Entrepreneurs Think Your Degree is Stupid

Entrepreneur says don't waste your time on an MBAIn the past I’ve mentioned entrepreneurs’ distaste for corporate America in posts like Corporate Hatred for Richard Branson, and Entrepreneurs Are Like Porn.

I’ve even suggested that if you work for, or are interviewing for a job with an entrepreneur, that you play down any association you have had with big business. Much as an FBI recruit might want to hide a last name of Gotti or Gambino.

But today’s column in Canada’s The Globe & Mail takes my point to a whole new level.

Today, successful entrepreneur and author John Warrillow wrote that entrepreneurs should weed out any job applicants who “wasted their time” getting an MBA. He says that a resume with the letters MBA on it, should simply be tossed.

“To me, an MBA is a sign of a candidate who worries too much about what other people think,” writes Warrillow.

He calls the need for this degree a form or arrogance, and compares it to cufflinks.

It’s a shocking position. There was a time, not so long ago, when companies like Coca-Cola wouldn’t even interview for certain mid-manager level positions unless the candidate had an MBA.

I may have just made Warrillow’s point.

The Knowledge of Power
However, in an entrepreneurial environment, some business knowlege is critical to survival; critical to being able to communicate with your entrepreneur boss. And it’s not always taught in undergraduate classes.

It doesn’t matter if you were hired for marketing, product development, or any other non-financial role, in an entrepreneurial environment you need to know the difference between revenue and cash flow. You need to understand the difference between margin and net profit. May sound like basic stuff, but I know a lot of smart people with undergraduate degrees that have never needed to understand the difference to excel in their jobs. That’s not the case in a startup.

The Widest Shoulders Hold the Biggest Chips
The comments following Warrillow’s post were heated, and it was pretty easy to decipher the MBA holders from the entrepreneurs.

This comment was submitted by “A McLaughlin.” You decide what camp he falls into:

While MBAs are to be avoided, it is much more important to screen out anyone with a professional HR designation, and anyone who’s ever worked as a “management consultant”. This applies to any job, not just to entrepreneurial positions. Such people should never be allowed near your organization. Don’t even interview them. They are cancer.

Hmmm, tough call, but I’m going with entrepreneur.

Glimpses of Wisdom
Though I can’t fully support Warwillow’s stance (I know quite a few entrepreneurs that would benefit greatly from a little business discipline and planning), I do think the flip side of his argument is valid.

If you are an MBA, an entrepreneurial environment might not be the best place for you. Unless, of course, you are the entrepreneur. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up for frustration and heartbreak.

A few more tips to avoid job-related heartache and to keep the corporate out of your career with an entrepreneur:

Avoid the Buzz:
Want to see your entrepreneur boss roll his eyes? Want to know the fastest way to lose his interest in a conversation? Toss a few of these buzz word gems in your next meeting:

  • “thought leadership”
  • “triangulate the information”
  • “touch points”
  • “close the loop”

(Want to add to this list? Drop some buzz words in the comments section)

Note: “Cash is king” is not only an acceptable buzz phrase, it’s a mantra. Learn it. Use it.

Forget the Facts:
Don’t reference past research conducted in prior over-funded companies. And don’t recommend it! Even if you do get budget approval (Budget? What’s that?) your entrepreneur boss may not believe the results because it wasn’t witnessed personally. Get used to the fact that your focus group participants may never grow beyond your entrepreneur’s inner circle of family, friends and associates.

Working for Wonka? Interviewing with Wonka? Know This: Most entrepreneurs will be more impressed with the guerilla tactics you used when you were 10 to move boxes of Girl Scout cookies than they will be that your last product concept had good Top 2 Box scores. (In fact, most won’t know what Top 2 Box scores are). So know your audience!


  • Corinne Edwards

    Reply Reply April 26, 2011

    Dear Kathy –

    I was thinking of what Garyvee had to say about a successful entrepreneur and who you should hire..

    Find out if they had a lemonade stand when they were 10. You will be on the right track.

    Another qualification is if your prospective employee was an Eagle Scout.

    Very hard to get that designation and is great leadership training.

    Great article. Sorry for some of the MBA’s who read it.

    I never made it. Glad I never tried. But I had to make money to support my kids.

    And I did. Very well.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply April 26, 2011

      I’ll definitely check out what Gary Vaynerchuk has to say on the topic. Love his stuff, and he’s the ultimate entrepreneur.

      I think the entrepreneur who wrote the article would agree on the lemonade stand point. I certainly agree on the Eagle Scout point. But I don’t see why you can’t have those qualifications AND and MBA.

      I have plenty of entrepreneur friends who got their MBAs knowing full well that they would be running their own companies one day. I understand that graduate school is a training ground for corporate America, but there’s also nothing wrong with getting as armed as possible before you take the leap into entrepreneurship. Leave behind the peices of the education that you find overly corporate, grab the good stuff and head off.

      Doesn’t even the Boy Scout motto say something about always being prepared?

      Thanks for putting your two cents in Corinne.

  • Evan

    Reply Reply April 26, 2011

    Steve Blank has a good blog about the differences between a start up and a corporate.

    He is also teaching his model of the startup in a college course.

    His best line in my view: a business plan never survives the first contact with a customer.

    Most academic schooling is hopeless. Knowledge is more than cerebral. Fred Emory: Schooling pokes your eyes out and Uni teaches you to read Braille.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply April 27, 2011

      Thanks for stopping by Evan.

      I’ll look up Steve’s blog; interested to see what he sees the differences to be. He’s absolutely right about the business plan and customers. Darned, pesky, want-what-they-want customers!

      I’ll agree that some schooling is useless. That the school of hard knocks teaches you much. That you learn by doing. But I’m sticking to my guns that there’s nothing wrong with being as informed as you can be before you start your venture. Would you want Mr. Magoo performing heart surgery on you, or would you prefer someone who had actually been able to read the text book first?

      Thanks for your input Evan!

  • Kamil Ali

    Reply Reply April 27, 2011

    I’m not sure why you’re so fed up with MBAs. I found many successful entrepreneurs along MBAs in my life including my self.

    I’ve found the opposite. MBAs are better entrepreneurs specially if they are good at marketing and save even a penny.

    CEO, after lying to exceed stock brokers’ expectations. CEO calls in marketing guys to tell them to increase sales and profit. “And your deadline is the next month”. Poor marketers go back to their department and start thinking how to increase those awkward sales. And that’s normally leads to wrong decisions. Wrong strategy! That strategy talks about Brand Extension. And Brand Extension is not the way to build the brand and profit.

    Management is more responsbile for devastating results of MBAs.

    We have great examples out there. Seth Godin is an MBA and a successful entrepreneur . Tom Peter is an MBA too

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply April 27, 2011

      Welcome to the Wonka blog, Kamil. But hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I’m on your side of this argument.

      (For the most part)

      • Kamil Ali

        Reply Reply April 28, 2011


        I wanna be friend with you:) Hahaha

        Then why did you publish it on your blog?:)

        How can I see your face? By the way:)

        • Kathy Ver Eecke

          Reply Reply April 28, 2011


          Great to hear about the friends! I published it to present the opposite point. That’s why I wrote things like:

          However, in an entrepreneurial environment, some business knowlege is critical to survival; critical to being able to communicate with your entrepreneur boss. And it’s not always taught in undergraduate classes


          May sound like basic stuff, but I know a lot of smart people with undergraduate degrees that have never needed to understand the difference to excel in their jobs. That’s not the case in a startup.

          I’m on your side of this issue, friend! 🙂

          You can see my face in the About tab video, and on the Done By Lunch video series.
          Thanks for stopping back by!

  • When it comes to avoid the buzz how about “Micro Management” I personal don’t like that one.

    Hands on experience and good common sense can make a big difference. My hubby is an Engineer, he doesn’t have all the big degrees, but with the experience he has had for 35 years all the young engineer come to him for help.

    When I was in the corporate world I had a new boss that had the MBA and I got let go, because I knew more than she did and it scared her. (best thing she every did for me)

    Anyway great article and have a wonderful day Kathy.

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply April 27, 2011

      Nice to see you again Debbie!

      Absolutely agree that hands-on experience is priceless. But I think if you couple that experience with some solid education (even if you just learned what you think you DON’T want to do), you’re loaded for bear. As my friend from Texas used to say….I think it’s a good thing, but not 100% confident.

      Micro-manage is a great example of corporate buzzwords. I think that one has even made it into the mainstream, along with “circle back” one of my personal pet peeves.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.

    • Kamil Ali

      Reply Reply April 28, 2011


      It’s great that he has experience. Experience does count.
      But knowledge tells you the right thing and save your so many years.

      I wonder if he had a degree he would been much better.

      Are you the part of Blog Mastermind by Yaro?:)

      See you

  • Rick Schwartz

    Reply Reply May 4, 2011

    Excellent article, Kathy.

    Here’s a few more buzzwords that personally make me gag


    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply May 4, 2011

      Oh my gosh, Rick. You have no idea how much I can’t stand “resonate.” Excellent addition!

      And thanks for checking out the blog!

  • Hi Kathy,

    “play down any association you have had with big business. Much as an FBI recruit might want to hide a last name of Gotti or Gambino.” – I’ll remember this the most of this post.

    Having some sort of background knowledge and/or expereince is always a plus and something that should be urged when getting into anything to do with business. Some people go in to it clueless. And if they do somehow get in it is because they did a quick Google search to find the ‘most important business terms’ and strung a sentence or two together.

    I agree with Rick; Resonate, Bandwidth and Granular are words that just annoy me!

    • Kathy Ver Eecke

      Reply Reply May 26, 2011

      Hi Gabriella:
      Nice to meet you. Glad you liked the Gambino reference. Can’t get enough mob references in a blog, right?

      Yeah, Rick’s list is perfect. Bandwidth is particularly annoying. But on to more important things, where can I get a nifty feather duster like yours! 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Craig

    Reply Reply January 9, 2012

    For me having a degree is just a formalization of your knowledge about what you intend to study. But the things that they taught in college can be learned without being in college. You can study by yourself at home.

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