THE DECISION TO GET AN MBA
Her husband suggested an MBA, but Pacheco-Theard was skeptical at first. “I always thought people who did MBAs were different than me. They were so put together and talented and knew what they wanted,” she says. “I was a little intimidated by that … it was a big mental shift to say, ‘Wow that is something that I can do, these things aren’t something for a specific demographic.’ It wasn’t ingrained in me as this natural next step.”
Still, she researched her options, exploring top-tier MBA programs around the country. MIT and Yale stood out. While Yale felt very comfortable with its emphasis on nonprofits and education — something Pacheco-Theard could identify with — she decided on MIT. “While a very strong program, Yale felt more similar to my previous academic and professional experiences,” she says.
THE SLOAN ENTREPRENEURSHIP EXPERIENCE
Joining the Sloan community, Pacheco-Theard was pleasantly surprised by the emphasis on entrepreneurship. She points out that entrepreneurship is Sloan’s most popular track and tends to be over-subscribed. “People don’t find it surprising to hear about the startup you’re working on; it’s kind of the opposite,” she says.
She talks of fellow Sloan students who’ve met with success while still enrolled in the MBA program, such as Brian Chen, who cofounded Bluesmart and deferred his MBA when the startup got into Y-Combinator.”That’s just what happens, and people are very supportive,” Pacheco-Theard says. Sloan offers students a five-year deferral window to come back and complete their degrees.
Pacheco-Theard fleshed out her idea for Prepfy in Wiliam Aulet’s New Enterprises course, which takes students through the process of developing a detailed business plan and quantifying market opportunities. Another, Introduction to Technological Entrepreneurship by Edward Roberts, introduced her to the different shapes entrepreneurship can take via guest lectures from successful entrepreneurs. The class was so popular that Roberts asked students who were not extremely passionate about entrepreneurship to give their spots to the dozens on the waitlist.
However, Pacheco-Theard was surprised by how many entrepreneurship students accepted more traditional internships, herself included. But she doesn’t see this as an impediment to entrepreneurship and points out that many MBA candidates form groups and hold check-ins to hold themselves accountable to their startups.
For her own internship, Pacheco-Theard worked with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation’s College Preparation & Completion program. “The summer internship is a really important part of the MBA program,” she points out. “I didn’t need to be full time [on Prepify] because I’m not a developer, and so I wanted to do something with a more traditional player but with complementary areas.”
Still, juggling a startup and an intense internship required a balancing act. She spent Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at Dell and Tuesdays and Fridays taking meetings for Prepify. The summer included lots of late-night Google Hangouts with developers and skipping out on happy hours to take conference calls with investors.
“I really value what I’m doing, and I’m learning from both, but I wouldn’t say it’s for everyone,” she says of the experience. For the self-described busy-body, it’s a voluntary choice and one she’s perfectly comfortable with. “I imagine vacation as this awesome time with nothing to do, but the reality is after a day or two I need something to work on. I need that drive and the feeling that I’m contributing to something,” she says.
Entrepreneurship-minded MBAs face a tough choice: launch the company or go to B-school and acquire acumen, connections, and often debt first. A top-tier MBA is easily a six-figure investment. Pacheco-Theard received a fellowship, which reduced the tuition price tag, but she’d still have to sit out of the workforce for two years and endure a long-distance marriage with her husband in Texas.
Pacheco-Theard is happy with her choice. “I see it as an important life experience, and I think it makes me a much more useful employee,” she says.
But she points out that the MBA isn’t for everyone, and blithely ignoring the cost can handicap your life choices. She and her husband recently purchased a home in Austin, and a passel of students loans would have nixed that option. It also would have made pursuing Prepify much trickier, if not impossible.
Her advice to MBAs considering a similar route? “The MBA has a strong ROI — one of the higher ROIs — but you need to be mindful that the return goes to traditional career paths. If you want the learning but intend to go into government or the nonprofit sector, affordability should be a consideration. You can’t expect anybody to pay you more than they can.”
For Pacheco-Theard, the investment proved worthwhile. She’ll work on Prepify full time after graduating next year. “The adventure continues!” she says.