“Hey Entrepreneurs: Skip the MBA” -Sincerely, Stanford MBA
My pitch in hand, I drove to Sand Hill Road, ate a couple of mints from the waiting room lobby and walked into the Sequoia conference room. I sat down and the conversation went something like this:
“Hi, Roelof, I’d like a check for $500,000…oh, and I have a Stanford MBA. The partner at Sequoia gasped in admiration of my leather-bound degree (which I, of course, brought to the meeting and passed to him to check for authenticity), got out his pen and signed the check, adding a smiley face after his signature.”
Of course, this account is totally ridiculous and never actually took place, but the general infatuation with getting an MBA seems to portray that scenario as commonplace.
There is an illusion of many who think that an MBA is their magic ticket to raising money… and I will admit that as a naive kid from the Midwest, I also thought that as soon as I got the degree, I would be guaranteed entrepreneurial credibility. Sadly, for the $150,000 that a Stanford MBA cost me, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Now, I am in no way trying to bash the Stanford MBA program… and, in fact, count my tenure on campus as among the greatest two years of my life. Admitted at age 21, I was one of the youngest students on campus and, as a friend mentioned to me recently, I “matured 10 years” while I was there, mostly from being around peers that were all around 28-35 years old.
I met some of the most amazing people I have ever known and was constantly stretched to my limits with a hundred different things going on.
I learned invaluable techniques for managing people, psychology and human behaviors and ways to deeply connect with stakeholders… and this was from the top practitioners in the world like Irv Grousbeck who started a multi-billion dollar cable company and now is the majority owner of the Boston Celtics.
I also spent an immense amount of time around the design school and computer science departments, meeting incredible engineers, designers, and artists that I count as great friends and colleagues today.
All in all, it was an amazing experience and one that I wouldn’t trade for the world… but also one that is absolutely unnecessary for entrepreneurial success.
I get a couple of emails a week from aspiring entrepreneurs asking me for advice on getting into Stanford B-School and while I am happy to help, my advice generally shocks and disappoints them as I often tell them to just skip Business School altogether, move to the Valley and start something.
$150,000 is a lot of money, but, more importantly, 2 years is a lot of time to miss out on in the startup world.
The degree you will get at the end will be a nice icing on the cake, but won’t be nearly as valuable in the startup world as you think. I do think it is marginally positive as it sends a positive signal that you have been “pre-screened” as a high potential individual (after all, Stanford wants to find the top people who will make a bunch of cash and donate it back to campus later on).
Further, in my case, coming to the valley from small-town Wisconsin and attending the Stanford GSB might have been the quickest way for me to gain deep connections with a huge amount of people in the valley and give me a spot in one of the strongest networks in the Bay Area.
What it didn’t do was give me real experience working 18 hours a day in a stress-filled startup environment, hiring people, constantly talking to customers, figuring out how to get press, learning how and when to pivot, answering angry calls from customers, debugging our latest version of software… the things that are 1000x more important to learn and do in a startup environment.
Also Read : Are Networking events a waste of time?
My advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs who are thinking about going to business school is to really ask the question of why you are doing it. Gaining experience is not a good answer, gaining credibility is an even worse answer.
If it is to gain an incredible network and meet hundreds of amazing people that will be crucial to the success of the company, that could be reasonable (although not the only way to do so).
Chris Dixon and Caterina Fake have both written about how the only way to truly learn to be an entrepreneur is by doing it and I wholeheartedly agree. Investors want to see what you have done, what you have created, how resourceful you are… NOT that you can successfully sit in a classroom.
My GSB network can (and does) get me a meeting with anybody I possibly need, but when I walk in, I leave my MBA outside.