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MOT vs MBA: Which Shark Are You? | Technological Leadership Institute

Posted on
April 10, 2018
Photo of Mark Cuban and Kevin O'Leary from "Shark Tank" and text that reads "MOT versus MBA"

How does the M.S. in Management of Technology (MOT) compare with an MBA? It’s the most common inquiry we field and it’s usually followed up with a side-by-side comparison of courses and schedules. After countless conversations with students, alumni and faculty from both programs, we've found the major difference is not a matter of content, but a matter of framework.

What does this mean? An old adage may help clarify: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Each program is essentially a unique set of tools and, depending on the selection of tools, this can ultimately frame one’s leadership approach — i.e. how one measures opportunity, how one’s proclivities and biases impact decision making and how one strategizes for success.

So in this regard, how do MOT and MBA compare? For this, we call on the assistance of two “Sharks,” each serving as an illustration of MOT/MBA tools in live action: Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban.

How they distinctly probe, investigate and ultimately decide whether to invest in entrepreneurs provide somewhat of a caricature of the MBA and MOT toolkit. As a pedagogical comparison, we’re deliberately using a dash of oversimplification and generalization to underscore disparities. Magnified disparities will hopefully offer a more profound impression of each and, with that, we propose that O’Leary personifies the MBA and Cuban personifies MOT.

Let’s look at a real pitch from two entrepreneurs in the Shark Tank. While this pitch shows promise, both O’Leary and Cuban withdraw from the investment opportunity for entirely different reasons. Their response and reasoning are where we discover representative programmatic thinking.

The Pitch

In episode six of season six, two entrepreneurs pitch a security mobile application called EmergenSee that quickly routes user alerts to both the 911 monitoring system as well as EmergenSee’s own security monitoring firm. The pitch focuses on the app’s technology, with notable features such as video and GPS tracking in real time. The entrepreneurs position the app as a preferred alternative to calling 911, which is limited to auditory exchange. The baseline version of the app is free but revenue is generated through premium membership upgrades.

O’Leary’s Response to EmergenSee

O’Leary follows up with questions surrounding the financial standing of the business. In sum, he elicits that total sales are at $185K, the business has yet to be profitable, the entrepreneurs have already invested $3 million of their own money and there’s a little over $60k left in the bank.

O’Leary’s closing statement: “I know there’s a sense of concern because you’ve shown me a valuation of $2.5 million when yours is over $3 million. So you’re telling me as an investor, you’re willing to take dilution if I deploy my capital. The numbers don’t lie. They speak to me. I’m a cash whisperer, I’m out.”

O’Leary’s Framework: The Business Mastermind

O’Leary, a disciplined investor and MBA graduate from the University of Western Ontario, is all about the financial standing of the business. Before making an investment, he drills the entrepreneur about the cold hard numbers, almost always being the first to ask, “What do your sales look like?” O’Leary’s toolkit for measuring investment-potential? Probing for margins, controlling for manufacturing costs, factoring scalability, entertaining licensing opportunities and, of considerable note, assessing the proprietorship of the product.

Though all disparate components, these factors affect the bottom line company valuation in some way, and disciplined company valuation matters more to O’Leary than any other aspect of a business/product when it comes to investing.

O’Leary and the MBA

In the pitch above, O’Leary’s withdrawal had to do with a financial flaw, not a product flaw. It’s exactly this sort of framework that personifies the MBA toolkit so well. O’Leary speaks the language of numbers (self-proclaimed cash whisperer) and, in just the quote above, demonstrates this through his calculated use of financial terms: valuation, dilution and capital. These terms are a sampling of the various tools that make up an MBA, but what they have in common is they are business concepts that can be distilled down to a number.

MBA graduates often adopt a profound language of numbers because the core of the curriculum ties back in some way to the bottom-line numbers — both in terms of strict measurement (accounting, financial management) and strategic improvement (supply chain operations, marketing, strategic management). The MBA is essentially industry-agnostic and the same can be said of O’Leary’s vetting process. As long as the potential is demonstrated through sales, proprietorship and scale, O’Leary will invest in anything ranging from costumes and unicycles to sushi restaurants. This breadth is one of MBA’s greatest strengths and a major reason for its global recognition.

Cuban’s Response to EmergenSee

Getting back to the pitch above, Cuban is the only shark that inquires about the app’s development and asks who at the company is the “geek” behind its development and strategic direction. The entrepreneurs respond that they represent the ideation and business side of the company, but no technical leader resides within. They further disclose that the majority of their $3 million investment went into the app’s development which had been outsourced to a software development company.

Cuban’s closing statement: “You’re going through a problem that every entrepreneur who is non-technical deals with trying to create a company that’s built on technology. The one constant in any technology-based company is what? Change. You have to know the technology inside and out to be able to anticipate where things are going. That’s not you. I’m out.”

Cuban’s Framework: The Technology Seer

Perhaps Cuban is speaking from experience since he himself is not an engineer or technical professional by formal education. However, after college, he taught himself computer programming and started his own computer business, MicroSolutions, which he eventually sold to CompuServe for $6 million in 1990. In addition, his billionaire status can be attributed to the sales of a handful of internet sites during the dot-com boom. Casual fans of the show will often see Cuban and O’Leary bicker about what’s really important when vetting an investment. Forgoing O’Leary’s textbook valuation techniques, Cuban is extremely particular on the pitch’s core ingredients: does the entrepreneur have technical expertise and guidance over the product? How does the product differentiate from others of the same ilk? What actually is the driving force behind this product that makes it unique, innovative and valuable? Ultimately, what is the substantive technical insight inherent within? Once Cuban identifies these elements, he pounces on the opportunity with less of a battle over orthodox investment principles.

Cuban and MOT

Cuban is not indifferent to the business numbers, but his measuring stick for investment-potential is mostly concerned with product differentiation and technical insight. An overview of the MOT curriculum resembles a similar theme. About 20 percent of the MOT curriculum is dedicated to numbers-crunching business foundations, the same courses found in traditional MBA programs. However, the bulk of the MOT curriculum explores strikingly similar components that drive Cuban’s investment portfolio: techniques for technology assessment, managing risks and uncertainty in new technology developments, technology foresight and forecasting, fostering innovation and more.

In compromising ubiquitous application, MOT makes up for it by imbuing graduates with an almost sixth-sense understanding of the technology landscape. Though some have attributed Cuban’s billion-dollar wealth to lucky timing, there’s no denying that his understanding of the technological underpinnings behind the dot-com boom guided the development and subsequent selling of his internet sites.

Final Comparisons

The MBA’s toolkit advances financial acumen at the highest level. In the same regard, O’Leary’s financial prowess is unrivaled when conjuring a variety of investment strategies to make money, whereas other sharks primarily adopt a one-dimensional tug of war over equity. The diversity of investment approaches stems from O’Leary’s vast financial toolkit and serves as levers that not only produce money but also protect his wealth in the long run. The MOT program will not equip graduates with this advanced level of financial and business acumen, nor will it have the same breadth of application. In sum, the striking similarities between O’Leary’s investment strategy and MBA’s curriculum boil down to these shared characteristics: disciplined, formulaic, numbers-driven and bottom-line wizardry.

Cuban’s primary investment tool is rooted in the product’s differentiation and technical insight. It is neither affected by exorbitant sales figures that may have resulted from transient external factors, nor underwhelming ones potentially resulting from unripe markets. Identifying areas of tech-differentiation, discerning substantive technical insight and forecasting product potential in the tech world are tools not found in MBA’s core. While these tools take on the traditional mechanisms of data analysis and research, they also evoke one’s sheer intuition and gut direction in order navigate the mercurial landscape of technology. This is especially important when constantly tasked with appraising the amorphous concept of “potential” behind new technology initiatives. Cuban’s dot-com success via industry knowledge and applied intuition is only one example of these tools in play. Just like his investment approach, MOT offers a thorough backdrop of the tech landscape and, from there, trains your brain and your gut to sniff out real innovation — while capitalizing on it, of course.

The pitch above is only one of many illustrations of O’Leary and Cuban’s representation of the respective programs. The next time you watch the show, pay close attention to each Shark’s questions and reasoning and see if you connect the same dots.

To learn more about the MOT program, be sure to attend an upcoming information session or set up an individual appointment with a member of our admissions team.

Original photography credit: JD Lasica and Randstad Canada.

About the Author

Photo of TLI's Director of Admissions, Schee Moua

Schee Moua

Director of Admissions

MOT offers a thorough backdrop of the tech landscape and, from there, trains your brain and your gut to sniff out real innovation.

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