Planning, Startups, Stories


Tim Berry on business planning, starting and growing your business, and having a life in the meantime.

Does an MBA Help in Running a High-Tech Business?

Question (on Quora): Does an MBA help in starting up and running a technology-based business? 

My Answer on MBA for High Tech

I have an MBA degree and I bootstrapped a software company past $10M annual sales and was a co-founder of another software company that went public in less than four years. And the truth is neither yes or no, but somewhere in between. The value of the MBA depends on who you are, what you want, what other options you have, what you give up, and where you are in career and the more important rest of your life, like relationships, having children, etc.

MBA degree for high tech business

My case with my MBA and high tech

My MBA degree made a huge difference to me as entrepreneur. I would never have managed without the general business knowledge I got in business school. Having a good basic idea of finance, marketing, product development, and organizational admin was essential to me. It changed my risk factors from too high to acceptable. I set out to build my business on my own without any savings or any investors and while being the sole income for my family (at that point we had 4 kids). Knowledge, in my case, reduced risk. So that’s a direct link to this question of whether having an MBA helps. I’m just one data point, but still … my experience is real.

For the record, my MBA wasn’t easy. It was a lot of sacrifice and a lot of risk. I did it at Stanford while married with 3 kids and paying my own way by consulting, supporting my family, without scholarship help. I quit a good job to do it, turned down a transfer from Mexico City to Hong Kong, which I had wanted for years. And I’m very grateful to my wife, who encouraged me to do it, and promised me she’d stick with me even if I failed.

Two important qualifiers

One important factor for me, which might be relevant for others, is that my MBA experience was rooted in the objective of changing careers. I wanted to change directions, not continue in the direction I’d been going. I’d been a business journalist and I wanted to move out of Journalism to business. I didn’t want to write about it; I wanted to do it.

Another factor for me that might help others is I didn’t expect magic. I was already 31 years old, married 9 years, father of 3. I didn’t expect to learn leadership, when and how to take risks, or how to deal with people (i.e. empathy) in a classroom. What I did expect to learn was the intricacies of finance and cash management, accounting, marketing, some sales (ugh – I’ve always hated sales), some product development, decision sciences, and basic analysis.

However, please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not saying that the MBA is good for every entrepreneur or any specific entrepreneur or you, specifically, as you read this answer. I am saying that it was extremely good for me, in my case, and might be as well for somebody else in similar circumstances. Can you afford to do it? Do you have the time? Are you in a position to take advantage of it? Are you already full speed in a career you love or looking to pivot? All of these factors are important.

Three additional thoughts

  1. There’s no doubt that times have changed, and that the relative value of an MBA degree in 1981 is less than it is now. MBAs are much more common these days than they were then and it doesn’t take an MBA degree to understand supply and demand.
  2. MBAs need ripening before they get their full value. Some would say that it would be a good investment to buy fresh new recent MBAs for what they’re worth and sell them for what they think they’re worth. I’ve been an employer for 30+ years now and I like my MBAs much better when it’s their second or third job out of school, or a few years after school.
  3. I believe the MBA degree these days is a lot more valuable from one of the top schools – Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Northwestern, Babson (for entrepreneurs) and the like – than from second or third tier. The supply and demand factor has heightened the perceived difference.