Is formal business education important for startups?


I see a startup in my future, either the business or the tech side. I am a Computer Science major, what I want to know is if it is worth minoring in Entrepreneurship (or some other business minor) as well?

My understanding is that formal business education helps for startups but is not completely necessary, is there any truth in that? How does the answer change if I know for sure which side of the startup I want to work on, business/ceo or tech/cto. Is my perception of startups having two sides flawed?

What have any of you gained from formal business education versus on the job learning?

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asked May 5 '11 at 01:01
116 points
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4 Answers


A good startup is a combination of excellent technical people and great business people. History's trash bin is full of products of mastery technical excellence that simply did not sell because of lack of clear business leadership, among other factors.

You're a technical person and you can build a product? that's a great start. But if you are to be really successful, you'd need a matching talent for business dev, marketing etc to take your product to the market.

It is true that sometimes technical people strike it rich, but for "the rest of us" - if we want to be successful, we must adhere to the business side of things too.

Formal education is just the beginning. It doesn't guarantee business success. If you can partner up with someone who already took a product out to the market - that'd be a good approach on your part. Thinking you can do everything by yourself may condemn you to failure.

You should work on what you feel strong with. From what you say it seems you're the "tech guy + idea guy". Now you need to partner with a "business guy" (or gal...)

good luck.

answered May 5 '11 at 01:08
Ron M.
4,224 points


Not really. Startups are exact opposite of theory. The most important factor will be the ability to make product, be inventive in every part of the business, think on your feet in order to be able to change direction fast, etc.

So probably if you want to do startups, you should just get education by doing instead of theorizing about them.

answered May 5 '11 at 01:08
1,821 points
  • Amen brother @Genadinik – Clint 13 years ago


I listen to Mixergy religiously and never do the guests, or Andrew, mention education as being a factor to their success. In fact, I know several Mixergy guests over the years are dropouts from either high school or university. Education is not a prerequisite to a successful start-up, passion is.

Up until a few years after graduating from college all I wanted to do was sit in a cubicle and write software or work on electronics. I wanted nothing to do with human interaction. This was detrimental to my success for many years. I tried to start a couple of companies, but all failed. However, in my late 20s I had an epiphany.

Long story short, I founded my current manufacturing company and became very passionate about our products and our customers. I've learned that being a people person and engaging the customer has rewarded me with my current success. When I look back at the major factors that lead me to where I am today, I realize that none of it was learned from a formal education. It was learning from experience, being scrappy, networking with the right people, and treating everyone like my grandma (especially if I need or will need something from them).

Sure, if you are already in business and your struggling with an aspect of the business, technical or not, then you have 3 choices:

  1. educate your self on the subject
  2. hire someone else to fill the role
  3. just don't do it; change your goals or solve the problem differently using existing knowledge

But absorbing an entrepreneurial-type education before you're even in business is flawed logic to me.

Analogy : you just bought a new complex electronic gadget (i.e. started a business). You know its purpose, so you just jump right in and start turning knobs. After a little while of playing around, you master about 80% of its functionality. For the other 20% of the esoteric or advanced features, you reference the manual (see my 3 points above).

answered May 5 '11 at 10:02
695 points


You may not need a minor in entrepreneurship, but take the opportunity to meet and network while you're in school. Just take one class if that's all the time you have.

Many technical people post questions on this site on how to find sales, marketing, or domain experts. The more contact you have with potential business partners the better.

answered May 5 '11 at 12:05
Jeff O
6,169 points

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