Entrepreneur Office Hours - Issue #67

Should you get an MBA? Umm... no comment...

Someone sent me a question wondering whether they should get an MBA. It’s probably a question I shouldn’t touch because I don’t have an MBA because I never saw the personal value in pursuing one. However, I also teach an entrepreneurship class in an MBA program, meaning I suppose I have a vested interest in encouraging people to pursue MBAs.

Whatever… no (good) question is off limits. And wondering whether an MBA makes sense for an entrepreneur is definitely a good question, so I’ve shared my answer below.

Also in this issue, I’ve shared a conversation with one of my former students. He’s been wildly successful, but he’s also had some unexpected surprises about what success really feels like. Spoiler alert: it’ll never feel like what you think.

-Aaron


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My Student Had to Raise $50 Million So I Could Teach Him the Hardest Lesson in Entrepreneurship

Some thing can be taught, but other lessons can only be learned through experience. That’s a lesson one of my former entrepreneurship students had to learn the hard way.



The One Thing I Wish I'd Done Before Launching My First Startup

Since I teach entrepreneurship, I encounter lots of graduating seniors who are planning to launch their own companies. Is that a good idea? Or is it better to work for someone else before starting your own company?


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Office Hours Q&A

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QUESTION:

I’ve been thinking about going back to school to get my MBA. Is an MBA worth it? Especially for entrepreneurs.

I’ve heard differing opinions, and I’m curious to get your take.

Thank you,

Carl

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Full disclosure: I teach at a business school (Duke’s Fuqua School of Business). For what it’s worth, I only teach one class there, one semester per year, and it’s not my primary responsibility. Still, I’m mentioning this since I suppose I should disclose my biases.

Oddly enough, despite my teaching at a business school, I’ve never been a huge fan of MBAs. If I’m being honest, back before I was teaching entrepreneurship, I used to actively make fun of MBAs building startups. Or, more specifically, I’d poke fun at the idea of their MBAs being used as reasons to justify their potential for success. For example, I always thought it was silly when fellow entrepreneurs included “M.B.A.” after their names in their email signature lines. Also, when someone with an MBA applied for a job with me, I usually saw it as a strike against them rather than a reason to hire them.

To me, going to school to learn about business was stupid. Why spend $150k getting an MBA when you could learn more about building businesses by starting actual businesses?

I should also mention that I wasn’t always the smartest (or kindest) entrepreneur. Making fun of MBAs and people with them was immature. And it was immature for two important reasons.

First, it was immature because making fun of anyone is, for the most part, immature. In other words, the people getting their MBAs weren’t stupid. I was stupid. To anyone I ever laughed at for having an MBA -- even if you didn’t know I was laughing at you -- I’m sorry. 

The second reason making fun of MBAs was immature is because I didn’t fully understand the core value proposition of MBA programs.

Like most things, MBA programs and MBA degrees aren’t inherently good or bad. Instead, an MBA is a product with a value proposition. What I didn’t appreciate when I was younger is that the main value proposition for an MBA usually isn’t confined to what you learn in a classroom. Instead, a significant part of the value proposition for most MBAs relates to the job opportunities they enable after graduating. Simply put, good MBA programs give students the kinds of connections and experiences that can help them get better jobs. And, for what it’s worth, they have a very strong track record of delivering that value proposition.

These days, rather than making any sort of blanket assertion that an MBA is stupid (or great), I’d much rather tell you to do your diligence to understand the core value proposition of any MBA program you’re considering. Does that value proposition align with what you want to accomplish? If so, great! It’s worth considering. If not, you might consider allocating your resources to other things.

From an entrepreneurial perspective, I’d argue that -- in general -- the primary value proposition of getting a better, higher paying job isn’t as useful as it would be in other industries. That’s why I still tend to think MBAs aren’t the best pathway for people solely interested in launching their own ventures or working for small startups soon after graduating. I think there are better and more cost-effective ways to develop the knowledge/skills you’ll need. However, if your goal is to, for example, get a great job at a Fortune 500 company, an MBA can be a valuable resource. And, of course, that’s just one example. MBA programs are great for plenty of other career opportunities as well. But is an MBA right for your career ambitions? That’s something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Before I wrap up this answer, I suppose I should also address the elephant in the room… err... newsletter. Specifically, if I’m skeptical about the value of MBAs in relation to startups, why do I teach an entrepreneurship class in an MBA program?

Even though I’m not convinced about the value of an MBA for people immediately planning to  launch startups, I still think entrepreneurship education is valuable for people with other career ambitions. In fact, I believe an entrepreneurial education can better prepare people to succeed at whatever jobs they do. In that sense, I love teaching MBA students not because I think I’m teaching the next generation of unicorn-building founders. Instead, I know I’m teaching a diverse population of students who will move into lots of different industries, and I believe an entrepreneurial education will help them succeed in any of their future jobs. In that sense, I’m less focused on MBAs and more focused on entrepreneurship education, and I’m passionate about spreading entrepreneurship education wherever I can, be it a business school or this newsletter.

Got startup questions of your own? Reply to this email with whatever you want to know, and I’ll do my best to answer!