MBAs vs. Non-MBAs

Someone recently asked me about MBAs vs non-MBAs in the startup world. It’s always fun when you stick 3 tech people and 3 MBA types in a room and drop that question on them. My answer was “MBAs build in Excel while non-MBAs build. In reality, I believe both are needed but at different stages of a company.

During the initial startup phase you really need people that can build the product/service. Which includes developers, sales people that can cold call and support people that can respond to customer issues. If you are a programmer and you come up with an idea you can personally develop a site, launch it and see what happens. Whereas, if you are a typical MBA with a great idea you will likely have to hire a developer to implement your vision and thus non-MBA types are required.

People like to ridicule MBA’s and use them as punching bags but as a company grows, people with MBA’s bring a couple things to the table. First, they most likely have access to a great network of people if they went to a top notch business school such as IIM-A or Harvard Business School (HBS).  Second, many have a very process driven way of looking at things whether it’s due diligence, market research or product management. Some may argue that’s the wrong way to look at markets but I would say look at Proctor and Gamble (P&G). P&G employ 100’s of MBA’s to sell very mundane things as toothpaste, shavers and detergents…and they do it successfully year after year.

However, there are startups that are founded by MBA’s. is an example, it’s an Indian personal finance site which was co-founded by Dhruv Agarwala and Kartik Varma who are both HBS alumni and was recently sold to Karvy Private Wealth Management. So, although my initial quote was a poke at MBAs I do believe there is a time and place for them.

The above article originally appeared on

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