Cyberposium and Why an MBA Matters

Earlier this month, several members of the BC Grad Tech Club attended the 20th Annual Cyberposium, presented by our friends at the HBS Tech Club.  As we have come to expect, the event featured solid speakers and was very well run.  A huge thank you to the HBS Tech Club for a job well done.

For me, the highlight of the event came early in the day during the first keynote which was a tag team effort  by Jenny Fleiss of Rent the Runway and Scott Friend of Bain Capital Ventures.  Many of us visited RTR’s NYC offices last spring as part of TechTrek NYC and I was impressed by how much growth the company has seen in such a short amount of time.  This particular presentation was eye opening because Scott was the VC who met with and funded Jenny and RTR and therefore we had the unique opportunity to hear the story of the company from both the Founder and Investor perspectives.  Among the key take-aways were the concepts of “do it first, scale it second” and using B-School profs as advisors, after all they have to listen to us!  From the VC perspective, Scott said that one of the first things that impressed him was that Jenny and her co-founder stood up when presenting and had already done the legwork to prove the concept.  I note this because good presentation skills and due diligence are key attributes we develop and polish as MBAs.

The marquee keynote for the day was Y-Combinator President Sam Altman.  I am one of the many folks out there following his “How to Start a Startup” course via YouTube so it was particularly neat to see him speak in person.  One of the things Sam noted was that in many ways you actually have to untrain yourself.  He was a particularly interesting speaker because he gives the impression, sometime quite straightforwardly, that he does not think particularly highly of business school and MBAs.  When asked where MBAs can add value to a startup, he suggested once they really hit the acceleration point on the growth curve and need to scale quickly.  Other key take-aways: “If you don’t have an idea, don’t start a company,” and “Startups commit suicide far more often than they are killed.”

sam

While I really enjoyed the event on the whole there were a couple of recurring themes with which I took issue.  To some degree, despite the location there was some advancement of the idea that B-School is a bad investment or toxic to starting a startup.  Obviously, as an MBA myself I have a biased perspective but I firmly believe that an MBA can be an extremely powerful asset, if for no other reason than it requires you to think about a number of different businesses and to go through some serious self-examination for at least two years.  If taken advantage of properly, this can give the time needed to identify an issue, a suffering population, and some hypotheses to address it.  Indeed, a little digging reveals that a full third of Unicorns (Billion dollar companies founded in the last 10 years) have at least on MBA founder, and more than half have an MBA executive.  (http://bostonvcblog.typepad.com/vc/2013/11/unicorns-and-mbas.html)

Another (perhaps more prevalent) theme was that an MBA is only worth it if you go to one of the top 5-10 schools.  Certainly these are over-represented in executive positions, etc. but as I approach the end of my two-year B-School journey I can honestly say that the experiences, skills, and time for reflection has made me a much more effective professional and I would not trade it.  I am working on two different products at the moment (read about one here) and have chatted with CEOs at the likes of Etsy, WePay, ThredUp, Rethink Robotics, and IBM, and other executives at companies like Apple and VMWare.  Furthermore, I am a firm believer that education in all its forms is generally a good thing and an a strong appetite for learning is a key tenet for success.  I found a kindred spirit at the conference in Jeff Engler, cofounder of Podimetrics.  His positive energy and passionate defense of the value of MBAs, Accelerators, and any opportunity to work hard alongside other driven people was inspiring.  (Not surprisingly he is a fellow Columbia History Undergrad-long live the liberal arts!)

All in all, I thought the event was great and very insightful.  While we at BC tend to be more collaborative and less cutthroat than some other business programs, we certainly are determined and can be competitive.  At the Tech Club in particular, we love bucking conventional wisdom and I am excited for the great startups that will continue to come out of Fulton and combat these notions.

Other Key Take-Aways

  • Customer Success is very different than customer satisfaction. Cant be successful without it.
  • If you’re not having fun in business school, you’re blowing it. -Mark Wallach
  • Keep a keepers list of the best ppl you work with then use that to hire when you start a company. -Sam Clemens

-David LoVerme is a 2nd Year MBA at Boston College and the President of the Grad Tech Club

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