There’s been so much debate over the years about MBAs and startups. When, if ever, should a startup hire an MBA? Is an MBA the right thing to do if you want to start your own business? These debates will go on forever because there’s no right answer. The truth, of course, is that an MBA programme is neither intrinsically good nor bad ‘for startups’ – businesses are conceived of and built by people, and some people will be right for it, others not. So instead of trying to push an agenda here, I’ll explain why I decided to do an MBA, and what I’ve got from it.
When I exited my first business last year I was at a crossroads. It had been an exhilarating and gruelling 8-year journey, and before careering back into another startup I wanted some time to take stock and consolidate what I’d learned. Any entrepreneur will agree the experience of starting something from scratch is a succession of hard lessons. I just wanted to do what I could to ensure that the next one had slightly fewer tough lessons. So I asked myself a simple question: if I do an MBA, will I be more or less equipped for the next business? The answer was obvious, and here I am now, three-quarters of the way through Imperial’s programme.
Looking back, here’s my entrepreneur’s take on the best bits.
You’re going to hear the word network about 50,000 times on your MBA. You’ll be sick of it. In fact, I was sick before I even started – it must be the ultimate MBA cliché. However, without a shadow of doubt, the people I have met on the course are what make it. The top MBA programmes attract great talent, so let’s face it – there’s a worry you’ll be surrounded by self-styled hotshots. Quite the contrary, what I found on the Imperial MBA were some of brightest people you’ll ever meet, with fascinating backgrounds and stories, but surprisingly devoid of the ego you might expect from a highly-ranked school. Hats off to the recruitment team. Having started as 65 anonymous network pawns, my MBA cohort quickly became the best friends, first customers, advisors, future colleagues, potential investors and co-founders for my next startup.
What would the perfect environment to start a business look like? Well, firstly you’d be surrounded by lots of smart people. And you’d have time with these people to work on ideas without the stresses of a day job. You’d also have all the resources you could possibly need; whiteboards, tech, access to experts. And everybody would be willing you on to succeed. You’d be able to try all kinds of things, and it wouldn’t matter a jot if something didn’t work. And everyone you reach out to for meetings, advice or pitches would answer your emails just because of the domain it came from. You just described the Imperial MBA.
The time to think
The MBA is busy, no doubt. But truthfully, it’s a walk in the park compared to the last months of a startup. This meant that for me it was a great chance to take a breather. Sure, some of the corporate finance modules made my brain ache, but it’s a very different kind of exertion. It’s been so valuable to me. I haven’t had the same chance to just think since the first months of my startup 9 years ago. A year is the perfect timeframe too. And it flies by.
Putting those together, along with the technical skills and knowledge that the actual tuition has furnished me with, it’s felt like the perfect way to spend a year. I’m in a far better place from which to return to the startup game. Will an Imperial MBA be right for all entrepreneurs? Probably not. But with its links to Imperial College, its reputation for tech innovation, the new Enterprise Lab, and for next year an Entrepreneur’s Scholarship, it’ll certainly be right for some.
Henry Oakes is an entrepreneur who co-founded a gaming company in 2008, taking it from inception through the complete life-cycle to exit in March 2016. During his Full-Time MBA at Imperial, he has assumed the role of Entrepreneurship Club VP and is an active member of MBA Connect.