(A huge thanks to my friend and the founder and CEO of Andie – Melanie Travis who prompted me to finally write up my thoughts on this topic and was nice enough to let me guest post. – this something I have been only talking to people about over the years, and excited to share publicly below.)
I talk to a lot of folks at interesting crossroads in their careers and many times the topic of getting an MBA comes up. I have formed a pretty strong opinion on this after being the host to many top tier MBA programs doing a “trek” to NYC to visit companies (thanks for visiting Foursquare!), interviewing many MBA candidates (pre, mid, and post), and from hiring folks (pre, mid, post) for both full time, part time, and internship roles. As with many topics since I have had this conversation with groups and strangers, I wanted to share my thoughts publicly to clarify and learn from others on this topic.
Let me start off by saying that I don’t have an MBA. I thought about it after college but never found that it made any sense to me. I also spent some years at USV, and Fred Wilson calls that time a practical MBA, and I tend to agree – he says
“I like to think of this two year stint as the USV MBA. We don’t issue diplomas but we pay salaries instead of charging tuition. You learn similar things but the cases are real time, not after the fact. And I would assert with a fair amount of pride that a USV Analyst stint on your resume is worth as much as a top tier MBA, maybe more. And the alumni network, while small, is fantastic.”
Given that caveat, I didn’t come to the decision lightly. I spent a lot of time speaking to folks who went through various programs, some who loved them and some not. I spoke to those looking to change careers and how programs helped them. I spoke to many VC partners (most with MBAs) and got their opinions and advice. I also have Phin Barnes of FRC to thank for getting me in touch with a Columbia MBA professor who took the time to chat with me about going through their program. When all my research was done, I formed my thesis, and started to share it around (including following the advice myself). My last caveat is that I tend to spend time with people with a high risk tolerance that tend to be entrepreneurs.
My thesis is as follows: You should go and get an MBA if you do not have two out these three things:
- A Network (people)
- A Direction (career/life)
- A Business Education
If you have all 3, don’t go. If you have 2 out of 3 don’t go. If you have 1 out of 3 it might make sense to go.
My rationale is that you will be $180K (now more? Originally from 2010) in debt, out of the operating job market for 2 years, and still need to find something afterwards.
However, if you are searching for 2 out of these 3 I would encourage you to weigh the pros and cons and potentially go to get your MBA. It has to make sense for what you want to do – or better yet, what is NEXT after your MBA.
A few examples will help explain this further;
Having a group of people that you can start a business with, find your first customers, simply enjoy being around, and can build your career with all contribute to your network. Some folks find that after college they go into roles that surround them with people they don’t like (or want to be like!) – and they want to “pivot” their careers. Let me be the first to say that this is totally fine and I commend you for wanting to make a change. I have seen this happen with folks in fine fields that are just not a fit for them such as finance, banking, medicine, law, etc…
The people you connect with during an MBA program can be instrumental in what you do next. In fact many of the founders I know met their co-founders while in a program or in the surrounding companies and internships they were involved in.
Knowing what you want to do when you grow up is hard. Everybody seems to ask this question, yet nobody really seems to have the answer. Knowing that you want to go down the road of entrepreneurship is great – but then you have to learn the skills either on the job or in a structured program. Going through the new entrepreneurship tracks at top tier programs is a great way to find this direction (or discover it’s NOT for you!). While similar to the above roles that I have seem people come out of, some folks just don’t know what they want to do next and this 2 year program can give you the space you need to explore. Again, this is a high cost way to figure it out but nonetheless it can help.
A Business Education
I have met folks who want to start a business, but perhaps didn’t get the education necessary or have the business skills to do so. Perhaps they studied something else in school, went for other reasons, or don’t have the business background they need. This is a great reason to complete and “finish” your education and learn about these parts of business. Some good examples of this are folks that study different topics in school, or think they are going down a different path (spoiler alert: that is perfectly fine to change your mind later!).
While others still want to learn about the business side of the world + grow their network to find the right people to work with. They know they want to work in a sector, start a co, join a startup, etc.. but not sure how to get that done. They have a great business education but need a network and a direction = potentially go!
My approach may not work for all but it has served me well. Personally, I built up a great network and knew what I wanted to do – direction (work with/in/around startups), however didn’t have the business education but thought I got some pretty great exposure to real life case studies while at Union Square Ventures = Don’t go!
Ultimately this has provided a helpful framework for many folks to make a decision and potentially save a lot of time and money. I would love to hear from those who have chosen the path of an MBA and those who have not.