Should You Join an Early-Stage Startup After Your MBA?

Yesterday we hosted MBA students from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management as one of their many stops in their two day Startup Trek. The trek provided a valuable learning experience where students travelled to Silicon Valley and toured startups, networked with professionals, learned from CEOs and developed their own interests in the startup world.

Of the 15 students that participated in the trek, 90% of the students were interested in pursuing a career at a startup post-graduation. During the hour-long round table session, students heard stories from almost every ToutApp department from the CEO, Sales, Business Operations and Marketing. Below is a recap of the session.

The History of the Business

For MBA students, the idea of working at a startup is attractive. As job descriptions at startups include phrases like “casual environment” and “small teams, big impact”–it’s no wonder why students find startups attractive.

TK kicked off the session and recalled his first job working for his father’s telecommunications company in New York when he was 12, how he then founded HipCal with his fraternity brothers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), and ultimately the story turned into how he founded ToutApp and moved cross-country to join 500 Startups in 2011.

As many in the room were interested in startups, many were also curious about how to apply their education into a business setting as either founders or employees of startups. TK’s advice to the aspiring founders and business professionals in the room: Don’t do the TAM analysis and create a spreadsheet of customers to go after. Instead, solve a problem that you care about–even if it’s simple.

Post-Graduation: Career Opportunities at Different Companies

While no two startups are the same, many do offer MBA graduates an opportunity to learn the ins and outs of building a well-oiled organization from the ground up. MBA graduates are looking for high-impact roles where they can have a direct impact on revenue and be a strategic influencer on the business.

At an early-stage startup, MBAs can put their business mindset to work and gain tangible skills on creating, growing and scaling a business from zero to 100. Furthermore, early-stage startups are attracted to the MBA profile for their skillset, business acumen and ability to ruthlessly strategize against high business goals.

“When I graduated, I knew I wanted to work in tech–but I didn’t know what kind of startup. As I interviewed at different companies, I found that at early-stage startups, my potential colleagues were more engaged and viewed their roles as more than just a job,” said Stephanie Moon, a recent Wharton MBA graduate who joined ToutApp as a Senior Analyst, Sales Operations.

According to Kaplan, 18.4% of Kellogg MBA graduates accepted job offers in the technology industry in 2014, which is up from 12.3% in 2013 and is expected to continually rise year after year. Why the sudden shift from Wall Street to Silicon Valley?

Diverse Career Opportunities.

MBAs are looking for a number of different roles that require a diverse skillset, and startups are looking for candidates who will thrive in Business Operations, Product Management and Product Marketing roles.

“After my MBA, I was so eager to put my skills to work and worked at differently sized companies and finally found my true calling at a startup, specifically, ToutApp,” said Selin Tyler, Director of Product Marketing at ToutApp. “At a startup, there’s no limit to the impact you can make here. I knew the textbook definition of Marketing, but now get to define what it is for ToutApp.”

Think Inwardly About Your Career

As the technology job market doesn’t seem to be letting up anytime soon for MBAs graduates, it’s important for students to think inwardly about their careers and think about what success entails for their career. Ask yourself: do you want to roll up your sleeves at an early-stage startup or do you want to work at a large organization with limited collaboration?

“Think about the experience that you want, whether it’s working at an Amazon or Apple or ToutApp. Then think about how much responsibility you want in your role, because working at a startup accelerates your life experiences and career trajectory,” said TK.

In the last ten minutes of the session, we were joined by a surprise guest appearance by Esther Dyson, an Angel Investor (of ToutApp) and philanthropist. Esther and TK shared stories about how ToutApp secured its Angel round from Esther and she offered career advice to the students.

“Focus on what you love, instead of what you think will succeed,” Esther said. “Everything I’ve done right I’ve been lucky. Everything I’ve done wrong I’ve been unlucky.”

As the session ended, TK shared a story on his relationship with MBA programs, “my mom always asks me if I’m going to get my MBA. Maybe we can just take a group photo and that will be enough for her.”

Kellogg MBA students with ToutApp and Esther Dyson

Start Your Trek

If you’re an MBA student or part of an MBA program and would like to participate in a tech talk with ToutApp, contact us at for more information.