Why Startup Experience Can Be More Valuable Than an MBA

Sarah Steimer
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Key Takeaways

What? Marketers can gain valuable experience by opting for startup work instead of an MBA.

So what? The opportunity allows for deep involvement within acompany in marketing and other roles.

Now what? Marketing grads could consider working for a startup to gain experience, either in lieu of getting an MBA or in addition to.​

​Sept. 16, 2016

Some marketers are choosing so-called “startup grad school” to further their careers by way of hands-on experience​

The MBA is the most popular graduate degree, according to the Department of Education, but th​​​​​​ere is some contention that early career experience could be a greater advantage after an undergraduate degree is attained.

Fast Company reported on two former Warby Parker employees, Jen Rubio and Steph Korey. The two women used their experience at the eyewear startup to launch their own business, the luggage brand Away. Korey told Fast Company that she has an MBA from Columbia University, but found it less helpful than what she termed “startup grad school.”

To learn more about the benefit to marketers of working for startups, Marketing Newsreached out to a number of companies for their take. The overarching lesson was that working for a startup allows for in-depth experience and the opportunity to wear many hats within the organization, beyond just marketing.

Recommended For You: When to Get a Graduate Level Degree?

Meet the Experts

Jason Nazar, CEO of Comparably, a compensation and culture data company

“Marketing professionals are advantaged working at startups because of the autonomy and flexibility they’re afforded. A marketer can create her own active online campaign in hours while also having the opportunity to get involved in product design and data analysis. Startups afford all employees, but especially those in marketing, the ability to have greater influence and the autonomy to try and test more ideas.”

Virginia Lam Abrams, senior vice president of communications and government relations at Starry, a touch-screen router and internet service company

"Working at a startup provides unparalleled opportunity to experiment and innovate at all levels of a company, including marketing. Startup environments are traditionally fast-paced and a place where employees often wear many different hats, so the opportunity to stretch beyond your job description is ever-present. That's exciting and important for anyone who's looking to grow their career, gain new skills and step outside of their comfort zone. Start-ups provide an experience (for better or worse) that most established companies can't compete with. But it all comes down to the opportunity and an individual's appetite for risk to determine whether the startup environment is the right fit for you."

Jack Sutherland, head of operations at Charlie App, an app that connects to users' calendars and preps them on the people and companies with whom they are meeting

"Working at a startup is both the hardest and easiest thing you can do in your life—hard in that the work is truly tough because you need to learn so often and that constant experiencing can become exhausting, but easy in that you are working with people to accomplish a collective goal and every task you take will aid in your team’s progression. Find a company with a mission you are passionate about, [where] going to work every morning will be a pleasure not a hindrance in your life."

Heidi Brown, founder of Options Away, which allows users to hold flights and lock in the current airfare for days or even weeks with no commitment to book the flight

"Marketers who choose the startup lifestyle are rewarded with seeing the results of their individual efforts in a much quicker and impactful way than they would working in a corporate environment. The likely outcome is that startup marketers become more emotionally invested in their jobs, which tends to increase the career joy factor."

Yunha Kim, founder and CEO at Simple Habit, a mindfulness app

"Marketing at an early-stage company is an exciting challenge. Lots of startups don’t have budgets to pour into marketing efforts, so it often takes more creativity, hustle and persistence to succeed. It’s a role you can learn a ton from."


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Author Bio:

Sarah Steimer
Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.
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