Do you need an MBA to succeed at a startup? Not really, say people well connected in Chicago’s startup world. And woe to the job applicant who walks in the door with a stiff roll of parchment and an even stiffer personality.
MBA holders sometimes will be met with suspicion, founders warn. Entrepreneurial shoptalk abounds with tales of MBAs comporting themselves with plodding arrogance when what they really need is humble agility.
But founders also say there are times — when businesses get rolling and things get complicated — that they think it would be helpful to have someone who could see the big picture, which should come with an MBA.
“But capabilities can similarly be attained through a good old-fashioned array of mentors that set high expectations early in peoples' career,” added Hoffman, who got an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business before a career at Boston Consulting Group, Motorola and United Airlines — and then Groupon and Rocketmiles.“The biggest predictors of success at a startup are the leadership team, their focus and a simple concept,” said Jay Hoffman, co-founder and CEO of Rocketmiles.com, a presenting company in the October Chicago Venture Summit. “An MBA is often part of the recipe, but doesn’t have to be … (it) can provide the ‘long view’ and reference points for many of the challenges that arise.”
Blue Sky Innovation reached out to connectors in Chicago’s startup community and asked three questions: “What predicts success in a startup?” “How often is an MBA part of that mix?” and “When is it helpful, and when not?” We received several email responses, which we share (edited for length and clarity) one question at a time.