Top 5 Myths of Working at a Startup: MBA Edition
Published: Monday, September 26, 2011
Updated: Monday, September 26, 2011 14:09
In business school, you become very acquainted with "recruiting" (or what most normal people call "job searching"). From day one, you're inundated with corporate presentations, job postings, and panel discussions about the pros and cons of interning at Big Bank X or Consulting Giant Y. Even if you're not interested in those fields, you end up going anyway.
But good news, everyone! In recent years, there's been a slow but steady migration of interest over to startups. We're definitely starting to see more MBAs popping up here and there in the startup world. But why aren't there more?
I believe the answer lies in the misconceptions and myths that many MBAs have about startup life. Having worked at a few since coming to business school (and others prior to), I've been able to disprove a few of these misconceptions. So I'd like to present my findings in the following list:
Top 5 Myths of Working at a Startup: MBA Edition
1Startups don't want/need/like MBAs
Sure, some don't. I think a lot of them hate the sense of entitlement that some MBAs feel comes with the degree – in some cases, they have a right to feel that way. But many startups do value MBAs. You just have to go find them and prove to them why they should value you. When cash is scarce and faulty team dynamics can destroy a company, everyone (not just MBAs) that comes through the door has to prove themselves multiple times over. Fact.
As a side note, very early-stage companies generally have little need for the MBA skill set. Two guys working in a basement don't need someone to tell them about CAPM, Porter's Five Forces, or the Kanban Method. They need technical expertise (read: developers) above almost anything else. But once they raise funding, find a product-market fit, and begin growing, their needs change. That's when this degree can make a difference, but it's still your job to illustrate how. As a wise classmate of mine once said, the key is to get the job before you even interview. If you want to work in a certain field or for a certain type of company, immerse yourself in that industry, get involved in the community, or even start some side projects of your own. As cliche as it sounds, you need to make it abundantly clear that you have so much passion for the work that you would quite literally do it for free.
2The work is ambiguous and unstructured.
Yes, to a certain extent, you will be responsible for structuring your own internship. Some startups don't know what they need, so if you talk to them, you might be hearing a lot of "you'll just need to come in and figure something out." And yes, inevitably, you will need to wear multiple hats. But if you look around, you'll find there are plenty of startups that have a really solid idea of projects they need completed.
Profitably certainly did. When I met with them prior to my start date, I was presented with three distinct, defined projects and asked to choose between them. Once I started, I was then presented with a rough overview of what my chosen project might look like and asked to expand and extrapolate from there. For me, it was the best of both worlds. I was given a solid foundation of work while being allowed to dicate how my work would evolve and grow.
3They work out of their apartment/Starbucks/parents' basement.
Have you ever been to General Assembly? Yeah. Oh, and they host happy hour every Friday, so it's like having Beer Blast all summer. For free. And GA is certainly not the only one of its kind. Sure, you might have to share a desk with four teammates. But let's face it, you don't really need most of your cubicle anyway. And after all, sharing is caring.
Another side note: It's awesome working around so many other startups and entrepreneurs. Not only does it foster a sense of camaraderie and motivate you to work harder, I cannot tell you how many times over the last ten weeks this scenario has occurred:
Adam: So how's the search for [type of developer] coming along?
Francis: Not bad, but we're still looking. It'd be great if we could just find someone with [X, Y, Z traits].
Random GA Member: Hey, I couldn't help overhearing your conversation. I just happen to know a [type of developer] with [X, Y, Z traits]. I'll introduce you guys.
4The pay is terrible.
Yes and no. Yes, many startups can't afford to pay you the salary you've probably come to expect, especially after a semester or two at business school ("Dude, I got that internship at HugeBank X! Drinks on me!") And yes, you'll hear horror stories like "I got paid enough to cover my bus fare." But more and more schools are instituting fellowships that match the salary/stipends of students working at early-stage companies. NYU Stern certainly has one and I know they're not alone. Programs like these definitely help take some of the sting off.
5But I'm an MBA … What do I have to learn from someone who's just starting his own company?
Well … Let's take a look at the business guys who I worked for at Profitably. CEO/Founder Adam Neary spent a decade as a hardcore data analyst at large and small firms. He's more of a "numbers guy" than most of my classmates.