What's the stigma in the Startup world surrounding bringing on any MBAs as new hires? Is there?
Having recently graduated from Texas A&M University's MBA program, I'm meeting resistance from the Start up community. I'd like to figure out why this might be.
An MBA is no longer an asset, It is now perceived as a liability unless your degree is from the top 3 ivy league universities. Like Information Technology and Computer Science the MBA is considered a commodity, easy to find anyone with one, short on quality and long on expense. We MBAs miss the mark when aligning with revenue. We are a cost/expense on the payroll.
MBAs, by nature of the waning reputation and mystic of the degree, present a know-it-all presence. Just last night, in critiquing a class of MBA degree candidates, the class project required specific live market research and testing. When I asked for those results, a requirement to pass the course, I was told by degree candidates, market research is not necessary. "We can just look at the website and tell if a business will sink or swim."
I hold an Executive MBA to accent a 30 year career, so I am not without expertise, but I recognize my most glaring limitation: I do not know everything.
MBA's must learn to listen to the customer, listen to the market, listen to industries and listen to the story a spreadsheet conveys.
Startups are vulnerable and most MBAs are not value add unless they own the entity. As William Mckibben says, MBAs learn to manage existing businesses not create new ones and there in lay our Achilles Heel. We do not know how and cannot guide others unless we have a start-up generating revenue.
So why are you not getting hired? I would not lead with my MBA unless asked or pressed. Lead with your skills and the benefits of having those skills on the team. Convince the interviewer you are a contributor to the growth of the venture. You will need to do a lot of convincing.
In short, a MBA teaches us how to work for someone else. The MBA does not guarantee you a job, nor does it guarantee you will successful starting your own shop. What the MBA does give you are all the pieces to the business puzzle. YOU have to figure out what will work for the entity before you.
Would I trade my MBA for another degree? No. But I am a realist living in New York where every other person walking down 5th Avenue holds a MBA and is out of work.
Hope this dissertation helps in lending reality and perspective.
The MBA is a great asset, but MBA programs tend to focus on management of existing businesses, not the creation of a new business. Startups require a different toolkit, management style and culture.
My first startup as an MBA graduate was a failure for the reasons mentioned.
I think that it heavily depends on the skills and experience you bring to the table, what phase the startup is in, and what the particular business needs.
For example, by the time a company is founded, all startups *should* have already done much of the analysis work that an MBA would otherwise do for an established company. I'm talking about things like market research, basic operational and financial planning, feasibility studies, deciding on strategy, etc. So why do they need an MBA to do this analysis? It's almost never based on customer data; it's based on whatever research is freely available, guesswork, back of the envelope calculations, and sometimes experience. It's never valid for more than 6 months anyway as once you start engaging actual (or even potential) customers, everything changes - sometimes dramatically.
That type of bootstrap analysis and planning not a skill set that non-entrepreneurial-focused MBA programs typically provide. And again, it's also something that's going to be done by the founders long before the startup is ready to hire anyone. So this is one example of why the stage of the startup is important. But, if you find a founding team that has some ideas they want to explore, hasn't formed a company yet, and needs help doing this type of work, an MBA could be a valuable asset to the team as a co-founder, advisor, or even just as a consultant. If you are interested in this stage of startup, do some of this type of work and use it as an example.
Then there are the startups that already have initial customers, and find that they need some help building and/or scaling their operations. MBA skills can help here with advanced analysis, planning, and just plain operational management. But don't plan to do just one thing - startups require everyone to dig in and do multiple jobs.
Regardless of the startup's stage, you need to be able to create something from nothing. Whether that thing is hiring a good team at the right time, creating processes that the company can scale up and execute on with later hires, or building a set of core metrics from scratch, you have to be able to add to the company, not just steer what's already there.
My advice would be to find out what each startup needs, determine everything you can help with based on your skills and experience, and then show any relevant experience or projects. Dig into the status of every startup you are talking to with pertinent questions - What planning have they done? At what milestones do they need various operational capabilities (e.g. accounting, HR, customer support, general administration, etc.)? What are the priorities for their current work? Are they trying to scale up operations or invent them from nothing? What market analysis have they done? Do they need to form any strategic partnerships to make their idea happen? Do they even know the answers to these questions? Do they have other burning, unanswered questions that you can help find the answer to? Have they missed something obvious? Whatever the startup is missing and needs help with - focus your skill set on that and say, "I can make these things happen."
With very early stage startups, this gives you the opportunity to touch many areas of the business, and focus more on what you like most as the company grows. With later-stage startups, these types of questions help you find a good fit between what you enjoy doing and what the startup needs.
So to reiterate, the key is to find a fit between what you can build and what a particular startup needs. There's always a million more things to be done, so matching priorities is important, too. So be sure to show how you can help immediately, what you can build, and what role you anticipate taking on in the glorious future when everything has gone exceedingly well. Your skills as an MBA could apply to startups at any stage, but not any startup at any stage. Find a startup where your skills can help by creating something they need, starting from nothing, and you'll be much more successful.
I'm an MBA working at a startup, although I agree there does seem to be a general stigma. I think for me the trick was just to show that I'm willing to think outside the box that business school can sometimes put us in. I also spend a lot of time reading up on entrepreneurship books and websites to round out my knowledge.
Another issue I think concerns startups is the salary aspect, since finances in startups can often be more on the bootstrap side. They may believe MBAs will only accept a huge salary which isn't always the case.
Best of luck to you!
My honest opinion is that an MBA without at least 5 years of previous or concurrent professional business expertise is largely wasted. The practical application of business skill cannot be limited to a classroom or textbooks. As a mature student, I have gotten so much more out of only going after credentials once I had experienced what it was "really like out there." Not only does this give you clarity on your field of expertise and study, but also makes practical application of theoretical learning easier, more relevant, and more rewarding.
So basically, I would not see any aura of greatness from an MBA student who has little business history or success (especially if you are hiring in an entrepreneurial-minded business).
However, I would most certainly hire someone who had good business background and applicable experience, or who has had their MBA for at least 3 years, or one who told me that they were looking to achieve their MBA in the future (and could demonstrate how/why/when).
MBA's get a bad rap because of the perceived arrogance their credential carries, but hiring policy and the workplace caused this in the first place. Ultimately, always remember that you're hiring a person - not a piece of paper - is my advice.
I'd simply recommend forgetting about education and focusing on value add. What do you bring to the table? Why are you an asset to a company (new or old) that they just can't live without?
While I believe in learning and education (I have a law degree and an MBA), I think the education machine is broken and we are in an "education bubble" with respect to the cost of education compared to the value of the degree.
Stick with the basic business principles. Focus on value add and value proposition and don't rely on credentials to get you anywhere.
Good question. I have been seeing a big shift away from hiring MBAs at startups. Whereas, it used to be considered gold to have your MBA. I am not sure there is really any good reason since it always comes down to the individual. My guess is people think MBAs often don't have hands on experience. While I don't have my MBA, I think there are a lot of benefits to hiring MBAs. They typically are dedicating to working hard and are often great at networking, which is important when working at a startup. Curious what others think. Sorry to hear you are facing resistance. For what it's worth, having an MBA from Texas A&M is very impressive.
Many start-ups open and may remain more as self-employed without employees. Others with employees operate on sparse funds. Perhaps owners think they can't afford you? Have that conversation - even offer to work for free for a month if possible. Even if you leave, it is intership experience on your resume.
There is no single answer here and quite frankly without more information it is not realistic to say the MBA has much to do with this. It is but one of a constellation of elements that could give rise to this resistance. The answers provided do reach out to the question posed. However it is important to ask- are you posing the right question.
Ed Drozda, The Small Business Doctor
I am encountering similar resistance as well. I have an MBA from HEC Paris, and previous experience building an economic development project in Sub-Saharan Africa. The only startup that I've managed to interview with was based in Sub-Saharan Africa, not in the US.
I don't know what your background is, but I can say that startups with less than 50 employees typically don't hire MBAs. Those jobs might appear with Uber, AppNexus or Spotify, but not with a smaller firm like SeedInvest or Barkbox.
You have to make clear that you are ok with taking a low starting salary, many assume they can't afford you.
Dear Aanand, don't let your recent experience beat you down. Providing your using your newly acquired marketing skills correctly, you'll soon find the right start-up that realy, really needs you.
Having a number of start-up experiences and teaching entrepreneurship at CU Boulder, I can offer this:
1. What does the start-up need right now? If you don't offer it, they're not likely to act now...maybe later if you stay in touch.
2. Why you, what makes you unique, why must the founder(s) hire you? What is your undergraduate degree; the MBA should build on that.
3. What are you asking for in return and will this convince the founder(s) that you are investing with them?
4. Cash is king; and founders are worried that their ROI in you might not meet their requirements; are you signaling that you can work for equity with a modest salary/commission? Are you a visa risk?
5. Is there a good cultural fit between you and them; in your picture you are wearing a tie that says "corporate"; when I hire, I want to know you'll be a great teammate, stay late, get dirty, work harder than you ever have before, and that you're the best person available to solve my immediate problems.
But, be humble, be respectful, and work hard to demonstrate your value. You'll find the right start-up. Good luck and best wishes.
First, do not let the first couple of "No's" deter you from pursing start up opportunites.
I have hired MBA graduates in both of my startup's although my eperience may be a bit different in that the start ups where located in Singapore. Thus the cultural aspect comes into play as the hires were Chinese providing diversity yet a much different mindset then someone educated in the US.
In more general terms the conventional thinking that an MBA may have is counter to the mindset of the entrepreneur. In other words the skill set developed as a result of the education may put to much emphasis on analysis as oppose to thinking "Outside the Box" to use a cliche.
Working in a startup requires that you live outside the box and is not for the faint of heart. Nevertheless, chase the dream.
In the startup world, "MBA" sends two subliminal signals: "Expensive" -and- "Inexperienced". Startups need small teams of competent, hands-on, multi-function people. You need to shape your "pitch" to overcome these barriers.
I can't speak for all startups but from my experience, startups are looking for people that
a) fit the corporate culture
b) are passionate about their business idea
c) have a specific skillset/expertise
It's not really important what educational background you have unless of course an academic background is part of the corporate culture.
For instance, the PPC consulting company Zebra Advertisement (very successful but still a startup in my eyes) hires only people who have spent a minimum of 12 months abroad and have a Master of Science degree in Business, Marketing, or related field. Therefore, a new hire who doesn't have the same academic background wouldn't be considered.
Every startup is different, maybe it's just a matter of finding the right one. My instinct tells me to look for a startup that provides a service and where wearing suits is a given. More New York than Silicon Valley, if you know what I mean. Does that sound like it would be more "you"?
Oh, and by the way I believe you have just accidentally come up with a business idea right there. Start a company that helps MBAs get jobs at startups. If you are familiar with the startup community, you have already connections that you can use to match the right MBA with the right corporate culture. Like a recruitment hotspot for talent.
If you want to chat about any of this, feel free to contact me for a free 45min coaching session.
Wishing you success, money, and happiness,
Business Performance Coach & Entrepreneur
Thank you to EVERYONE for all your help. I'm humbled by your responses and keen observations/insights.