Many young professionals who have worked for a couple years in corporate have debated whether to quit their jobs to complete an MBA. Some of them are looking for a career change, others are looking to move up in their profession. However, does the traditional career step of a two-year MBA program still make sense? The top schools including Harvard, Stanford and MIT, with their prestigious programs, will of course tell you it’s the only viable option for in depth training. I’m a serial entrepreneur who has worked in eight different countries and judged many startup competitions. Based on my own experience as well as taking a deeper look at the supposed benefits of an MBA, I present a consideration in this piece on how a startup can add far more learning and value to your career and life, hands down.
MBA Homework: Founding a Startup?
Let’s look at what the traditional MBA programs are now offering. First, more and more MBA programs are shifting to an entrepreneurship-focused curriculum and actually have their students found a startup as coursework. Huh? Why bother taking time out of the workforce or two years of evening work when you can join a startup whose mission you appreciate, and learn on the job?
#1: Startup Vs. MBA Costs – What Are the Benefits Vs. The Risks?
Next, a two-year MBA program can be highly cost intensive. In addition to the $100,000 to $150,000 of tuition, you still have to take care of your housing and living expenses while earning zero income. Of course, the same cash concerns apply to building a startup. Most founders seed their ideas with their own savings at the beginning while sleeping on couches and living off ramen. However, they often raise money from family and friends, crowdfunding or even investors. That means if their startup does well, then they will have more capital to take it to the next level. If your MBA program startup turns out to be successful, you’ll be dealing with the sunk cost of tuition, IP licensing from the university, and the social pressure of not dropping out of school.
#2: Theory Vs. Practice – The Difference that Facing Risk Can Make
The difference between theory and practice is huge in entrepreneurship. There is no better way to learn how to create your own business than to actually do it. In a startup you learn through necessity, failing fast and iterating your ideas based on feedback from the market or customer. The prospect of running out of cash and having to solve a problem forces you to learn quickly, memorize more and explore new models and approaches, many of them never mentioned in books or taught in school settings. Instead of enjoying the semester and preparing for the final exams a couple weeks early, you are faced with the “final exam” every single day. At a university you have a safe and isolated environment, but the startup environment will not just teach you how to operate under pressure, but also how to deal with adversity and true failure.
#3: MBA & Startups: Power of Building a Network
Finally, many people pursue an MBA for the network they build, which will help them later in their career. MBA programs do indeed provide a great place to meet talented classmates, but why wouldn’t you meet such people while doing a startup? When building your own business you will interact with a large number of people — from customers to partners, and investors — who will be a valuable addition to your network. The breadth of people you meet will be far broader than classmates in an MBA program, and they will provide realistic and often brutally honest advice untainted by the common bonds forged in a classroom experience. They will not come from the same background nor the same industry, which will force you to put yourself into their shoes in order to sell them on your idea.
I am not trying to bash an MBA degree. A university’s reputation can be highly beneficial in future job applications, and the resources that are available to MBA students including mentorship can reduce mistakes once out of school. However, as it becomes increasingly easier to found a startup due to the improving entrepreneurship ecosystem, the benefits of building a business in the real world have now surpassed the isolated training offered by the traditional MBA program.
To be realistic, let’s assume you take your jar of tuition money, invest in your own idea, learn everything needed from accounting to marketing to sales and legal topics in order to make your startup successful, master all challenges that you come across but still fail at the end. You still end up with an incredible journey that will bring you so much more real world learning. As a badge of honor on your resume, it means that you took the risk and had the guts to do what most people will always be too afraid to do. And that experience and confidence will get you farther in your career than any classroom learning.
This article originally appeared on Han Jin’s blog and was reprinted with permission.