised me against doing the MBA, particularly in entrepreneurship. Yet it was one of the best years of my life. I loved every MBA minute!
Experience v’s an MBA
During my tech career I’ve built significant profitable customer bases three times from scratch. It ‘s been an amazing experience with great highs and the occasional low. In my last employment I grew a remote managed services business unit into a highly profitable multimillion dollar Global business winning customers like Richard Branson’s V2 Records. Building customer bases from nothing is not easy. I’ve found building a company even harder.
There is much an MBA does not teach you. It does not show you the many practical skills needed in business. In particular skills like sales, marketing a small business, attracting resources – the list goes on.. There are so many skills needed to run a startup. Given the choice real small business experience wins hands down over an MBA in a startup. However sometimes we forget that an MBA is an academic qualification. I’ve found that my MBA has brought value to our startup.
We like difficult challenging times
Some of us perversely put ourselves into difficult and challenging positions where the odds are not good. It’s often not a comfortable place to be. However we keep going back there! The MBA is deliberately tough. It was challenging for me not having the educational experience and understanding from a first degree. The first semester was the hardest. Its like a bootcamp. They give you too much work. It was an especially hard as my mother was diagnosed and died of cancer during the first semester – all part of life and doing an MBA!
Does an MBA bring value to a startup?
After so many years at the practical coal face of business development the MBA has definitely helped me see things differently. I now look at decisions more objectively. It has brought a greater understanding of internal business structures and holistic competitive markets. Was it worth the $10,000’s of dollars it cost? Plus all the living costs and lost savings – probably not. Would I make that decision again to do it – defiantly!
An old serial entrepreneur friend of my said that ‘a startup is an MBA of life.’ And he is so right. Nothing can prepare you for a startup. It is unlike anything I have ever done. It messes with your mind and body. We all know you didn’t need an MBA to start as business. So why do it? For me is it’s about exciting new adventures where you push yourself to the limit and learn new tricks. This could be doing an MBA, starting a new challenging job or having a startup. Keep learning and pushing your own boundaries. Life is boring otherwise. And why have a boring life! You only have one of them 😉
Yeah I know I’ve got an MBA, so I’m bound to be a bit bias. However on balance I highly recommend an MBA for those that have something to prove and love challenges. If your heading to startup ville and not moving up the career ladder in the same company an MBA will probably set you back. It will cost you lots of money and if your doing it to change career will put you back years. But these are good things. They keep you fresh and hungry. It’s the learning and personal growth that really matters.