Why This Startup Guy Is Going Back To Business School


Today is my last day as Operations Lead at oneforty.  In the fall, I'll be headed to the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan to pursue my MBA.  
 
Because I've been asked a bunch of questions about this, I figured it might be fun for others to see (and critique!) my thinking.
 
Why business school?

Amongst startup folks, MBAs get a bad rap. Some smart people don't even want to interview MBAs.  But it turns out that a lot of companies won't interview you without one.  I literally have an e-mail in my Inbox from a recruiter at a very prestigious company that is one of the largest traditional recruiters of MBA students who loves my experience, but can't hire me without a graduate degree.  While we can debate the pros and cons of the company's position, it does mean I'm precluded from even considering a position with this firm until I have my MBA.
 
An MBA isn't a substitute for startup experience and drive, but it doesn't preclude it either.  From my perspective, it's easier to go to school full time and work on startups part time (both mine, and helping others) than working at a startup full time and trying to swing a part-time MBA.  My read is this: getting an MBA has the highest option value out of the things I could do with myself at this point in my career.
 
Besides, there's precedent - if Tristan can pull it off at Foursquare and Stanford, then I can certainly pull it off as a part-time consultant while I'm at school.
 
Why Ross/Michigan?
 
Out of the top ten business schools, Michigan was easily the best fit for me.  The environment at Ross is very different than some other schools; Rossers are driven, but not competitive.  They have fun without being self-indulgent.  They're friendly without weird forced group hugs (thanks, John, for unwittingly providing me that dig at your alma mater).  The new building is the best learning facility I've ever seen.  And I couldn't be more excited about having a chance to watch the first night game ever at the Big House.  I hate Notre Dame.
 
Of course, professionally, it's a slam dunk.  Every single company that traditionally recruits MBAs that I would want to work for recruits on campus at Ross.  If I want to go the strategy consulting route, I can do that.  If I want to join a large technology company in a product management or product marketing role, I can do that.  If I want to get hands-on experience with consumer marketing at a CPG company, I can do that.  And, yes, if I want to join or found a startup, I can still do that.
 
In addition, Michigan has more top-ten graduate programs than almost any other school in the country.  This means that I can complement my formal business school education with classes from the law, engineering, and other schools on campus.  For example, you know how the Lean Startup movement has strong roots in the Lean Manufacturing processes pioneered by Toyota?  The guy who wrote the books on Toyota's processes is a professor at Michigan.  If there's ever been an opportunity to do a formal academic dive on the base assumptions underlying lean startups, this is my best chance to do so.  I don't need to wait for someone to modify an existing class to incorporate Lean Startup principles; I can write a few chapters of the damn textbook myself.
 
Why now?

I'm 29, which puts me at the upper edge of your traditional full-time MBA student.  I didn't feel comfortable putting off school, if I was going to go at all, any longer.  Being older also means I have a number of friends who have already finished B school.  Talking to them, one of the most frequent pieces of advice was to take the summer "off", so I decided to do so as well, now that oneforty closed its Series A round, launched e-commerce, and moved to its more permanent offices in Central Square.  The Company is in a great position, and I can take the summer to learn Ruby on Rails, travel a bunch, and make the most of an opportunity to do interesting things before I take on new obligations.
 
What now?
 
I'll be taking a desk as an Advisor at TechStars here in Cambridge for the next month (thanks Shawn), helping out the startups there with product, marketing, positioning, pricing, and other questions/issues.  In addition to the 2010 Boston TechStars companies, I'll also be helping out at a small handful of more established startups in town.  I'll also be blogging more regularly, and tweeting some more as well.
 
I want to close this out by offering my thanks to Mike, Michael, Robby, Yifei, Jamie, and Jason for being awesome to work with.  I also want to especially thank Laura for letting me come out from Chicago, run the Series A process (from first meeting to close in 37 days - beat that with a stick), do customer development, user testing, marketing, and own point on a myriad of other tasks as well as letting me leverage her insane, awesome network for my own personal benefit.  You really should consider joining the team.
 
17 responses
Thanks for all you've done, Sachin. Best of luck in B school.
You are right on target. I've been thinking about it for a few years and keep pushing it back. I'm a few years older than you... but I think that when you can work for yourself and open doors to future opportunities while getting your MBA, that's a nice option. Best of luck to you and great work on oneforty. I look forward to reading future posts.
I went back for my MBA as well, for me it was personal reasons, I just really wanted it. I run my own start-up as well, and have been getting my MBA on the side for the past year. I thought long and hard about whether to do it or not, then one day had a talk with my mom about it. I said "well, maybe I shouldn't do it, Ill be 35 by the time I graduate." Then she said, "whether you get your MBA or not, you'll be 35." I started school the next month.
Sachin - best of luck my friend. I'm glad to have met you during your brief stay here in Boston. You have definitely been a good friend within the community - always looking to lend a hand or give advice. There is no doubt you will kick ass in B school and beyond.

Cheers,
J

Have fun at school!! Come back to Boston when you are done...
Hi Sachin, I ran into your blog after looking for the founder of Posterous' (which you clearly stated wasn't this page) and I am glad to have read this post.

I am currently an engineer at a startup, and I am strongly considering business school myself. I am just curious - you speak about companies that you want to "work for." After creating a startup, what do you expect the transition to "working for someone else" to be like?

Hey there! I left a startup in 2007 - of which I was employee #1 - to attend UNC Kenan-Flagler. I graduated in May 2009 and started another company.

You'll have fun, make great friends, and learn a lot. And you'll be better off in the long run for having done it. Congrats!

The point about option value is made really well. Good job. :-)

I made almost the same analysis during the first term of MBA. Instead of getting into the race for i-banking and consulting jobs, I spent my 2 years picking up important skills (marketing, technology, and Ruby on Rails) and I am definitely better off for it. Ended up with a great job now (mix of engineering and management) and will have a number of career options available because of MBA - which means higher risk-taking ability, not just for entrepreneurship but switching employers / careers.

I'll be at that night game at the big house when MSU is crushing UM :)

3 of my co-founders are just finishing up an MBA and working on a startup (@troopswap), so maybe we could meet up in Cambridge if you are going to be around for a few weeks?

Excited for you Sachin. Good luck and have fun!
Yo, so this is coming from a guy who was an investment banker and a management consultant at GS and McKinsey respectively, so take it with a grain of salt, but MBAs seriously blow. Are they right for some people? Yes. People who are more interested in optimization problems and in learning how to sound impressive in a boardroom.

I am one of those people who would be very hesitant to hire an MBA. ESPECIALLY an MBA outside of Harvard/Stanford. What an MBA at a non-top school (and yes, Michigan is good, but harvard and stanford are best) tells me is "hey I couldn't get into a top tier school and am more interested in image than in actual capability".

Now you seem like a legit enough guy so I'm not saying this to hate, but here's my two cents. IF you want to work as middle-management, MBA is right for you. I only mean that to sound 10% patronizing. A lot of people want this. If you want to build something, don't waste your time with the MBA.

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