An MBA is a complete waste of time and money for anyone who wants to create or join a startup

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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 David Cancel, entrepreneur and chief product officer at HubSpot, says an MBA is a waste of money for anyone trying to create a startup. Instead, he argues it makes more sense for an entrepreneur to have zero debt and to not to rest the hope of success on an MBA.

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


Should you get an MBA before founding a startup?

Hell no.

If you intend to found a tech startup I believe that an MBA is a complete waste of money.

There is one exception to that rule. An MBA from Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Wharton, and maybe 1 or 2 other schools in the entire world might be somewhat useful. An MBA from one of these schools may be useful not for what you learned at those schools but because of the social connections you made with some of your fellow students and professors. If you’re lucky you might make some alumni connections to people not in the startup world but working at potential acquirers and partners during your time at one of these schools.

If the possibility of making a couple of interesting alumni connections is worth enough to you that you’re willing to spend two years of your life and accumulating an average of $88,000 in debt, go nuts. It isn’t to me, nor I have I seen it payoff for anyone I’ve encountered during the last 15 years.

Coming out of school with a ton of debt would make anyone more risk-averse. That’s not a quality you want in a startup founder. I recommend that you try everything in your power to be entirely debt-free before founding a startup. It’s hard enough to sleep at night as a startup founder without being in personal debt, don’t add any unnecessary pressure on yourself.


Wait, isn’t it easier to raise capital if you learned how-to analyze spreadsheets and dissect a business case at school? Nope.

As an angel investor I’ve never given any advantage to a start-up because one of its founders had an MBA. Recruiting a talented engineering team is far harder, and more impressive, than recruiting a building full of MBAs.

What if none of the founders are MBAs. Should they hire any MBAs into their companies?

For me an MBA wanting to join a startup has always been a worrisome sign. I guess this is because when I see this happening it makes me feel that MBAs are starting to think there’s a short-term possibility that joining a startup is going to make them rich. If you’re interested in making money then please don’t start or join a startup. Anyone who has started a business will tell you there are far easier ways to make money in this world than founding a startup. Despite the urban legends you hear about very, very few startup founders ever make any money let alone get rich from their startup.

Marc Andreessen, a superstar entrepreneur and startup investor, says that when MBA graduating classes start wanting to go into tech startups we’re seeing a leading indicator of a bubble forming.

If you’re a seasoned entrepreneur, were lucky enough to make some money, and you feel like going back to school to get your MBA for fun, go for it. I have many friends who have done just that. But these friends were already successful entrepreneurs, they never rested their hopes on an MBA helping them found a business and neither should you.


David Cancel is an experienced entrepreneur and chief product officer at HubSpot. 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 or on Twitter at@HiveBoston.

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