The value of a business degree (or any degree, for that matter) isn’t fixed—it’s dependent on your goals and what you make of it. In fact, most masters degrees only have an $83,000 lifetime ROI.
For me, getting an MBA at Wharton meant growing my network and being intentional about how I spent my time - specifically thinking about investing and venture. Many of my founder friends were similar. But instead of working with venture firms, they explored and iterated on startup ideas, leveraging the resources available to them at a top-tier academic institution. Today, a number of them have continued on their founder journey, raising capital and taking their first few steps towards building great companies.
But this does not mean an MBA will magically take your idea from the garage to Silicon Valley. For most, it doesn’t. Business school is distracting and choice-rich. The founders who successfully make the leap sacrifice much of the traditional business school experience in order to be successful.
So when I’m asked - “is business school worth it for founders?” - there is no clear and straight answer. Instead, I ask them to think of business school as a transaction. What is worth $300K and two years of your valuable time? The MBA credential on its own is not meaningful enough, nor do I believe it is a signal of founder quality. But there are ways to spend your time that could make it worth it.
Here’s a realistic look into what an MBA can (and can’t) do for someone considering founding their own company, particularly for folks who aspire to build a venture-backed company that’s high-growth with a need for venture capital. If you’re considering this path, hopefully this helps you make a more informed decision before writing that hefty check.
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Table of ContentsIt Can Broaden Your Network
It Can’t Build The Right Network
It Can Give You More Discretionary Time
It Can’t Make You a Better Planner
It Can Give You Access to Valuable Resources
It Can’t Give You the Answer
It Can Help with Fundraising
It Can’t Make You a Founder
It Can Broaden Your NetworkFor many, business school is all about the network. You will meet hundreds of new people, and of those, you’ll make a handful of close friends, a ton of friendly acquaintances, and a couple professors that you can use as references, resources, and mentors. Someday, these people might become your cofounders, investors, or advisors.
It Can’t Build The Right NetworkSimply attending a school won’t guarantee you strong relationships that will make an impact on your future company. Most of your classmates will gravitate towards the consulting, finance, and big tech jobs that dominate the business school recruiting landscape. While these are great and lucrative roles, they don’t attract the founder and investor friends who would be most immediately useful for aspiring founders.
In my experience, there was a small and tight-knit community of builders on campus. These friendships and relationships are valuable, but are you someone who will be intentional enough to seek it out? For business school to be worth it, it’s critical to put yourself out there.
It Can Give You More Discretionary TimeBusiness school provides a lot of freedom. How you spend your time is a choice, and for founders, the time can be spent exploring and building without the distraction of a demanding full-time job.
It Can’t Make You a Better PlannerLet me reiterate: how you spend your time is a choice. If you’re intentional about building, it can be worth it. But being a student again won’t automatically create better time management skills or great habits.
Instead, it will introduce you to a whole host of new distractions and ways to spend your time. Coffee chats, happy hours, international trips, and group projects - all of these represent time choices that you must make. Ultimately, your time is zero-sum, and when your friends are out having a great time on a Friday night, it’s understandably hard to stay home and grind.
It Can Give You Access to Valuable ResourcesThe university library - and the access it provides - can be a valuable resource. When you’re going zero to one, much of the exploration is around understanding markets and validating demand. Having access to Pitchbook, market research reports, and expert networks can be extremely useful in this process, and a .edu email address may also help open some doors.
It Can’t Give You the AnswerUltimately, resources are just resources. They are tools to help you arrive at and validate an idea, but it’s still up to you to do the work. They may be helpful on the margin, but personally, $300K seems like a lot to pay for Pitchbook access.
It Can Help with FundraisingTop MBA programs—like Stanford, Harvard, or Wharton - carry some positive investor signal. If you didn’t attend a top undergrad institution, perhaps you’ll get noticed by firms where you otherwise would not have had access. As more and more venture firms spend time on university campuses, attending a top business school certainly helps to open some doors.
Keep in mind, though, the money you put into your degree is ultimately coming out of what you could have put into your business. Put more directly - and acknowledging that there are nuances to this statement - you have to believe that you can raise more than the $300K you’re paying for the experience.
It Can’t Make You a FounderWhile getting your MBA is extremely useful when trying to break into McKinsey, it’s not as directly applicable to founding a company. On-ramps into entrepreneurship exist everywhere, and business school does not serve as a gatekeeper.
Instead, the biggest gatekeeper is actually just you. Being a founder means - almost by definition - that you’re risk-seeking. As a contrast, going to business school is risk-averse. There is natural tension within the experience, and while some successfully make it out the other side and start building their own companies, many are sucked into the vortex that is Mckinsey recruiting.
Frankly, if you don't have a good answer yet, and you don’t feel you can be intentional about your business school experience, then it is probably not a good use of your time or money (right now).
Business school will never be a prerequisite for building a great company. It can be helpful in the right circumstances and on the margin, sure, but if you want to start a company you should really
just start building.