Got an MBA? 5 Ways You Can (Still) Excel in a Tech Startup

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Because I am a co-founder of a technology startup, people are often surprised when they learn that I have an MBA. Tech in general (and Silicon Valley in particular) can be very harsh to people with MBAs. After making my way into the tech community, here are a few pieces of advice that I have for those who want to make a mark in this sector.

Earn Their Respect: Learn to Code

This goes without saying: if you want to live in water, swimming is not optional. The best way to make an impact at a startup and earn the respect of engineers is knowing how to code. It helps if you have a technical education, but two years of business school might have made you rusty. It’s probably time to update the older IDE on your laptop and start coding again. If you don’t have a technical background, you can start taking some online courses to help you learn the language of the streets in the Valley. An MBA friend of mine who figured out pretty early that he wanted to go the tech route started his online MS in Computer Science while he was getting his MBA. At my company, I take care of the entire backend of my app in addition to data science modules.

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Try Not to Use MBA Buzzwords

Is delivering value to users your top priority? Are you itching to do a SWOT analysis of your company and your competitors? Or maybe a “3Cs” and “4Ps” analysis? Hold on. First, you might want to use a common language people understand. Try to not to use words like strategy, top-level, value, framework, etc. in everyday speech; there are better words available. Secondly, stay away from frameworks — nothing puts off startup employees and founders more. Even if you have a framework in mind, just break it down into its components when communicating.

Understand Where You Can Help

Every now and then, you’ll be part of a conversation where people question why MBAs even exist. Don’t believe me? Watch the HBO show “Silicon Valley” and you’ll notice how the characters treat Jared. Unlike an engineering degree, an MBA doesn’t make you immediately productive at an startup. Even if you are involved in marketing or business development, which are critical functions, engineering will almost always take precedent at tech startups.

Show Your Business Acumen Subtly

We know you learned a lot at business school. Engineers have a tendency to get bogged down in details and often miss the big picture. Time to use your business skills! A good way to demonstrate how smart you are is to intervene at the right time, such as during product review meetings. You can (and should) bring in your market research and influence the product roadmap. But remember: don’t use buzzwords or frameworks when communicating.

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