Non-MBA Deficiencies

Recently I wrote a post about whether you should get an MBA1. Here’s a quick re-cap:

  • I don’t have an MBA
  • MBAs provide valuable knowledge and are most effective for people who want to work in a large organization or in academia
  • Over time those with MBAs seemed to end up with about the same outcomes as those without
  • You can be extremely successful without an MBA

Ryan Carson, the CEO and co-founder of Treehouse, doesn’t have an MBA either. Here’s a quote from one of his blog posts2:

As many of you know, I don’t have a business degree, so I’m learning as I go. At 50+ employees, Treehouse is now at the phase where I have to build out the management structure and operations to allow it to become a big company…As I said, I never went to Business school so I’m now hiring folks who know how to scale companies and build out operations.

My experience has been similar—we’re working on hiring people with the skill sets and experience that we need to grow The Iron Yard. I run the marketing team, oversee all campus operations and have two people with MBAs working for me, one full-time (Roy), one part-time (Vicky). Their experience and skills have been invaluable, especially as we’ve laid down the groundwork for growth in 2015. To be more specific, even though I’m the CMO, we wouldn’t be able to do some of the things we’ve done without their skills—tools that I don’t have in my personal toolbox.

Here are a few areas in which their strengths have filled critical gaps in our company:

Collecting and analyzing data

I love math and statistics, but the reality is that I simply don’t have the Excel chops and data analysis experience to quickly take large sets of information and quickly make meaning of them. My team can take a broad vision for the types of information I need and make it a reality. Every ops and marketing report that comes from our team was engineered by Roy and Vicky.

Understanding what in a system will break at scale

At this point we’ve totally re-worked both our systems for ops and marketing once or twice and have iterated several more. Roy took a spreadsheet-based enrollment and student tracking system and pieced together several pieces of software to build a system that will handle significant growth, inexpensively. He has a knack for seeing scale-based problems before they happen and tweaking our systems to accommodate change.

Last year Vicky and I ran marketing projects in 10 cities simultaneously (and, thankfully, successfully) using a fairly rudimentary system. The complexity of those projects happening at the same time meant that we probably spent much more time than necessary making sure we weren’t dropping any balls. After the dust settled, Vicky and I sat down and hammered out a system and workflow that would allow us to handle more capacity—both for new markets we launch and for maintenance in existing markets. Vicky’s understanding of timing, using data to inform planning, navigation/negotiation of vendor relationships and understanding how to get what from who has made our speed-of-scale possible.

I’m all for well-rounded, multi-talented polyglots. In fact, given enough time and the right resources, I think anyone who is driven and hungry to learn could add almost any practical business skill set to their quiver, but that’s not the point. Rapid growth and scale necessitate specialization, and because of that, I’m happy to have people on my team who can do many things better than I can.






1. You can read my first post about business degrees, Should You Get an MBA? here.2. You can read a bit about Ryan Carson’s lack of a business degree on his blog.

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Practicing the art of bringing guns to a knife fight.