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Big Data, Cloud Computing Start-Ups Are Tempting Elite MBA Students — Here's Why

Working with start-ups gives MBAs more responsibility and, potentially, rich rewards

Mon May 2 2016

A trip to the heart of Silicon Valley is not a hard sell for business school candidates but the numbers flocking to Bay Area tech outfits are striking.

Salesforce, VMWare, and Box are among the San Francisco start-ups snapping up MBAs from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

These companies specialize in cloud computing — a $204 billion market that is increasingly alluring for Ivy League business school students. “The idea of things being new, fresh, disruptive, which is a good word for what you’re likely to find here, is attractive,” says Maeve Richard, director of Stanford’s Career Management Center, who adds: “There’s a lot of activity in emerging areas like big data.”

Amazon, Google, and Microsoft — Silicon Valley’s emerging cloud leaders — are raining career opportunity on MBAs. But it’s the smaller players, which are increasingly attracting cloud customers with low-cost services, which are often the most enticing.

“Veeva Systems has everything I was looking for in a post-MBA company,” says Kera Bartlett, an MBA student at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business, referring to the cloud group with a $3.7 billion market capitalization.

“Veeva’s work sits at the intersection of two megatrends — cloud services and life sciences — indicating strong growth potential and a fast-paced work environment,” she says.

Investors are pouring billions of dollars into cloud start-ups and some are competing with the likes of Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, the tech giant’s cloud offerings, to make market headway. Okta has been one of the most successful. Since its launch in 2009, the company has raised about $230 million, including from Andreessen Horowitz and Greylock Partners, securing a “unicorn” valuation of $1.2 billion.

Okta’s potential advantage is that is has a laser focus on building the best cloud solution.

Frederic Kerrest, Okta’s chief operating officer, who earned an MBA at MIT Sloan School of Management, says: “Okta’s business isn’t distracted by having to sell the kit and caboodle, nor by preferential treatment for certain apps, devices and services.”

The big technology players are king when it comes to MBA jobs. But smaller cloud computing outfits are increasingly hiring. “There’s a lot of interest with the students to get exposure with start-ups,” says David Morris, head of corporate sectors at London Business School’s Career Center. Much of the work at cloud leaders centers on big data and this is a white hot field among MBAs. “Anything that’s to do with online is data-driven,” David says.

Working with tech start-ups gives MBAs more responsibility and room for fast-growth. And, should the start-ups prosper, rich rewards — Cloudera and Dropbox, are among a smattering of cloud start-ups to have secured multi-billion-dollar valuations.  

“That’s something students find enticing,” says Damian Zikakis, director of career services at Michigan’s Ross School of Business, who adds: “They tend to target really disruptive technologies or more novel-type start-ups.”

One of the noisiest cloud challenges is Backblaze. “Backblaze provides a lower cost alternative to Amazon S3 and others — allowing developers and IT people to use cloud storage for about 1/4th the cost of other services,” says its chief executive, Gleb Budman, who has an MBA from UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

He founded Backblaze in 2007. And it’s been growing at a brisk clip since then: it achieved five-year revenue growth of 917%. It's fast expansion mirrors the rampant demand for talent from large cloud service providers.

Phil Han, director of recruiting operations at UCLA Anderson School of Management, says: “It’s hard to attribute an increase in job opportunities to a specific tech sector, but it is true that cloud computing has been an important portion of recruiting.”

Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, VMWare, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise have all hired Anderson’s MBAs.