An entrepreneurial MBA program is the best startup training

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The Exchange is part of an ongoing series on The Hive tackling the questions facing Boston’s entrepreneurs, investors, and innovators. This week, we ask participants if they think there’s a tech and investing bubble that’s going to burst in 2013.

Below Slava Menn, CEO of Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries, says an MBA program can teach life-long lessons invaluable to someone creating a startup and that the years and money invested into the degree pay off long after it is completed.

For more opinions, read the rest of The Exchange. Have your own opinion, or an idea for another topic? E-mail Hive@Boston.

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An Entrepreneurial MBA program is the best startup training

Between ages 18 and 28, I’ve applied to MIT four times and have been accepted once. Yet, in my very first week at MIT Sloan in September of 2009, a 29-year-old guest speaker brought my lifelong dream into question. Aaron Patzer told a packed auditorium of startup-loving MBAs about the two-year journey that lead to Intuit’s $170 million dollar acquisition of his baby, Mint.com. In two years, I would be $170,000 in debt. I asked myself, “Do I really need a MBA to launch a successful startup?”

Most definitely. Here’s why:

1. MBA-quality education doesn’t come from books

Dharmesh Shah, co-founder of Hubspot and MIT Sloan alum has said, “Not a single day goes by that I don’t use something I learned from my MBA.” He’s right. Before launching Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries a year ago, I had no idea if city cyclists needed a theft-resistant bike light. How did I figure it out? I pulled up my notes from Professor Bill Aulet’s entrepreneurial marketing lecture to determine my beachhead market. To price Gotham’s first bike light product, I sought advice from my former pricing professor, Catherine Tucker. And when it was time to sell bike shops, I recalled role-playing sales meetings in Professor Howard Anderson’s Entrepreneurial Sales. There are thousands of books on marketing, pricing, and sales but they don’t hold a candle to learning live from the experts.

2. Entrepreneurial MBA programs give better experience than working at a startup

Working for a pre-Series A startup is a great, low-risk way to learn about startups but you’re putting all your eggs in one basket. In an entrepreneurial MBA program, you’ll have the opportunity to intern for a few months or extern for a few weeks at multiple startups. In my two years as a MBA student, I worked for four startups in Cambridge, San Francisco, Buenos Aires, and Tel Aviv. I learned to manage software teams, pitch angel investors, and negotiate term sheets. It was like attending several intensive bootcamps that put my startup experience on fast-forward.

3. Entrepreneurial MBA programs only

Not all MBA programs prepare you for entrepreneurship. I’ve spoken to peers about this topic at great length from Babson, HBS, Stanford, Wharton, and many more. If school pride comes from Goldman and McKinsey placements and entrepreneurship is just a page in a glossy recruiting brochure, it’s not the right place to incubate your startup.

4. You don’t build friendships at networking events

When my business card collection exceeded my childhood baseball card collection, I stopped going to networking events. He who has the most LinkedIn connections doesn’t win. He who has the most entrepreneurial friends wins. Friends first and business partners second, I met each of my cofounders at MIT Sloan. Last Sunday night I called former classmate and SilverRail Technologies CFO James Harland with last minute questions before a bank loan meeting. When I need help with Gotham’s social media strategy, I buy a $6 pitcher of High Life at the MIT Muddy Charles pub for Thrivehive founders Adam Blake and Max Faingezicht. I also asked for their opinion on this piece. “It’s not a network. It’s a deep bond with like-minded, entrepreneurial people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world,” Adam said.

There are countless successful startup CEOs sans MBA. Aaron Patzer started and sold Mint.com in less time than it takes to complete an MBA. But I’m not Patzer, or Zuckerberg, or Jobs. They’re startup geniuses and I’m just a scrappy entrepreneur. And if you’re not a startup genius, there is no better launchpad for your startup than an entrepreneurial MBA program.

Slava Menn is CEO of Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries. Weigh in on The Exchange: Let us know whether you think an MBA is a smart investment or a waste of time and money at hive@boston.com or on Twitter at @HiveBoston.