Are Startups better than MBA for learning business ?

Work at a startup early on to gain life skills...


Startups are pretty amazing workplaces. It has been almost a cliche discussion in startup circles if an MBA is necessary when you work for a startup.

Well, it depends on what you really want to learn !

If what you really want is running a business and learning to make tough business calls day in and day out, it’s a General Manager kind of role that you are looking for.

For getting into these roles you need either an MBA or an experience that lets you live that journey of an MBA.

What does an MBA add in your profile?

An MBA makes you useful to the business as you are exposed to various functions of the business during your MBA, namely Finance, Accounts, Marketing, Operations, Strategy, HR. What you really get is a 3-fold learning:

  • Theoretical learning in Subjects like Finance, Operations, Marketing, Strategy, Leadership, HR.
  • Practical learning through real-life projects with companies where you solve a real time problem with a company
  • Networks that you develop for life – these are typically high-energy and high-potential individuals whose connections can benefit you for a long time

Guess what ? You can get all this knowledge without an MBA. There are two ways to do it.

  • Join the core team of a startup
  • Start a venture yourself

Depending on your financial needs and personal tendencies, you can chose either one of the two. Both give you more or less the same learning with some variation in magnitude. ( and a lot of difference in terms of equity – which is directly related to more risk you take)

Startup exposes you to different business functions

While working in a startup, your life is not restricted to your own function – it is like holding one function and then doing different projects in different functions at the same time. Since individual bandwidth is always a constraint, people tend to frequently cross domain borders.

For example, it is a typical scenario that the Sales Owner will also implement CRM delving right into the technical stuff like understanding API linking etc; a CTO, on the other hand, may be required to conduct A-B tests on sales/marketing functions.

If you are a founder yourself, multiply all this 100X.

You may be required to check legal and regulatory stuff, sign agreements, sit with CA and submit taxes, work with Finance and learn valuation first hand, speak to CTO over product roadmaps and deployments schedules, work with the Sales and Operations to bring in much needed revenue, define ideal customer service metrics, work on SOPs for various departments, check hiring plans with recruiters, and what not.

Startup provides you Bias for Action

Action and experimentation is more important in startups than strategy building. A startup life gives you the exposure of doing different jobs in a short interval of time thereby helping you connect theory to reality almost immediately.

Startup gives you great networks

If you are working with a fast growing startup, you gain great networks by working extremely hard collectively. You together live a life that builds stories and memoirs that only the team can understand. Irrespective of the fact that the startup fails or succeeds, these friendships remain for life. People know your qualities and abilities and believe in you even after moving out of the team. I have been myself offered jobs by my ex-bosses and colleagues from my startups multiple times.

You also learn some very important qualities in the journey:

  • Prioritisation of activities to bring out 3 major things you want to do today
  • Humility that lets you understand opinions and decide accordingly
  • Experimentation to identify the success and failure cases

You would not actually need an MBA if you live this life for a year or so.

This, I believe is the fastest way to learn business.

PS : An MBA and a Startup builds a different profile altogether – its like grabbing the best of both worlds.

PPS: Negotiate well while joining a startup as startups and check the founder’s vision on unit economics.