Why MBAs still matter to the startup world

Why MBAs still matter to the startup world

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Thanks to social media technology, crowdsourcing technologies, and mobile hardware and applications, we are very much living in the age of the “microwave millionaire.” I’m talking about the millionaire entrepreneur in today’s “right now” society, not the microwavable baking recipe.

Like prospectors panning for gold, entrepreneurs dig for winning ideas that they can design, develop, and market, often with aspirations of a buyout to the highest bidder. As a result, timelines for success are shorter, and cost-benefit analysis is the crux of most any business decision. This is true, too, for education.

With titans of industry like Gates, Zuckerberg, and Branson lacking even an undergraduate degree, forgoing graduate and post graduate experience has, to a certain extent, become a badge of honor. For others, like Rick Vanzura, CEO of Wahlburgers, advanced education has been the truest arrow in a quiver of business tools.

Vanzura most notably leveraged the Wahlburger reality television series to expand the restaurant franchise of the same name. He, in part, credits his MBA education with providing him the knowledge and skills to capitalize on a unique opportunity. “You start to notice patterns and issues that are really business problems that are congruent across all business,” Rick Vanzura relates. “You start to recognize common problems and solutions.”

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Like all business decisions, when it comes to determining whether or not to attend graduate school, and where to go, cost is among the largest factors. According to Businessweek, top flight business schools can increase career-long earnings by as much as 40 percent when compared to the average school. This payoff, however, comes at a price: the average time to payoff student loans for these schools can be a full decade longer than a public MBA program.

The obvious added benefit of a top graduate program comes in the form of desirability and ease of networking. Rick Vanzura, a Harvard grad, concurs, “I met so many lifelong friends during my time at Harvard, and that’s really what it’s all about.”


Those who are electing to enter full-time MBA programs tend to choose stable but overcrowded fields, like finance. Vanzura, who worked for an array of companies including General Motors, Borders, and Panera before landing at Wahlburgers, encourages candidates to consider industries outside of the big three. “I think folks do not end up taking jobs in retail or restaurant corporations because it’s not the sexy thing to do,” Vanzura speculates. “They’re always eager to get into venture capital, banking, or consulting.” For Vanzura, one of the keys to success is going where the rest aren’t.

The idea of jumping into business and bootstrapping is a sexy one. It’s what legends are made of. Movies like, “The Social Network” aren’t nearly as compelling with the safety net of advanced education, large personal networks, and experience. We see it in sports all the time: the young, inexperienced talent who goes to college for a year, if he attends at all, and jumps straight into the draft. For every Kobe Bryant and Lebron James, there are a hundred Kwame Browns.

And the same is true for every Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft. Studies from Harvard Business School and the University of Tennessee illustrate this point:

“I think for most businesses it’s really critical to have someone who isn’t caught up in the day-to-day, and is dedicated to figuring out ways to push the envelope,” Rick Vanzura reminds us. “Innovating for innovation’s sake might not get you anywhere if it does not directly apply or is of any benefit to your business.”
Shane is a freelance writer and social media strategist currently preparing to launch Me+We Social, a social media & content strategy firm dedicated to helping small businesses. Shane is also a contributor to The Huffington Post. Sign Up for the SPN Newsletter