Working at a Silicon Valley startup is the dream of most university graduates these days. For MBAs, however, it isn’t the friendliest of places.
Most CEOs and startup founders in SV are technical experts with strong backgrounds in coding, software development, and engineering. They value people with technical skills who can contribute towards the growth of their startups in a clear and tangible way.
In their view, MBAs are outsiders, with little understanding of their business, who slow down growth and have nothing positive to add. Just look at some of these quotes about MBAs by leading tech executives.
“When valuing a startup, add $500k for every engineer, and subtract $250k for every MBA.” – Aaron Patzer (Founder of Mint)
“MBAs are not necessary at Facebook and I don’t believe they are important for working in the tech industry.” – Sheryl Sandberg (COO at Facebook)
Does that mean tech startups don’t hire MBAs?
Not at all.
In fact recent studies show a rise in the number of MBAs working at different tech companies and startups. However, the challenge to prove their worth and change perceptions is still there.
If you’re an MBA working in a tech company (or planning to join one) here are a few ways to show your bosses and colleagues that you really belong.
1. Understand Your Role in a Tech Company
As a marketing professional and a qualified MBA, you know there are a number of ways you can have a positive impact on your employer’s business. But you first need to understand what they need from you.
Many management and marketing professionals working in tech companies try to become technical experts themselves. That’s a mistake you should avoid, at least in the first few months of your employment at a startup. You’re not a technical expert, so don’t try being one.
The company already has engineers and programmers for the technical stuff. They hired you because of your ability to think critically, identify business opportunities, and understand the needs of your target market.
So before anything else, sit down with your supervisor to understand what the company expects from you. What do they think you can do that others can’t? Why did they hire you? Where do they want you to make the biggest impact?
Having clear expectations and objectives is a vital step in a long-term and fruitful work relationship.
2. Get Basic Technical Training
You can’t become a technical expert, but to be able to work with technical teams (and to increase your acceptability) you need to speak their language. Which means you need to have basic coding skills and should know how to use the tools and systems that your company runs on.
You can do that by requesting formal training during working hours or by proactively joining online courses to get a basic sense of the required skills.
Again, you’re not expected to be a coding pro. But knowing the basics will give you a much better understanding of your company’s core product and allow you to interact with different cross functional teams and employees.
Learning, of course, is a never ending process. So keep upgrading your skills all the time.
3. Contribute To Your Company’s Growth With Your Marketing Skills
Startups are run by engineers, but they don’t know it all. Their weaknesses are your strengths and this is precisely why you’re hired in the first place.
As an MBA, marketing is your core expertise and this is where you need to shine. You need to be great at market research, competitive analysis, reporting, and interpersonal skills. As a marketer, you should be an expert at identifying the needs of your customers and the problems your company can solve for them. Be the guiding force in your company that tells technical experts how to use their skills to better meet the demands of their target market.
In short, master the art of thinking from a customer’s perspective and use it to increase the usefulness of your startup’s core product.
4. Use Your Communication Skills To Get Things Done
In startup environment, things usually happen at a brisk pace and decisions are made on the go. There’s a lot of experimentation and often no fixed plans.
Such a work environment is manageable in small teams but it’s not sustainable in a growing company because it can lead to uncertainty, confusion and delays in crucial tasks.
This is where you can play the role of a bridge between cross functional teams and departments to get things done. You can proactively connect with different project stakeholders, remove bottlenecks, fix responsibility and increase productivity.
Large corporations use Project Management Offices (PMO) for this purpose but for startups even one person is enough to do this job.
5. Never Lose Sight of the Bigger Picture
Engineers and technical professionals usually have a tendency to get bogged down in details and lose sight of the bigger picture. Most of them are great at executing plans but lack the ability to put together all the pieces of the puzzle to achieve the ultimate business objectives.
This is where you come in.
While the experts are doing their work, your job is to make sure their activities are in line with the objectives of the company. Don’t get lost in product features, bugs, and other operational tasks.
Use market research, trends, and competitor analysis to show your technical decision makers if they’re in line with the original product roadmap or not.
6. Be the Customers’ Voice in Your Company
The success of a business, no matter what industry it’s in, largely depends on its customer base. If the customers are happy, the company will flourish.
Which is why every company, especially tech startups, needs a strong voice from within that protects the interests of its customers and works for the sole purpose of making the product more useful for them.
Be that voice.
Product creators and engineers are often too busy with the nitty gritties of their products. It’s easy for them to lose sight of what their customers actually want.
Again, everything you’ve learned in MBA from market research and analysis to communication and customer service will come handy here.
7. Use Processes and Documentation to Boost Productivity
The idea of using well-defined processes and documenting all your activities sounds incompatible with startups. But doing it in the early days of a company can save hundreds of hours and millions of dollars in the long run.
Your technical founders might not buy this idea initially, but it’s your job to show them how it will increase productivity and save them from repetitive work. Use case studies, research and data to back your points.
But you also don’t want your core engineering team to leave their primary tasks and start documenting everything. Which is why you need to step up and help them do this.
As an MBA, process creation and documentation is nothing new for new. You’re an expert at laying out plans, defining roles and creating structures. Use your communication and interpersonal skills to collaborate with the key stakeholders of your company, create buy-in, and develop sustainable processes and documentation that’ll come handy when the company grows.