By Patti Conner
The popular image of a successful entrepreneur has changed a great deal in recent years. Where once we imagined such people as polished, experienced professionals, the picture that now comes to mind is often of a young individual spinning a combination of carefree nature and intellectual brilliance into an innovative company idea.
Naturally, this image comes largely from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (who dropped out of Harvard), and even the semi-fictitious film that was made about him (The Social Network). But Zuckerberg is far from the only example. There are a lot of young, successful entrepreneurs who project a borderline-maverick persona, having eschewed established practices, including MBA education.
I say, more power to them! If you have the ingenuity, savvy, and poise to start a business without graduate school, there are a lot of arguments as to why you should do so. But I’d also stress to anyone interested in a career in entrepreneurship that while an MBA isn’t always necessary, it can still be immensely helpful. While there are a lot of popular CEOs out there who are known for having skipped business school or even dropped out of college, there are also great success stories related to those who went all the way through school and obtained MBAs.
Here are a few in particular I decided to highlight, because they’re running modern, innovative tech startups we often associate with the Zuckerberg types.
Shelby Clark – Founder, RelayRides
Shelby Clark is a sharp young man. As written here in his company profile, he has an MBA from Harvard and an extensive history in growing businesses. Clark helped to scale Kiva.org, a nonprofit micro finance loaning business, and also worked as a strategic consultant for multiple Fortune 500 companies.
But his success as an entrepreneur ultimately came in the form of RelayRides, which is essentially a peer-to-peer car rental service, akin to Air BnB for automobiles. According to this report, the company raised $35 million in 2014 to broaden its reach, and at this point RelayRides is still on the way up. Given Clark’s experience growing and stabilising businesses-which he probably wouldn’t have been able to gain without his Harvard MBA-it’s a safe bet that this company can continue to climb higher.
Chris Larsen – Co-Founder, Ripple Labs
Chris Larsen is a great example of the enduring power of an MBA, because he received his degree years ago and is still putting it to use in new, emerging markets as an entrepreneur. Larsen’s MBA came from Stanford, and his latest and most prominent entrepreneurial venture was founding Ripple Labs, a company looking to establish itself as a major player in digital payment without fees.
A lot of the company’s technology and purpose is based on some of the founding principles of Bitcoin-specifically, as described in detail here, the idea of a digital payment system accompanied by an automatic verification process. Using this type of system (which with Bitcoin is called the Block Chain), Ripple has sought to make digital payments with existing currencies less of a hassle.They do have their own digital currency, but they also allow for the transfer of existing money, gold, and even airline miles. According to this write-up, Ripple is now the second-largest digital currency on the market, with a value in the $100 million range.
Pau Sabria – Co-Founder, Olapic
Pau Sabria is another very helpful example in a discussion like this. He turned an idea that anyone could have come up with into a successful startup in no time, largely due to business know-how he developed through an education process that included a Columbia MBA.
The business, Olapic, is an online marketing tool for businesses that looks complicated at a glance but is actually fairly straightforward, and fairly brilliant. As explained in this interview with Sabria, Olapic essentially helps companies to take advantage of instances in which customers take photos with their products.
Pepsi is a client, for example, and if a customer takes a picture drinking Pepsi at a concert or at a ballgame, and then posts that picture on social media with the company’s hashtag present, Olapic will help Pepsi to recognise and collect the photo. The company can use the image for its own marketing purposes and develop analytical information about which images sell best to new customers.
These are only three of many entrepreneurs succeeding with modern businesses and armed with MBAs. But their success clearly demonstrates that the same creativity that so many entrepreneurs without MBAs use to attempt to start businesses can sometimes be used to quicker and with greater effect when supplemented by a keen understanding of business.