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M.B.A. for hi-tech entrepreneurs?

October 30th, 2008 · 2 Comments · Entrepreneurs

Probably because of the downturn, I have never been asked as often as this year if it is useful for entrepreneurs to have an M.B.A!

Entrepreneurs are, almost by definition, “francs-tireurs,” (literally meaning “sharpshooters”), in other terms “guerrilla fighters” operating separately from the regular army. (Incidentally, this French word appeared in the English vocabulary as early as 1808.) By contrast, many M.B.A folks often appear to look more like operatives inside the regular, that is corporate, army. Does this mean that an entrepreneur with an MBA is an oxymoron, then? No. Think of it this way: Bernadotte was an independent-minded private who became one of the top Napoleonic Marshals, then broke ranks to go his way before rejoining them – until he chose to be his own boss again and turned into the founder of the current Royal House of Sweden. This analogy suggests that the entrepreneurship and MBA streaks may perfectly coexist within the same individual, and that one or the other gaining the upper hand may just be a matter of circumstance or context.

The fact that there are successful entrepreneurs with no MBA does not mean that they succeeded because they do not have an MBA, and failures of businesses started by MBA holders cannot be attributed to their having one.  In the same fashion entrepreneurial instinct does not equate with managerial and financial acumen, MBA does not necessarily mean lack of creativity. 

So, here are my two cents of the day:

– If you have started a company or participated in the early days of a startup that didn’t get to at least $5M in revenue and want to eventually have the option to build a career within larger corporations, you may want to consider earning an MBA or an Executive MBA. Put yourself in an employer’s shoes. How can s/he have a clear idea of what you know or don’t know? Why should anybody buy the idea that you will learn everything on the job? An MBA title does not entitle you to anything specific, true, but it shows that you are familiar with the basics.

– If your undergraduate studies are in liberal arts, and your first job is in a high tech company (large or small), earning an MBA may actually give you the confidence to one day become an entrepreneur.  “My undergraduate studies were music and political science. An MBA enabled me to understand the workings of business and gave me a toolkit to better assess opportunities. It also gave me the opportunity to make the switch from an early career in consulting to an internet start-up, and to my current executive director position in a non-profit music festival and school, The Walden School  (,” Seth Brenzel says. “Moreover, the network of professionals at business school, who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and who have gone on to careers in varied industries, is invaluable to me personally and professionally.”

– If you have been involved with a number of successful startups (I tend to old-fashionably believe that some of them should show profitability), enrolling in an MBA program may be superfluous. Yet, I recommend that you strengthen and formalize your practical business experience and identify the blind spots that could jeopardize future entrepreneurial endeavors. You do not want to be a serial entrepreneur embarking in serial mistakes. Buy a few “Portable MBA”-type books. You will enjoy them far more than you think because they will place your experience in a wider context. Of course, also read all the great books of the latest seasons.  Guy Kawasaki’s recent “Reality Check” of which I spoke earlier this month is definitely one of them. Yes, I know Guy is not exactly pro-MBA, but don’t forget that he has one!

What the Best MBAs Know

The Portable MBA, 4th Edition

Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition

– If you are a foreigner, going for an MBA at some point or another in the United States may accelerate your understanding of the American business culture. This is something that I did not realize when I started my first company in 1987. Had I thought of it, I think I would have considered an Executive MBA, which might have saved me some adjustment time. Eliot Ingram, one of the founders of ClearAdmit*, a consulting firm advising MBA applicants on the most effective way to present themselves as they seek admission to leading business schools, reminded me of an interesting study conducted by a student research team at Duke’s Master of Engineering Management Program: over half of Silicon Valley startups have one or more immigrants as a key founder**. Entrepreneurs from all over the world bring their creativity to this country. MBA courses may ultimately help all of us speak a common language and belong to the same world of success. Why not?

All of this said – yes or again, there are fabulous entrepreneurs with no MBA, absolute geniuses who made our tech world what it is. So let’s not forget that!

*MBA Admissions Blog: (daily updates and admissions tips);
MBA Admissions Wiki: (latest reports from the applicant community)
; Clear Admit School Guides: (in-depth research reports on the leading schools).


Marylene Delbourg-Delphis

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Paul Gassee // Oct 30, 2008 at 10:07 pm

    Very astute points, Marylene. From what you’re saying, it seems like, in all cases, it provides good backup skills and overall background to any entrepreneur. I had once been told by a former boss that an MBA was great at “formatting” existing knowledge “picked up in the field”. Would you agree with that comment?
    Also, had you to do it over again, would you seek an MBA?

  • 2 Silicon Valley Blog Features Clear Admit in Discussion of Entrepreneurship and the MBA » Clear Admit: MBA Admissions Consultants Blog // Nov 10, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    […] Valley blogger Marylene Delbourg-Delphis cited Clear Admit’s own Eliot Ingram in a recent post to her blog, Grade A Entrepreneurs. Delbourg-Delphis is a three-time start-up CEO – ACI/ACI US (now 4D), […]

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