If you’re here reading this, and you either consider yourself an entrepreneur or have ambitions of becoming an entrepreneur – that is, someone who launches a successful business – then you’ve probably asked yourself a version of this question. Is an Online MBA right for me? How can an Online MBA help an entrepreneur? Is this what I need? How important is getting an Online MBA to my overall success?
It’s important to dissect this question into two equally important components. There’s the question about MBAs specifically (how is getting an MBA degree going to help me as an entrepreneur?), and then there’s the online component (how important is it to do my MBA online?). Those are obviously related but still distinct enough that it’s worth tackling them separately.
Why get an MBA?
For the first question, a few bracing statistics might be in order. According to Failory, as of 2021, the failure rate for startups remain at 90%. And according to the U.S. Small Business Administration, that rate is basically consistent across various decades, industries, and economic or market conditions.
Think about that statistic for a moment. I want you to visualize ten of the brightest, most driven, passionate people you know. Then arm them with great ideas about killer products or services and some cash to get them started. If past statistics correlate to future success, then seven of those people – you know, the kinds of people voted Most Likely to Achieve in their high school yearbooks – seven of them will fail between years two and five. Another two of them will taste defeat even later.
There are plenty more grim, cold-splash-of-reality type statistics where that came from, but just this first one tells us very clearly that entrepreneurial success…
If you work in an established company, you might be able to take an elite skill set and turn it into a viable career. Plenty of the best accountants, managers, and market analysts can make a living by working in companies where their skills can be combined with others in a stable commercial setting.
Not so in a startup. Startups are small, organic, and volatile in nature. Things can accelerate or evolve quickly, and drastic changes can happen overnight. In order to succeed as an entrepreneur, you can’t just master one particular skill set. You need a comprehensive grasp of how different business skillsets work together and a way of building culture and implementing processes that promote healthy, consistent, positive growth and momentum. You need not only to know your role, but you need to know everyone else’s role to help to ensure that the people in those roles work well together.
In other words, you can’t be a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” Even if you’re not consistently filling all of these roles, you must attain mastery of all of them, even if for no other reason than to effectively hold accountable the other people in your team.
That’s what an MBA program aims to do. That’s why it’s called a Master’s (degree) in Business Administration. A good MBA program gives you a comprehensive overview of various business-related disciplines – finance, management, communication, analytics, et cetera – and then helps you to contextualize that general knowledge as you pursue your area of business expertise.
And yes, it’s true, there are success stories of people who launched fabulously successful companies with little formal education. But there’s a reason why those companies are referred to as “unicorns”… they’re so rare that they’re practically mythical. The Roman philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca is said to have defined luck as “the matter of preparation meeting opportunity.” Considering how much an entrepreneur must pour into her business to be successful – not just time and money, but passion and energy – would you really want to risk failure by not being as prepared as possible?
But then there’s the question of whether or not to pursue an Online MBA, as opposed to a traditional degree program that’s taken in person.
Why get an Online MBA?
Well, in some ways, this question is moot. In 2021, we’re still in the throes of a global pandemic that has drastically reformed most practices of 21st century urban and suburban life. The basic direction of this reformation was already in motion when the world was hit with the COVID-19 virus, but the pandemic accelerated its growth out of necessity.
So instead of simply shopping online from e-commerce sites, or dating online via smartphone dating apps, or entertaining ourselves online through social apps and streaming media, now many of us were forced by emergency lockdowns and stay-at-home orders to conduct business online, attend classes online, or even participate in religious worship services online. It used to be that the online space was an optional elective to whatever primary activity people pursued in person, but after the pandemic, that flipped. Now, the online space is primary, and real-time, in-person interaction is supplemental, if it’s available at all.
So the shortest, easiest answer is, “you should pursue an Online MBA because online is where business is taking place.”
But of course, you don’t become an entrepreneur if you like doing things the easy way.
Nevertheless, the deeper reasons are manifold. Online MBA programs existed before the pandemic because they wanted to reach mid-career workers who already had day jobs or other major time/space commitments. Even if you have plans of launching a startup, unless you’re independently wealthy, you probably already have a job (or several) to help pay the bills while you plan and prepare for your launch.
For entrepreneurs, this preparation stage is critically important. According to Review42, the top two reasons that startups fail are problems with cash flow and misunderstanding market needs, and both of those can be addressed by taking an Online MBA. Not only can you gain a proper mastery and understanding of markets as it relates to your particular product or service, but also a reputable MBA program—especially one of the several that specialize in entrepreneurship—ought to be able to connect you with professionals in similar fields with experience getting similar businesses off the ground. Those relationships might eventually help you find the right venture capitalist to fund your project.
And that leads me to the final reason why it’s worth pursuing an MBA online – the format makes it easier to cross geographic and cultural barriers and learn from and with people outside your sphere of experience and influence. When people talk about the internet “making the world smaller,” this is one of the things they mean. Online platforms, when done well, facilitate interactions that wouldn’t happen under “normal” circumstances.
Except that what used to be abnormal, is now becoming normal.
So even if you think you’re the next Mark Zuckerberg and your idea is a guaranteed unicorn that will shoot straight to the top of all of the venture capitalist wish lists, you still need to be prepared. And if you want your preparation to be relevant to the way business is done today, then some of that preparation—if not most of it—should happen online.
So, what is next? If you are an aspiring entrepreneur and trying to figure out if an Online MBA is for you, you have a few things you need to get figured out.
First, list out the models and plans for your business. If you aren’t sure how to do this, check out Business Model Generation and work on your Business Model Canvas. Then list your business skillsets. Are there any gaps? (And remember that cash flow and market needs should always be at the forefront of your mind moving forward.) Specifically, take notice if there are any gaps that an Online MBA can help shrink. Accounting? Marketing? Etc.
Next, look at your weekly schedule. Set up a time block with all the things that fill up your day. Take notice if you are able to set up your schedule to fit a traditional in-person MBA program or if an Online MBA program better fits into your schedule.
If you decide an Online MBA is in your future, that is one important decision down, with many to go. The good news is that there is not a shortage of programs to choose from. But now, it’s time to start your search to find the program that gets you and your startup on the road to success.