Forget The MBA: How About a Masters In Startup Awesomeness?

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Forget The MBA: How About a Masters In Startup Awesomeness?


This weekend marks the 6 year anniversary of (it was launched on November 5, 2005).  The OnStartups community has grown -- a lot.  There are now over 30,000 RSS subscribers, and 218,000 members in the OnStartups LinkedIn Group -- making it the largest entrepreneurial community on LinkedIn.  There's also OnStartups on Facebook, with over 27,000 people there.  And, of course, the Q&A OnStartups powered by StackExchange. 

Thanks very much for all of the support and encouragement over the years.  The blog started as a birthday present to myself, but it also had an academic purpose.  I was working on my master's degree at MIT at the time, and as part of my degree requirements, I had to write a graduate thesis. The title of my thesis was “On Startups: The Patterns and Practices of Contemporary Software Entrepreneurs”. I needed some “real world” feedback from actual software entrepreneurs to include in the thesis. I figured out quickly that this would involve talking to humans (something I found reasonably unpleasant). And, I had heard about this “blogging thing” so decided to give it a shot. I took the first two words of my thesis title, tacked it together, and came up with onstartups

I had a really good time in business school at MIT. Learned a lot, met some exceptional people.  But, I think the whole MBA thing is a little old-fashioned. How many people do you know that want to get really good at business administation? What would be cool instead is a Masters in Business Awesomeness.  The coolest would be a Masters in Startup Awesomeness. Of course, there is no such thing, and no university you can go to get that degree yet (but there should be).  The good news is MIT -- and other great universities are starting to introduce much more entrepreneurial content in their programs. [Shout out to my friend Bill Aulet, chair of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center]

So, below, are some of my favorite (and I think most useful) articles from 6 years of If I were to design a curriculum for the Masters In Startup Awesomeness, some of this material would likely be included. I recognize that this a lot of stuff, so feel free to just bookmark this article and read later.

The Best Articles From 6 Years of 

Sales and Marketing

Startup Websites That Work

Startup Marketing: Tactical Tips From The Trenches

17 Mutable Suggestions for Naming A Startup

The 5 Minute Guide to Cheap Startup Advertising

Building Startup Sales Teams: Tips for Founders

How to Pick a Company Name: Tips From The Trenches

A Geek's Guide to Hiring Marketing People

5 Startup Sales Tips From Turkish Rug Dealers

The 900 Pound Gorrilla: Why Strategic Partnerships Aren't


Choosing A Minimum Viable Co-Founder

14 Ways To Be A Great Startup CEO

The 11 Harsh Realities of Being An Entrepreneur

SaaS 101: 7 Simple Insights From Inside HubSpot

Startup Founder Compensation: The Good, The Bad and the Irrelevant

17 Pithy Insights for Startup Employees

Startup Hiring: Why You Should Date Before Getting Married


Important Questions Startup Co-Founders Should Ask Each Other

How to Price Software Without Just Rolling The Dice

Startups and the Challenges Of The Freemium Pricing Model


4 Quick Tips on Raising Funding Without a Plan or a PowerPoint

14 Reasons Why You Need To Start A Startup

The @dharmesh Test: 16 Questions for Better SaaS Companies

Startups: 10 Things MBA Schools Won't Teach You

Startups: Your Customers Are Not Ignorant, Selfish, Control Freaks

Development Shortcuts Are Not Free: Understanding Technology Debt

17 Pithy Insights for Startup Founders


Thanks again for all of your support.  If you want to find me online, I'm @dharmesh on twitter and +Dharmesh Shah  

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, Nov 07, 2011


Thanks for this post. I am very excited to read through the best posts from the last 6 years, since i have only been following you for about 6 months. 
I completely agree that MBA programs need to put more of an emphasis on Entrepreneurship and Innovation. I recently completed my MBA and it was very valuable, i learned a lot and have great contacts from it. I feel that it could be improved greatly by putting more emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, or at least offering and emphasis in those areas for those that are interested. One of the most valuable things i took away from the MBA program was working with the entrepreneur mentor board that my University offered. This was make up of very successful entrepreneur alumni who mentor student entrepreneurs. This is where we found several members of our board and some seed investments for our venture.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 11:35 AM by Don Tarinelli

Congrats on 6 years and thanks for the compilation of great articles right here. Read most of them, but will go through the rest. Enjoy the next 6 years and beyond...

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 11:35 AM by Casey Armstrong

Congratulations on your body of great work. 
But if I were to design a curriculum for a Masters degree In Startup Awesomeness 
it would include the  
< > 
"The Funding Roadmap is a powerful tool to help entrepreneurs and any “student” of entrepreneurial business. This cloud-based business plan and due diligence reporting system leads you through a process that produces results, specifically when investors or funding of any kind is involved.  
This is the best resource I know to tell your business story to an investor or anyone that you want to share your vision and enable others to appreciate the potential of your venture. 
Doug Wilson 
Co-author – “Essentials of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Management” and “Effective Small Business Management”  

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 11:49 AM by Ruth E Hedges

OK, it's not exactly a Startup Awesomeness master's degree, but there's a fairly new endeavor called Startup Mastermind that intends to deliver what you're talking about here:

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 12:08 PM by Peter Alberti

Congrats on your 'awesome' success. Not many people can say that they've grown such a cool, resourceful and educational community in just 6 years. Keep the forward momentum going!

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 12:16 PM by Sean Rosensteel

I really enjoy all the great advice. All your start-up content has inspired me to launch HelpIQ <a> - an online documentation tool for SaaS companies.  
Thanks again! 

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 12:33 PM by Brett

Absolutely essential reading list, Dharmesh. Thanks for all you provide the community. 
If I may, I'd like to add a few more books and a site I believe your readers may find essential: 
1) The Zig Zag Principle - Rich Christiansen is a 28-time startup entrepreneur with one of the best track records of anyone I know. His newest book combines both startup lessons learned (sorry Eric Ries, I just had to throw that in) and life balance (how to live out of balance in your startup, and still keep the spouse and kids on your side). Great read. Deeper than you know: The Zig Zag Principle 
2) Stephen Shapiro trained and ran a group of 20,000 innovation experts for Accenture. If anyone can help guide you in innovation, and the art of herding cats (creatives), Steve is the man. His newest book, Best Practices Are Stupid is a counterintuitive guiding light through the halls of the sacred "Best Practices" uh, practice. Fun, fast and really well written. Stupid Practices 
3) Software for developing ideas - then getting those ideas to market. That's what ThoughtOffice provides. 217 MBA+PhD+CEO's contributed their expert insights to 13,700 questions and more than 11,000,000 answers in this "innovation software" program. ThoughtOffice & IdeaFisher Brainstorming Software

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 12:49 PM by Mark Alan Effinger

Congrats on 6 years and I recently joined the group and have been enjoying the posts and interactions so far. Thanks for the post. 
As for MBA I feel that it teaches you an entire set of different tools that will enable you to look at things holistically. Also it enables to network with your peers and others. As for entrepreneurship definitely course would help but in the real world all these things will take you to a certain length but after that it is your gut feel and tenacity.  
In my current company I am able to use my b-school network to reach out to people and resources for advice and feedback which is way crucial for startups

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 1:00 PM by Seshu

what do u suggest for a start up detailing company as far as free advertising no money in budget for advertising and i need more customers

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 1:10 PM by bryant williams

Hi Bryant - tried the website you entered but it didn't work, so can't contact you directly. I suggest emailing me at peter *at* TellMyCircle *dot* com and I'll give you some suggestions offline about getting new customers. :)

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 1:21 PM by Peter Alberti

Calling it "Awesomeness" instead of "Administration" is probably the same mentality that got us into the 2008 debt crisis. You cannot have one without the other. 
Zeal without discipline is a sure-fire recipe to blow a lot of investor money.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 1:35 PM by greg

Bryant, aside from the obvious (get blog going - even a free blog with a domain mapped to it - that's sort of the bottom-level of branding professionalism. An actual Wordpress install on a hosting service like or similar is even better)... 
1) YELP: Build a quick profile and get clients who like you to add their revues and comments. 
2) Google Places: Make sure to get your Google Places pieces up. It's fast and easy, and will have you on Page 1 in short order. 
3) A Facebook Fan Page is essential if you're really building a business with some value (if you ever intend to sell a service business like this, your online assets will be a significant part of the value - and very possibly the magnet for your buyer). Get 25+ people to "Like" your page, and you can create a custom Facebook domain like 
4) YouTube channel - teach people how to detail and show examples of your work. If you optimize a YouTube video correctly, you'll be looking at front-page placement in days or weeks. 
5) Flickr - an image catalog on Flickr, keyworded correctly and sharing your insights and examples will show in Google Images. And that's a 10% clickthrough rate based on our experience. 
Plenty more where that came from. But in one day you can have these virtual properties up and working for you. 
Then get active on the blogs and forums of OTHER industry leaders and make a contribution to the conversation. That's when magic happens. 
Best of success to you. 

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 1:46 PM by Mark Alan Effinger

This is great stuff Dharmesh! 
I too graduated from an University (Illinois) but it has been my advance graduate work in business and starting & growing businesses that has been the most rewarding and educational! Looking forward to the next 6 years.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 2:07 PM by Bill Kurgan

Thanks, Dharmesh, this is a very useful list of resources. Speaking about MBAs, some business schools are getting pretty strong at entrepreneurship, and even have startup incubators. My school in Madrid was like this, for example.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 2:23 PM by SCHMOOZY FOX

Great post Dharmesh! 
I just happend to be in the middle of my MBA currently, so I can make a comparison on my own:) 
But I must agree - somewhat "academic" knowledge from university will never be as good as real and updated knowledge right from the startup experience.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 2:50 PM by Janar Eti

Great article and timely I might add. THANK YOU DHARMESH.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 3:15 PM by Jill Fratianne

Thank you for these excellent articles. I'm not a software startup but virtually all of this still applies.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 5:53 PM by Julian Tyree

Lots of great reading. Have read most of them already, but definitely a page to bookmark. 
As always, thanks Dharmesh. You guys at Hubspot make life easier for a lot of people.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 7:04 PM by Niki Techen

Great post Dharmesh! I absolutely agree that investing one's career in a startup will definitely pay in the long term. I would really appreciate if you can write on after entrepreneurship stint specically in case of failure. That is what nobody wants to talk about

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 7:50 PM by Anuj

Check out the Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. This school is considered the "MIT of Canada". The program is a fantastic opportunity to delve into the feasibility, validity and desirability of your ideas in a hands-on, practical way, while getting the business education of a MBA type program.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 8:45 PM by Rahim Kanji

I am working on an MBA in Entrepreneurship with Southern New Hampshire University - great program! You should also check out the Young Entrepreneurs Academy ( They are helping kids from 11 to 18 become actual entrepreneurs, not just practicing.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 9:16 PM by Stacy Curtis

So basically a school like S.H.I.T in the movie Accepted? I think a school like that would work now.  
I went to a good school for business, landed a good corporate job and decided to leave when everyone was getting fired. Everyone thought I was dumb, stupid, an idiot, not "normal" and so on. Well, I went back to making $0 and started a business. I learned more in six months than I did my entire academic years. If I could apply $60,000 towards a business instead of student loans, I'd be very wealthy.  
Now that I have enough money coming in to not worry about money I can work on passions, which is one of the most important factors in being happy in my opinion. The passion I'm working on... changing the education system.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 9:20 PM by Anthony

OK unsubscribing now. I don't need that type of comment.

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 9:27 PM by Stacy Curtis

Congratulations and well done. 
You have not only created great articles,you have in fact created a great domain (Stream) of "Start-Ups" in the Education and Management field. 
The tendency a this stage is naturally to resort to trumpet blowing and issuing self gratifying statements, (justified to some extent though) controlled refrain would be a better option. 
Your position as the most felicitated person is no longer very relevant.Instead you should leverage your position as the most facilitated person to explore new avenues in this domain and educate people associated with start-ups. 
After a few years, down the line,when Dharmesh is not so young and unwrinkled, 
Congrats once again, 
Best Wishes, 

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 11:00 PM by Shyamsunder Panchavati

Congrats on 5 years! I just posted link on our Facebook Page

posted on Monday, November 07, 2011 at 11:41 PM by John Wren

Congrats on the anniversary! And thanks, Dharmesh for the fantastic post and the list of articles. 
Best wishes 

posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2011 at 4:00 AM by Susan

Great list of stuff! So true, no university can teach you this stuff, it's a way of life! 
I'd love your thoughts on this post: 
I think a lot of companies lose that spark as they get bigger, something you, Dharmesh, never have.

posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2011 at 6:52 AM by Tammy

Congratulations on 6th anniversary. 
Great articles Dharmesh. 
Ravi Tirumalaraju

posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2011 at 7:15 AM by Ravi Tirumalaraju

Nice article and summary. I found this in one of your linked articles. [Note to self: Write a future article on how founder cash should be handled and how founders shares should be distributed] Don't mean to nag, but did you ever write that article? I think it would be interesting.

posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2011 at 9:17 AM by Dave

There is only one thing more awesome, Jack Black's speech in Kung Fu Panda... 
Legend tells of a legendary warrior... 
...whose kung fu skills 
were the stuff of legend. 
He traveled the land 
in search of worthy foes. 
I see you like to chew. 
Maybe you should chew on my fist! 
The warrior said nothing, 
for his mouth was full. 
Then he swallowed. And then he spoke. 
Enough talk. Let's fight! 
He was so deadly in fact, 
that his enemies would go blind from 
overexposure to pure awesomeness. 
- My eyes! 
- He's too awesome! 
- And attractive. 
- How can we repay you? 
There is no charge for awesomeness. 
Or attractiveness. 
It mattered not how many foes he faced. 
They were no match for his bodacity! 
Never before had a panda 
been so feared! And so loved. 
Even the most heroic heroes in China, 
the Furious Five, 
bowed in respect 
to this great master. 
We should hang out. 
But hanging out would have to wait. 
Because when you're facing 
the 10,000 demons of Demon Mountain, 
there's only one thing 
that matters and that's...

posted on Tuesday, November 08, 2011 at 10:39 PM by Evan B

Very impressive..

posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2011 at 7:02 AM by Ankan

This is great... and that's totally our vision at Wisary. You can check out our first (free) class on VC presentation here

posted on Wednesday, November 09, 2011 at 8:18 PM by Pascal

It's not completely true that there is no such opportunity available in business awesomeness. IIT Kharagpur,West Bengal, India has introduced an integrated M.S in Engineering Entrepreneurship through its newly born Rajendra Mishra School of Engineering Entrepreneurship(RMSOEE) wherein it provides the opportunity for engineering undergraduate students to design a product or service while pursuing their academic degree during the entire period of study (5 years) for a dual degree (MS + B. Tech)

posted on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 11:03 PM by Anand Singh

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