Should Start-up Founders Consider Taking an MBA?

Two Harvard graduates share their insights

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Do you really need an MBA if you’re going to have your own start-up? This question has crossed the minds of many in the field. For two Manila-based start-up founders and CEOs who took their MBAs, the answer is yes and the experience was worth it.

Mikko Perez, founder and CEO of Ayannah, a leading provider of digital commerce and payment services for online and mobile communities, obtained his MBA degree from Harvard Business School. Meanwhile, Henry Motte-Muñoz, founder and CEO of Edukasyon.ph, a social enterprise that connects students to educational opportunities via an online platform, also obtained his MBA degree from the same school. 

Perez says that while an MBA is not essential to be an entrepreneur or start-up founder, it definitely helps. “I still recommend getting an MBA if you have the opportunity to do so,” says Perez.

Here are insights shared by Perez and Motte-Muñoz on how their MBA has helped them in their start-up journeys:

1. If you want to launch the next unicorn, consider taking an MBA

“Better earn your MBA before you do something entrepreneurial, not the other way around,” advises Perez. “It will give you an edge and make you a valuable contributor to the team effort.”  

For Motte-Muñoz, it can go both ways: One can take an MBA before or after they become entrepreneurs. “Ultimately, your path will depend on what your end goal will be,” he says. “There isn't one recommended path when it comes to getting an MBA and starting a business. I have met people who have taken an MBA first then succeeded to do a business. Conversely, I have also met people who successfully started a business first, which then helped them get accepted to good business programs.”

There are risks however to having your start-up first before taking the MBA.  “If your goal is to further your career through an MBA, then starting a small business would equip you with experiences that would, in turn, help you get into a good program,” he explains. “The trade-off here is that you would face more risks and challenges as you're starting your business.”

“If your goal is to launch the next unicorn, taking an MBA is essential,” says Motte-Muñoz. “An MBA provides you a good understanding of business concepts upfront, which minimizes the risks of failure when you begin. An MBA would also help you build connections with like-minded individuals who can help you take your business to the next level.”

2. An MBA will give you an edge whether you’re building or working for a start-up

Perez enumerates the ways that those involved with start-ups can gain an edge from having an MBA. “[You can get a benefit if] you are a founder raising capital. [Also] if you are applying for a job in a commercial role like sales; marketing; business development; finance, in a funded start-up” he says. Perez adds that his MBA gave him a broad range of skills and knowledge that he has been able to apply on various aspects of building a start-up.

For Motte-Muñoz, MBA graduates can gain a good amount of business knowledge that can help them understand other related fields.

“An MBA would take you through a broad range of business concepts across all aspects,” he says. “Having this knowledge helps you run your business holistically and converse with people from different focus areas such as marketing or finance experts, for example. You may not know everything to a level they do, but you have enough of the basic foundation to understand what they're saying and discuss in a productive way.”

3. MBA holders make great communicators

“I find that MBAs are better communicators — one cannot underestimate the importance of being a good communicator to be successful in business,” explains Perez. “No matter how smart someone is, if one cannot communicate his ideas and proposals in a persuasive manner, then he won't be successful.  This applies not just to commercial managers but even to technical managers. Anybody who is leading a team needs good communication skills.”

Motte-Muñoz also explains why the course helps teach humility and openness. “In an MBA, you will be thrown in a room of hundreds of individuals who, at the same age, have often achieved far more than you, and they are open to share lessons,” he recalls. “This is a humbling experience as it opens you up to new ideas and exposes you to different industries and backgrounds, ‘fertilizing’ your mind.”

4. An MBA will help you build connections

A great network is also another reward one can reap. “An MBA would help you build connections with colleagues of the same caliber, which may help you launch or grow your business in the future,” he says. “Through my MBA, I have met several people who have helped me grow my business.”

“The trade-off with not having an MBA is you learn all of these on the ground, which increases the challenge of running the business. Aside from going through the daily grind, you would have to practice more patience in learning business concepts, more openness to learn from others, and more hustle to build the network,” says Motte-Muñoz.