The Disruptors: Quantic, The Free MBA

Thumbs up: Quantic students tour Facebook headquarters. There are currently more than 5,000 students in Quantic’s MBA and EMBA programs. Courtesy photo

Is right now the best time or the worst possible time to launch a new business school? Answer: yes.

But while any new academic venture is fraught with peril, and that peril is magnified by a pandemic and global lockdown, an accredited MBA program where the majority of lessons are taken by smartphone has built-in advantages. That’s Tom Adams’ gamble, and so far it looks to be paying off.

And did we mention that it’s a free program? That might raise some eyebrows, too.

“I think my assessment, like many others’, is that coronavirus is accelerating some trends that were building,” says Adams, founder and CEO of Quantic School of Business and Technology, the “business school of the future” that is the world’s only accredited mobile-first graduate school. “Our survey shows 90%-plus were working in an office before the crisis — now its 95% working from home. When this ends, will they go back to working in an office full time? I’m not sure they will. We all want to have more opportunities to work from home.”

The ability to study from anywhere, via phone, also has its appeal. As the nation’s top MBA programs wrestle with declining applications and campus closures — and while business leaders struggle to drive productivity among virtual teams — Quantic is thriving. Formerly Smartly Institute, Quantic offers a Free MBA, an Executive MBA, and a suite of nearly 50 free business courses and currently has a student population of more than 5,000 and growing. Adams says he expects to receive 100,000 applications in 2020.


Tom Adams, founder and CEO of Quantic.

A 2001 INSEAD MBA, Sweden native Tom Adams is best known as the entrepreneur who took public the Rosetta Stone, the language-learning system that today is one of the world’s most popular. He says the experience at Rosetta, where he spent more than a decade, informed his love of learning and helping others.

“I’m an MBA myself, and at the time we were kind of in a tough era economically, but I sort of landed well and became CEO of Rosetta Stone almost out of the gate after graduating,” Adams tells Poets&Quants. “The company was much smaller, obviously, but the MBA gave me that confidence, that credibility, to sort of take on a challenge like that and then manage to grow that company. And so I sort of saw the MBA as the enablement of the generalist, and the beauty of it is that effectively you can work on bigger questions. And so that was kind of always there for me. And then as I ran Rosetta Stone I started wondering about what other areas of learning I could pursue to try to transform — to make them dramatically better than they are today.

“Obviously I was passionate about developing leaders. And so when I left Rosetta Stone (in May 2013), I teamed up with two of the bright stars there on the product side, which were Alexie Harper and Ori Ratner. And we got to work on building an interactive learning platform. We actually started our journey working with professors at INSEAD, and we were used there — and eventually at Georgetown and NYU — as part of their onboarding into their program. We would do what we call the business fundamentals, the foundational courses students do before they show up on campus. And as we did that, we sort of realized that we were getting great reactions from students — and so we started wondering whether we’d be able to create our own program. And we ultimately did that, and we launched in July 2016 as Smartly.”

Smartly, with co-founders Harper and Ratner as chief academic officer and CTO, respectively, had more than two dozen classes of students in under four years. Late in 2019, the school earned accreditation through the Distance Education Accrediting Commission in Washington, D.C., and in February 2020 — shortly before the global earthquake known as coronavirus disrupted everything from classroom instruction to commencement ceremonies — the school rebranded as Quantic.


Quantic’s 10-month MBA program is extremely selective: of 50,000 applicants in 2019, fewer than 5% were admitted — a lower acceptance rate than Harvard Business School or Stanford Graduate School of Business, and far lower than any of the top online MBA programs. New cohorts are run every six weeks. Seventy percent of Quantic students come from top-ranked undergraduate programs at Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, Princeton, Columbia, Oxford, and the University of Chicago; work backgrounds include such big names as IBM, Facebook, Accenture, McKinsey, Pfizer, and EY. Two-thirds — 67% — have STEM backgrounds; 39% are women. They hail from 119 different countries.

Between MBA and EMBA programs, Quantic’s combined acceptance rate is around 11%, Adams says.

“We’re very selective, unlike most online business schools,” he says. “The benefit of that is, a lot of what business schools are about is building a network, and in our platform we give you an unbelievable network of peers.”

Once you’re in, the program is free — another unbelievable benefit, made possible in part by the $9,600 price tag on the Quantic Executive MBA, a 12-month program that is designed more for those in mid-career. The free MBA program at Quantic doesn’t require students to quit their job or move to attend a top MBA program, Adams says: Quantic’s interactive technology is flexible in format, designed to make learning stick for professionals.

“In our MBA program, 70% of lessons completed are done on a smart phone by all students,” he says. “The students have an interaction in the learning engine every 8 seconds. So there’s no video professor — this is interactive learning like no one else is offering it, certainly not in higher ed. And then we’ve done a lot to create a fantastic peer experience, and we also run events around the world where students can come together.”

The main thing, Adams says, is whether you get in. “The ones who do get in have an amazing experience.” To back that up, he points to a recent survey of students.

“If you take the percentage of people who say they would give us a 9 out of 10 on the question, ‘Would recommend it to a friend?’ and then you take away what the formula says are detractors, which are people who give you between a zero and a six, we get between 64 and 70 consistently,” Adams says. “And that’s at a level higher than any of the top business schools in the world. So that’s kind of the disruptive model. It’s kind of a network-first, mobile-first, highly interactive, very differentiated learning modality. And we’ve only just officially launched.”

See the next page for P&Q‘s Q&A with Quantic Founder & CEO Tom Adams, edited for length and clarity.

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