A guest post I wrote back in February was featured on the Deming Center Blog a couple days ago and it got me thinking about my decision to get an MBA.
Shortly after I arrived at Boulder I went to a TechStars pitch event where some of the companies joked that they would never hire an MBA. Within a week of that I heard the same thought several more times. I was shocked. Partly because it doesn’t make sense, and partly because I had just moved my family across the country to get the very thing my peers were despising.
You may be thinking, “how could you not know the negative sentiment around getting an MBA?” I’ve asked myself that several times. I live and breath entrepreneurship, but until recently, I didn’t really follow the scene. Not because I didn’t care, but because I was busy, head down, trying to start a successful startup. Since then I’ve learned, thanks to a recent post by Ben Horowitz, “Is Now the Time to Hire MBAs?“, that MBA’s got a bad rap back in the 90’s.
Lumping people into a bucket is never smart. MBAs are as different as the schools that produce them. Maybe a little story will help me get this point across.
I’ve known I wanted to be an entrepreneur ever since I can remember. When it came time to choose a major during undergrad, I choose business thinking it would be the best path to live the startup dream. At the time, I had no idea I would decide to focus my whole career on the internet. When I started a wholesale and retail necktie business in 2006, people kept asking me if I had a website. I had no idea that building MyNiceTie.com and teaching myself how to code would alter my whole life’s path.
After failing to make a web development company profitable after graduation, I leveraged my business degree to get a corporate business job. It wasn’t entrepreneurial, but I figured I could learn the lessons of a big company and apply them to a startup in the future. It didn’t take long to realize how miserable I was falling-in-line with the status-quo of Corporate America. Needing to connect back with my passion, I started working on another business on the side: a giveaway site called HappyFreebie.com.
After I had the idea flushed out, I weighed my options: (1) find someone to fund an unproven entrepreneur that is only an idea, (2) continue to work on the business nights and weekends while spending my days in a miserable job, or (3) use an MBA to transition back into entrepreneurship. As you can see, I chose 3.
I say MBA, but what I really mean is an MBS: Masters of Business Startup. An MBS is like an MBA, except the only thing that matters is that you launch a company in the end. Classes are only good for things that you can apply to your business at hand. If a project doesn’t, then you don’t spend a lot of time on it. If you have to make a choice between startup and school, the startup wins. If you have to choose between learning a lot in a class and being able to apply the class to the real world, you choose the latter.
There are not many places in the country where you can get an MBS. The problem is that most schools only have one or two classes that are extremely applicable to a startup. This is not the case at Leeds (CU-Boulder) where 63% of the classes you take are electives; good electives too, not lame, corporate-theory electives. They are classes like Digital Marketing, Entrepreneurial Marketing, Entrepreneurial Feasibility, Startup Execution (taught by a seasoned entrepreneur), and more. Not to mention that Leeds has a whole track called New Venture Creation which is specifically designed to launch a business upon graduation.
It’s not just the curriculum that is serious about startups, Career Connections can not only help you get a job, but they can also help you find funding for your business. Last semester I went to an Angel Pitch organized by Dave Cass from MBA Career Connections where students could pitch their businesses, get feedback, and possibly funding from local angels. We’ll be doing that event again next year, bigger and better, as part of the GEA (Graduate Entrepreneurs Association).
I’m having a blast, and the experience is everything I was hoping for and more. I launched HappyFreebie.com in February and instead of doing an internship over the summer, I’m going to prove or disprove the business model. If HappyFreebie crashes and burns, I may be looking for a job at a startup when I graduate. Who knows, maybe some companies will pass on me because of the MBA. That would be their loss, but then again, maybe it’d be different had they heard of an MBS.