What are the options for an MBA grad who wants to be an internet entrepreneur?
We’ve asked three people from Germany’s sophisticated tech scene about three very different ways of doing it.
One option is to work at a big incubator where you won’t get much in the way of equity, but you will be paid well to work in entrepreneurial teams and learn the drill of starting a business.
A second option is an incubator like StartupBootcamp, where you hold more than half the shares and are fully responsible, and benefit from extensive support that accelerates the growth of the business. The best thing about this route is that you can reach your goals fast, and it’s suited to people who are more interested in working as an entrepreneur than in the idea itself.
The third option is the hard way: do it all by yourself. This means building your own network, pitching at conferences and competitions, and convincing your first business angel. It’s a good experience and you’ll end up with more equity, but the downside risks are also high. If your business is a passion, and you want to stay in control, this could be the best route.
Hristo Odiseev, Managing Director at Rocket Internet Tech Centre in Portugal
Rocket Internet is the German online start-up incubator behind e-commerce sites such as Zalando, Wimdu and CityDeal. It’s now expanding fast in emerging countries such as Indonesia, South Africa and Brazil.
Do you think an MBA jump-started your career?
The answer is without hesitation YES! Before taking a year off and going for the Cambridge MBA I spent more than a decade with Fortune 500 businesses operating in the hi-tech field as engineer and consultant.
MBA boosted my business understanding, social skills and confidence, and raised my credibility in an entrepreneurial business. It not only opens a myriad opportunities, it helps you to see them and work across the business!
What made you choose it over, say, management, consulting or investment banking?
I actually did all of them except investment banking. Entrepreneurship is certainly not as rewarding in the short-term and the chances of failure are high. But I didn’t feel attracted to a
career in an established company, where I would know more or less what my role and responsibilities would be in the next two, five or even ten years. I wanted to build high-growth businesses and my current job offers me exactly that.
Do you consider your current career rewarding?
There are certainly many reasons why you join a company. For me these have always been creating great products, being part of exciting high-growth projects, working with stunningly smart and driven people, and leaving a mark. So far I have been lucky to have all of these.
What roles do you recommend with Rocket Internet?
It very much depends on the profile of the person. For young entrepreneurs who have some professional experience and are "infected" with the start-up bug, I would recommend applying for the Entrepreneur in Residence role. You will work on several companies in incubation and discover which role fits you best, build your strengths and tackle your weaknesses, and find out if entrepreneurship is for you.
One other role is the Global Venture Developer, which I personally compare with a Swiss army knife. They get challenging projects in any geography you can imagine and build a business from the ground. These people typically spent several years at a Big Four consulting company, built a few companies of their own or graduated from a top business school.
But most importantly to do this job you must be ready to accept the challenge, deal with unexpected situations and always find a solution however unconventional it is: an MBA alone does not qualify you for the job.
The MBA skill set gives you access to all functional areas such as Business Intelligence, Marketing, Finance and HR too.
What’s it like being a founder at Rocket?
It is a very rewarding experience. You deal on a daily basis with ambitious growth strategy, product development, business modelling, marketing, recruitment, personalities and the list goes on. It’s YOU running a real business with a multi-million dollar budget, with a ton of responsibility to investors, clients and employees.
Working for Rocket Internet is demanding and you have to be super-fast, organised and able to deal with loads of ambiguity. I believe one of the most enjoyable feelings about it is shaping processes and the business: it is like watching your kid grow.
Any last advice?
Yes. Three things:
First, you do not need an MBA to be a successful entrepreneur, but … it helps. My advice is: select your MBA wisely. MBA programmes differ substantially and empower you for certain careers. I wanted a balanced programme that tapped into consulting and finance, but focused on entrepreneurship.
Second, get some work experience before you start your MBA. It will enhance your learning, increase your contribution to the class and help you build better network. More importantly, you’ll look a lot stronger when you look for funding or a job.
Third, working for Rocket Internet is a rewarding mix of great learning, professional development and fun. My advice is to try it out.
As the saying goes, “Don't limit your challenges, challenge your limits!
Alex Farcet, Managing Director and Co-founder of StartupBootcamp in Berlin
StartupBootcamp is a global start-up accelerator with programs in Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen, Dublin and Haifa, Israel.
Since 2012, 60 start-ups have been through the programme, and 70 per cent of them have received investor funding. The three-month programme includes co-working space and mentoring from leading figures in tech and finance throughout the three-month acceleration programme.
Do you have many MBAs applying for your program?
Some but they're the exception. Most MBAs are still focused on corporate careers.
Have you ever selected a start-up because an MBA gave you more confidence in the team’s management ability?
We definitely look at co-founders’ track record and education, but it's a differentiator, not a top criteria.
Does an MBA help with performance as a co-founder?
Not really, but people with some corporate and real life experience tend to be more focused because they've tried the other side and realize that their real dream is to be an entrepreneur. They also tend to be better at b2b sales since they have empathy for the "salary man" on the other side of the table!
How do your investors perceive founders who have an MBA?
Investors mostly care about the start-up's traction. They may think that a team with an MBA grad is better balanced, skills-wise.
Henning Kosmack, Co-founder and CEO of MegaZebra
Kosmack studied Business Administration in London and at Copenhagen Business School, and worked in private equity and M&A before launching MegaZebra.
How has your business background helped with MegaZebra?
A lot. In business school, I focused very much on start-up topics, as well as M&A.
After that, I co-founded a company, which we sold, and then I went into venture capital and then corporate development.
This means that I was working in or with start-ups for many years. I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t, and I try to pass it on to others as well.
The goal of every start-up is to one day become really big, either on your own, which might involve buying others, or becoming part of a bigger player yourself. My M&A background is valuable, as well as my knowledge of how things work in larger organizations.
Do you believe an MBA could help you in the social games market?
An MBA is a great way to learn useful techniques and tools for doing business and, at certain schools, to build a great network. This can help, but it’s not a guarantee for success.
You can learn these things by just running your own company, which is probably the best "MBA" one can get.
I don't know which schools would be good, but one of my co-founders has an MBA from Harvard, and that seems to be working out for him and us!
Do investors take you more seriously if you have an MBA?
In my current business, I don't think so. Games are a very different industry than the ones I was in previously: showing that you do the right things is more important to an investor than any MBA.
If you have a nice car, that is something people will notice, but it does not mean that you are a good driver. Any investor stepping into the car with you will quickly find out what your skills are, I think.
Any advice on how to get a foot in the door in social games?
Start at a small- to mid-sized social gaming firm like MegaZebra. Chose a firm that already has some users and that is working on titles that will be seen and played worldwide, but avoid companies that are already too big in terms of the team.
If there are over 70 people already working there, chances are that you will only see fractions of the equation. At a smaller firm you’ll get a feeling for the whole business and get responsibility from day one.
I would not recommend starting a new team or joining a three-person start-up that has no product out there. The barriers to entry are getting higher and higher, so you might find it hard to penetrate
Thanks to Christian Boas for help with reporting
Inside wiew of careers at Rocket Internet
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