Many times during my tenure at HBS, I thought about and discussed the ROI of an MBA. With the cost of a two year degree from a top tier MBA program eclipsing $200k (not including the opportunity cost of $200-300k of foregone salary and advancement), the decision to return to school is not one made lightly. But what about people like me who have the desire to be entrepreneurs? Does it make any sense at all?
I still remember my first yearclass where we worked through the ROI of a Harvard MBA. Taking into account average salaries post graduation, the average increase in salary (at a trajectory steeper than prior to receiving the degree), and the average lifetime earnings of HBS degree holders, our model, not surprisingly, showed the HBS degree to be NPV positive.
Now this entirely self-serving exercise (fully acknowledged by the professors) does little than to allow us to pat ourselves on the back and comfort us in the knowledge that we have made a superior financial decision by taking on a boatload of personal debt. But is it true?
I knew entering HBS that I would most likely leave an entrepreneur. I was leaving a comfortable job where I would be paid six figures with a great career opportunities to effectively take no salary and have no career prospects beyond the company I’m building. I don’t even need to consult the model to know that if I plugged in my current salary of $0, significantly increased the discount rate (to account for the high beta choice associated with startup life), and adjusted my future cash flows to be reflective of average entrepreneurs coming out of HBS, it would very clearly reveal that the decision to go to HBS was an NPV negative one.
Then why does it feel so right? Is it because I’m rationalizing my decisions? Is it because I have bought into my own hype and have created a reality distortion field around myself? Is it because I look at outliers (Dropbox, Facebook, Microsoft, Google, etc.) and ignore the data that shows clearly the excessively high failure rate of startups? Is it because I place an inordinate (and perhaps undeserved) amount of value on the Harvard name and network?
Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes.
But am I wrong? Am I simply gambling with my career and putting my personal, professional, and financial life at risk?
Looking forward to feedback from others who are in my shoes or are considering this path.
(This post is part of a 2-part series and part 2 will share my perspective on why I believe that HBS was a good decision for me as an entrepreneur... although though it may not be a good financial decision on paper.)