Trace Cohen

Why an Executive MBA Program Was Right for My Tech Career

When I first started applying to MBA programs a few people suggested I look into Executive MBAs as well, which I thought had a negative connotation to it. A bunch of C-suite execs in suits, which turned out to be completely wrong.
Lets backtrack a little… I’ve been in startups/tech for over a decade now when I started my first company in college (Brandyourself.com), did PR for a little and then a few other digital media related companies before my latest role in venture capital for the last few years. I love my job as it allows me to meet amazing people almost every day, along with learning a tremendous amount that spans almost every industry, which I can then apply to our investments and new founders and investors that I meet. A nice continuous loop.
Well as some of you know, regardless of how the media portrays it, there is no such thing as an overnight success and things either don’t work out for most companies or it just takes a really long time. After three years, I’ve made some great investments that have grown, some that just getting by and painfully some that didn’t work out. It’s very much a rollercoaster of emotions sometimes knowing that it’s a hit business and most of your investments won’t work out, hoping for a few big ones if you’re lucky — yes there is a lot of luck in investing too.
So in order to keep growing, learning and increase my ability to help, I decided that I need a more structured program and environment for that — MBA! I only applied to schools (UCLA, USC, NYU, Columbia and Cornell) in LA and NYC, two cities that I love, have big tech scenes and where my network is. I applied, got recommendations from some of my friends, advisors, and mentors, waited and finally started to hear back a few months later… rejected, rejected, rejected, waitlisted, waitlisted (same order as schools above). Rejections are never fun but being waitlisted isn’t a no! Have to stay positive.
This was around early November when I found out I was waitlisted and just kept following up to see if anything changed. By mid-December Columbia told me that most people accepted full-time offers and that they wouldn’t be considering the waitlist this year — that wasn’t a fun call. They recommended that I apply for their EMBA-Americas program, so I said sure, they sent over my application to that team and I was accepted two days later. It was a long two days, so when I got the email and call, I was kind of in shock… I really didn’t know what I had been accepted into but they wanted me.
So what is the program? It’s actually very unique in that I’m still working full-time but take classes for one week a month. It’s generally the first week of every month starting Tuesdays around 830am until 645pm through Saturday, all day — not just nights and weekends but five intense days of lectures, homework and tests. In 20 months, I’ll have a full MBA.
I think most people still have nightmares about homework and tests that are now becoming real again, so a lot of people have asked me why I decided to get an MBA:
* Keep learning — I have learned so much over the last decade that I’m still trying to figure out how to apply. Sometimes you need to go back to basics and strengthen other things that you think you know. Our first eight months are the core classes, so I’m torturing myself with statistics, accounting and corporate finance again while brushing up on leadership, strategy, and economics. Having a structured environment to learn in again, especially from very smart professors has been a refreshing experience. I’m looking forward to choosing electives once the core is over.
*Connections, network and alumni — A lot of the advice I received when considering to pursue an MBA was that I should definitely focus on my school work but also make sure to network and meet everyone. Fortunately I do that now in my current role, so hopefully I’m good at it and can continue to expand my network.
*Still working full-time — This was an interesting benefit from the program that you’re required to still work, even though we have school one week a month. In the tech world, I couldn’t imagine taking two years off as I would fall behind. It also forces me to better structure my time and allows me to directly apply what I’m learning as well. I totally understand and was convinced the full-time two year was better for me but I’m very pleased with this structure.
*We have to travel — Every semester (4 months) we will spend a week in a different city. This year we will travel to Seattle, Toronto, Israel and Chile as a class to take classes and meet with local companies/professioanls.
*Name and ego — Yes it’s an Ivy and my mom is very proud of me but I’m also very proud of myself. There is no shame in admitting it does feel good to say and I really am honored to be apart of it. I went to Syracuse undergrad and had an amazing experience but it’s generally known as a former party school and their basketball.
We’ve now completed 7 weeks (7 months) of the program and I’ve learned a lot already — pretty much a crash course back into school. But none of this would be possible without the amazing group of other professionals (44) in my class who mostly are based outside of New York and fly in every month for the program. Without their support, enthusiasm, kvetching and kvelling, I don't know how I could have survived myself.
And within the class, we’re split into learning teams of six that work together specifically on certain assignments and presentations. Shout out to Seal Team 6, two of whom are in NYC, with one from Minnesota, Mexico City and Brazil. I definitely can’t do this without you.
So in the end, I couldn’t be happier with the program I was accepted into and now have so much more respect for anyone in an executive program. I also would highly recommend it if you can make it work as well. The average age of my class is 33 (ranges from 26–55), from over 20 states and countries around the world, across almost all industries — doctors, designers, accountants, bankers and family businesses. Only three people are in tech/startups/VC which is kind of refreshing.
It was a rough few months studying/taking the GREs, applying and getting rejected, only to end up in a program that I think is the best fit for me. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time with my classmates over the next year and learning as much as I can from them all.
I also have to give a shout out to all my friends that gave me a recommendation for my application and amazing advice as well: David Rose, Jenny Friendman, Alex Goldberg, Jeremy Kagan, Gil Fuchsberg, Alex Yagoda, Joseph DiTomaso, Meghan Cross, Todd Breden, Pamela Minetti, Owen Davis, and Bronson Lingamfelter.

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