Does an MBA Make a Degree of Difference at a Startup?

Apple-for-the-TeacherSteve Jobs serves as a reminder that, sometimes, passionately pursuing your dreams — not a formal degree — is the secret to success as an entrepreneur.

Likewise, a Wall Street Journal article questions the value of an MBA degree at startups — both the knowledge acquired and the cachet of the degree itself. The article introduces General Assembly and Starter School; both focus on action over excessive ideation — similar to educational innovators like Khan Academy, Team Treehouse, and Code Academy:

  • Offering courses in web development and user experience design, business fundamentals, data science, product management and digital marketing, General Assembly is as a “full-time immersive programs, long-form courses, and classes and workshops on the most relevant skills of the 21st century.”
  • Teaching people how to build software and start companies, Starter School focuses on learning by doing, emphasizing practical skills in three intense phases over 9 months.

Each program (and others similar to them) offer a simplified curriculum without the formality of a traditional degree. They’re designed to give attendees enough information to get an idea going without impeding their progress.

In a time when the median cost of a four-year degree at a public institution has risen to $16,000 per year, even people who aren’t business majors are finding themselves performing a cost/benefit analysis when it comes to higher education.

But, maybe these programs are irresponsibly encouraging acting on ideas without first thinking things through? Consider this Wired article warning that the ‘failure’ culture of startups is killing innovation. Despite  Jobs’ achievements with Apple, an MBA is still a tremendous value to individuals with entrepreneurial aspirations — present company included.

Receiving my
Receiving my “Outstanding MBA Scholarship” award at Woodbury University (May 7, 2005).

On this date in 2002, I took the first step towards earning my MBA at Woodbury University. I found tremendous value in my MBA program, learning a great deal about running a business and discovering a new career path into teaching.

In my experience with startups or businesses operating with that mindset, I’ve found that they don’t necessarily value an MBA. Most startups are focused on producing “results” even if those results are rushed and need to be reworked later.

Conversely, earning my MBA taught me the value of “measuring twice and cutting once” which results in a more methodological approach.  This doesn’t always fit with the startup way of work that often values quantity over quality, usually in an effort to impress investors.

That’s not say an advanced degree holds no value in a startup, but there is no guarantee that it will. But, in my opinion, education is always a worthwhile investment, as long as you are willing to invest the effort to maximize its return.