Sure, if you want to pursue the most expensive way in the world to start a business.
EssaySnark is just not a fan of using the MBA to launch a company. And we really don’t think Harvard is the best place to learn entrepreneurship specifically. They were fairly late to jump on the entrepreneurship bandwagon in a big way. Now they’ve gone all-in and they’ve got entrepreneurship screaming out of all of their marketing materials. They’ve got this new joint degree program with their engineering school that’s built around leading a tech venture.
You don’t need a fancy degree from Harvard to build a tech company.
Might it be useful? Sure, if you can afford it. But that’s a very luxurious way to go about it.
Call us Old School ‘Snark but we just don’t see it as really a smart path if you’re serious on wanting to (ahem) change the world.
Here’s some data to back up our assessment.
Here’s their most current list:
You will notice that Harvard is not in the top 10. They’re actually ranked #16 on this specialty list – still not bad, but they’re in the company of schools like Darden and INSEAD and NYU. Not Stanford and MIT.
But that’s not the reason we’re so negative on Harvard.
Instead, it’s because of how they fare when you sort the chart like this:
The data of note here are:
- Still Operating
- Main Source of Income
You’ll notice that this view of the chart is a reverse-sort on the Still Operating column. That means, Harvard ranks near the bottom of the entire list of schools where the companies started by the alumni in the Class of 2013 were still operating in 2016.
The other very important data point is the Main Source of Income. Harvard also hits quite low on that metric.
Even though a huge percentage of HBS grads started companies in the Class of 2013 — 22% out of the 900 or so students — this data show that those students did not stick with it for whatever reason, and the ones that kept their companies afloat are not doing so well.
Our theory on why a large number of entrepreneurial ventures coming out of Harvard don’t make it that far is that the qualities that HBS typically selects for is the overachiever type who is often — not always but often — following the predefined path to success. Go to a great college (Princeton, Bowdoin, Dartmouth). Study economics. Get straight As. Do a study-abroad in Europe. Graduate and go to Wall Street, or McKinsey, or Bain or Bridgewater or maybe Cornerstone. Get promoted. Decide to do the MBA, study for the GMAT, nail a 760. Apply to HBS with recs from your boss who’s an alum of the school.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this profile. In fact, it’s a wonderful profile! It shows that you are driven and are willing to work hard. But is it a profile of someone who is able to embrace the level of risk and uncertainty that goes along with starting a company? Someone who will be comfortable with the idea of not having a reliable income stream for an extended period of time — like, probably for years?
Our theory on why a large percentage started companies in the first place is that you get into Harvard and you believe the hype and you start thinking, “Yeah man, I can do ANYTHING!” Because they instill that in you. And you get all jacked up to go out and do this thing, this idea you’ve got, and you put things in place and start making it happen. And you watch your friends all accept high-ticket jobs with jaw-dropping start bonuses, but you’re committed, and you’re gonna stick with it, this is your dream, this is why you came to bschool, you’re at HARVARD and you have the power!
And then you finish the MBA and you graduate, and you’re still gung-ho for it and trying to make it a reality, still trying to be a rainmaker and a miracle worker and go go go!
And then a few months out of school, and your student loan payments start coming due.
And then a few months after that, and your buddies are all going off on some big holiday, and you have to bow out, you can’t afford it. You’re barely making rent.
And then… a few months longer… and your partner starts making all sorts of worried or impatient noises, and your dad asks you at the family barbeque how long you’re going to stick with this thing.
The reality of a Harvard MBA is that IT’S EXPENSIVE. You couple that with the reality of how hard it is to create a company from scratch, and the time it usually takes before real revenues come in, or if you’re going for startup funding, how challenging that can be.
And we’re in flush times as far as VCs and angels goes right now. At some point there WILL be a downturn. At some point those markets WILL dry up.
If that happens all of a sudden in a crash when you’re in the middle of a fundraising cycle… which it very well could if you’re going to be starting your company as part of your studies in the Class of 2020… well, all bets are off.
If you have a family already, or are planning on starting one soon, the picture gets imminently more complicated.
Is Harvard a great place to learn stuff?
Is it the best place for you to pursue all of your dreams?
Is it really the most logical and reasonable path to actually building something new and different that the world will reward with financial success and economic independence?
Maybe. For some people.
Is it the most stress-free or simplest way to go about that very same dream?
No, probably not.
If you’re REALLY serious about learning entrepreneurship at business school — on the cheap!!! — then we’d suggest you look at that other MBA program in Boston.
No not that one.
We’re talking about Babson.
The school you can actually get in to!!
The one ranked #3 on that FT list for entrepreneurship .
Harvard’s great. We’re not knocking it. Definitely go there if you can!!!! But make sure you are being realistic on what that opportunity is about.
HBS is possibly the most expensive way you could ever think of to become an entrepreneur.