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The MBA And The Startup: A Worthy And Viable Path Or A March To An Approaching Bubble?

Founders of Coffee Meets Bagel, Arum Kang (left), Dawoon Kang and Soo Kang. Courtesy photo

Founders of Coffee Meets Bagel, Arum Kang (left), Dawoon Kang and Soo Kang. Courtesy photo

In the South of Market (SOMA) district of San Francisco rests the JPMorgan Chase building, directly across Mission Street from Deloitte. It’s the type of building that stretches to the sky and has a gymnasium-size lobby where at least five security guards skeptically eye you up and down if you look out of place.

The 13th floor of the building is brimming with about a dozen fledgling companies, where millennials in t-shirts and tennis shows bustle around. And one of those startups is Coffee Meets Bagel, yet another dating website that delivers one match to users, a bagel, every day at noon. Members can then like or pass on their bagels.

The founders are an unlikely trio of sisters, a pair of whom sport MBA degrees from the two best business schools in the world: Harvard and Stanford. “I don’t know what different thing I could be doing that could bring me so much joy and so much development and personal growth,” gushes Dawoon Kang, sporting leggings and house slippers. And Kang could probably be doing nearly anything she wants. The 33-year-old Korean American holds an MBA from Stanford. Her twin sister, Arum, who is about 40 feet down the hall in a meeting, holds the Harvard MBA. The two and their older sister, Soo, 35, launched Coffee Meets Bagel, in 2012. With $11.2 million raised in venture capital backing they sit in 47th on Poets&Quants’ Top 100 MBA Startups of the past five years.

The Kang sisters, who were raised by entrepreneurial parents in Seoul, Korea, before coming to the United States from high school, are part of a burgeoning group of students at elite MBA programs. They’re intelligent, scrappy and not afraid to take major risks. They also used their MBA experience to develop skills and a network necessary to set their own career paths.

A STORY OF RARIFIED SUCCESS

“Business school is an environment where you’re going to be learning amazing things, meeting amazing people, co-founders and potential investors,” says Vince Ponzo, the senior director of the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center at Columbia Business School. “It’s a place where you can take that chance and if it doesn’t workout, ‘oops, I still have a world-class MBA and I can still get a job somewhere.’ It’s not an all or nothing bet.”

It’s certainly not. If Coffee Meets Bagel was to suddenly capsize, it’s likely the Kang sisters could simply stroll across the street to Deloitte (or any other similar firm) and garner at least some interest. In addition to their world-class MBAs and young and blossoming venture, Arum has worked at Amazon and Dawoon at J.P. Morgan.

After graduating from Stanford and Harvard, the twins and their older sister saw a problem and a wide-open market space. Despite being spread out in Boston, New York City and Hong Kong–some of the world’s most attractive cities for young professionals–it was a struggle to find decent dates. “We were surprised by the lack of quality dating services out there–especially for women,” Dawoon explains, adding the market was still a “white space.” (the homepage of their site boasts, “The Only Dating App That Women Love”) According to Dawoon, the dominant competitor, Match.com, had not changed much in years. “No innovation had taken place,” insists Dawoon.