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

Harvard entrepreneurship professor and faculty co-chair of the Rock Center Thomas Eisenmann. Courtesy photo

Harvard entrepreneurship professor and faculty co-chair of the Rock Center Thomas Eisenmann. Courtesy photo


And it seems to be a two-way street from tech and entrepreneurship to elite MBA programs. Ponzo says he’s seeing more students coming from startups into Columbia’s MBA program, as well as students using the MBA to leap from consulting and finance to tech. “They’re coming with a little bit of a disruptive mindset,” Ponzo says of the students with startup backgrounds. “They’re scrappy. They’ve seen first-hand, for better or for worse, what being at a startup is like. And they come to business school with that mindset.”

At Harvard Business School, Eisenmann has been seeing the same thing. “It’s big and I’m almost positive it’s growing,” Eisenmann says of students coming from the startup world to earn their MBAs.

Ponzo has observed that such students take an entrepreneurial lens and focus it on business skills. “The tools they’re learning in business school around market sizing, and margins and financial projections are being put on top of some big entrepreneurial opportunities,” says Ponzo. The result is a “polished” skill set.

“A lot of startups don’t succeed and you have a lot of students that went to work at a startup right after college or a couple years after college and three or four years in they realize that startup isn’t going to be the home run that they thought and they can come to business school and polish,” Ponzo explains. “At a startup you can learn a lot of things but in a disorganized and chaotic way. And I think an MBA gives those students those skills in a very organized way, it’s the polish on everything they’ve already learned.”


Those polished skills and scrappiness have been factors in Coffee Meets Bagel’s success. “What I’ve realized over the years is startups don’t fail because of competitors,” Dawoon believes. “Startups fail because of the founders giving up. They’re tired. They implode because they can’t work together anymore. As long as you’re able to pivot and develop your product and get it to a market fit, you are going to be OK.”

The sisters have been able to pivot and grow and even convince a VC world largely dominated by white males to throw them some dough.

“I think in a seed stage especially, what your selling is yourself and your connection and chemistry with the investors,” says Dawoon. “It’s really about the fit and connection. And that kind of connection is really elusive. And I think human beings, including myself, we are proned to be more biased towards people who look, think and act like us. And we come in and say, ‘hey we have a dating app that’s really great for women,’ a lot of men don’t understand it.”


Understand it or not, Coffee Meets Bagel has scratched and clawed it’s way to relevancy in a market crowded with the likes of Tinder, The League and fellow Harvard Business School-founded dating app, Hinge. Dawoon says they’ve been able to tap into the wisdom of their “biggest supporter” and an entrepreneur very close to them–their father.

“He said if you always stay in the same place you will be decaying,” says Dawoon. “And you want to constantly reinvent yourself. We want to build Coffee Meets Bagel to the dominant product in the dating industry.”


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