I learned a lot as a business school student. I met some awesome people and have had the opportunity to work with world-renowned professors. However, business school was not exactly what I expected it to be. It was not until my second year of the program when most of my pre-requisites were out of the way that I fully realized my misperception. I must note that prior to enrolling in business school I was the director of business development at Going.com (acquired by AOL). Thus, I am comparing my experiences and learning’s at business school to my professional experience working at Going.com.
1. A startup forces you to be creative
In any type of startup you will be relied on to think outside the box, whether it’s to solve a complex business problem or to create a new service or product. Unlike being in a classroom environment, your ideas really matter as they directly impact the future success of the business. For a variety of reasons, getting a good grade in class cannot and never will compare to the pressures of being relied upon to think creatively at a startup.
2. You wear multiple hats
As a student you are able to focus your curriculum around your interests. Thus, you spend most of your time in business school around that one particular topic (i.e. Finance, Marketing, Operations Management etc.). At a startup you typically don’t get the luxury of allocating your time towards your interests or particular job description. Often times, you will be asked to step into a role that you have no clue how to fill. Again, your decisions and ability to fill the void in this role will matter!
3. Witness real life experiences
As a member of a startup company you will witness what it’s like to start and manage a business. Whether it is going through a round of funding or closing a big business deal, you will gain first hand knowledge that simply cannot be replicated in any classroom environment.
4. A professional network
It would be foolish for me to say that you don’t grow a network at business school – you definitely do. However, it’s a different type of relationship, as you are still perceived as a student. Thus, it is a student-to-professional relationship rather than a professional-to-professional relationship. It’s hard to explain, but the dynamic of the relationship is intrinsically different. Working at a startup provides you with the same access to distinguished professionals, especially if you are at a venture-backed company.
5. Years of quality experience
Going to business school full-time is a huge commitment. You are giving up two years of real life business experience to go back to school. Even the part-time MBA students sacrifice as often times they must defer new opportunities (i.e. extended work hours, mandatory relocation, and additional responsibilities), so that they can fit classes into their already rigorous schedule. Many students bank on the fact that their MBA will propel them in the business world. Guess what? While an MBA will enhance your resume, it definitely does not promise success. However, being at a startup certainly educates you and provides you with quality work experience.
6. Learn the present not the past
Business school has a funny way of getting students hooked on learning about past events. While it is unarguably beneficial to learn about past successes and failures, many of these examples do not apply to today’s global business economy. This is often a result of changes in the social, political, economical and technological landscapes. At a startup company you are undoubtedly going to be constantly looking ahead. You will be the one finding new ways to innovate your industry and pushing for change. In short, wouldn’t you want to be the one pioneering a new path instead of exploring someone else’s? Startup companies will more than likely provide you with this opportunity. You will learn what works in today’s business!
7. More than one way to do things
Business school students often times get frustrated with certain professors who believe that solutions in the book are always right. If you are currently in business school and reading this you know what I mean. Right? The beauty of working at a startup is that there is usually no right or wrong solutions. A good CEO will want you to challenge the business and provide intelligent recommendations on how to change the current course. Moreover, the answers that your company is trying to solve are not given – that’s probably why it’s a startup. In short, a good startup will not restrain you from searching for new answers or strategies.
8. Making money is a good thing
One of the hardest realities any business school student faces is coughing up the dough. Business school is very expensive! While you probably won’t be making six figures at most startups you will be revenue positive. Making money is always better then dishing it out. Especially, for those students who have to take out loans that accrue interest. Either way, working at a startup provides you with both money and valuable work experience, neither of which is possible in business school.
9. Equity is a good thing
One thing you will surely not get in business school is equity. Most early stage startups will give their employees a decent salary and equity in the company. The idea of dishing out equity is that it makes you more invested in the venture. For those who have worked in startups you know what I mean. Therefore, not only do you get paid to work at the startup you also get a piece of the action. I don’t think I need to explain the advantages of this one any further.
10. A startup is a sure thing
Well its true not every startup will succeed – you will learn and you will grow. Prospective business school students ask me all the time how to measure the investment of an MBA. I simply tell them, “I have absolutely no idea. I don’t think anyone does.” Some schools may disclose how much their graduates make, but I would like to leave you with this question: was it solely because of their MBA that they got the job? I highly doubt it.
My final thoughts
This post is not intended to tarnish business school. Experience at a business school definitely forces you to learn the fundamentals of running a business that you might not have otherwise ever learned. However, at the end of the day when I reflect back on my experiences and realize how I got to where I am today, I do question the arguments I presented above. I founded popular lifestyle blog theYipster.com, recently served as Senior Vice President of Global Insights & Analytics at Edelman Intelligence and am now Head of U.S. Performance Marketing & Analytics at Zeno Group (A Daniel J. Edelman Company). I believe I got here because of my experiences at Going.com and other startup ventures, and not because of my MBA.