Downplaying the value of an MBA—both the degree itself and the degree-holder—is a common topic in the startup world. I will not jump on that bandwagon because that would suggest that I regret getting my MBA.
I have absolutely no regrets getting my MBA (though my student loan payments can be painful tests of that attitude each month).
I did a 5-year combined BA/MBA with the goal of getting a job on Wall Street. The program was a great opportunity for me, because I was more than halfway through completing my major in History when I realized I wanted to go into finance—not whatever you go into with a history degree. If I had switched majors to finance so late in the game, I would have put myself on the 5-6 year track for just a BA. Instead, the combined MBA program allowed me to stick with and finish my BA in history (in 3 years)—then go directly into a full-time 2-year MBA.
It was during my MBA entrepreneurship class four years ago that I stumbled across AVC and Feld Thoughts, two blogs that ended up being my gateway drugs for startup addiction. From then on, I knew I would not be seeking a job on Wall Street, but that I would find other gigs that would prepare me for taking the leap into entrepreneurship. (It’s not that Wall Street does not prepare you for entrepreneurship, but that I was no longer interested in going the Wall Street route at all).
In short, if it weren’t for my MBA, it’s possible that I would not have stumbled across the blogs from which I caught the startup bug. Because of that and the great friends I added to my network, I can’t possibly regret getting my MBA.
Would I recommend getting an MBA?
If you’re the career-type, then I’d say yes. My MBA would have prepared me pretty well to be a good corporate employee and eventually a manager in either finance or marketing. And again, the network you get from your cohort is perhaps the most valuable thing about an MBA.
If you’ve already caught the startup bug, I would not recommend getting an MBA for these reasons:
1) The time commitment – Most MBA programs take two years or more. In two years, you could learn an incredible amount by starting a business of your own, failing, learning from your mistakes, and starting another business. (Not that failing should be a goal, just that you would have time for all that to happen in the time you got an MBA.)
2) The financial commitment – MBA programs are expensive. Things would be a little easier for me without my monthly student loan repayments. I would rather be investing that money in my startup.
3) MBA programs can be very old-school – I was disappointed that my MBA classes had almost no mention of anything tech-related. No mention of online CPCs in marketing class. No mention of lean startup principles in entrepreneurship class (granted, it was slightly before the Lean Startup movement came about). No mention of the mobile web in strategy class. Given that this whole Internet thing is so obviously here to stay, I would have appreciated some acknowledgement of it in class. Hopefully things have improved in the time since my MBA, but—since MBA curricula seem to be slow-moving—I wouldn’t be surprised if most programs are still analog.
If you have already started an MBA program and have the tech startup bug, all is not lost. Just start a business during the program and work on it in your free time.
Again, I have no regrets about getting my MBA. It was a crucial part of a string of events that got me to where I am today: happy.