Why Working at a Startup is Better Than Getting an MBA
What kind of "degree" are you working on ? At a certain point in my career, I spent nine months working in an undercapitalized tech startup business trying to build a widget and acquire paying customers. I had to forego a lot of immediate financial rewards (such as a monthly salary) for deferred gratification: to go do something I enjoyed, and build something that would make a difference. It didn’t work and I decided to move on. So was it all a waste of time—a lost year that I will never get back? The answer is clearly a NO. What I gave up in earnings through a steady salary, I more than made up for it given the experience I had: working with limited resources, building a platform, winning the first few clients (even though they didn’t pay much), pitching investors (unsuccessfully), having theological debates with the co-founder (won some-lost some), and eventually deciding to go back to a corporate job. So: nine months of learning about business, foregoing a steady salary, and moving on to a corporate job. What does that sound like? You guessed it: an MBA. I do have an MBA – the formal kind, where everyone sits in classrooms and discusses case studies about buggy whips and transportation; where “learning” means being at the receiving end of an outdated 20th century pedagogical tool (classroom lectures); and where graduating is the objective. That, and getting a coveted McKinsey consultant job. The degree I earned working at my startup was unique: it was a one-of-a-kind, custom-built program that I alone could experience. How many of you think of your startup experiences this way? A lot of entrepreneurs go straight from school to a startup. Others give up a job to pursue their dreams. Some become very successful at what they set out to do, others don’t. Regardless, they earn a post-graduate degree, especially if they apply themselves sincerely to building the business. Here are some courses you attend (whether you know it or not) as a “university” student in a startup:
- Finance: A successful business earns more than it spends. Nothing else matters.
- Economics: There is opportunity cost for everything. Your friend from grad school drives a fancy new car and just took his girlfriend on a Caribbean cruise. Your former colleague got promoted to VP and just took an Italian vacation with his wife and 3 kids. You are eating Ramen noodles and testing bugs in code late at night.
- Marketing: Making people want what you have. It's hard to get people to care, sadly—even the ones you manage to reach with your message.
- Sales: Converting mild interest to a signed contract to use your product. In the unlikely event that you do get someone to agree to use your product, try convincing them to pay you for your product. Oh, and your sales rep quit after 2 weeks, so you’re the company’s bag-carrying rep for the foreseeable future.
- Supply chain management: Staffing and resourcing your project. You need product out on the street in six weeks, and your only Python expert just quit to launch her own startup.