Business Rx: MBA Cocktail

The entrepreneur

Matthew Brown was like many Master of Business Administration students — while he was pursuing his degree at the University of Maryland, he was very connected with his classmates and involved in networking on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and some e-mail groups set up by peers. But when he graduated in 2010, he realized staying connected was difficult, and he saw the network he built while in school start to dwindle.

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To address this problem, Brown joined with classmate Robert Goodman to create a better job search and networking platform specifically targeted at MBA students and alumni.

“Our goal is to improve cohesiveness of MBA networks that currently exist,” Brown said. He and Goodman started MBA Cocktail earlier this year. Now they are working to get MBAs to use their site for networking and job postings.

The pitch

Brown

“MBA Cocktail is a jobs and social networking site for MBA students and alumni. There are over 400 affinity micro-social network groups for MBAs across schools, but there is no one unifying group or association. MBA Cocktail bridges the gap across MBA programs (full-time, part-time and executive MBA) linking students and alumni. [We want] to be the standard portal for MBAs to find jobs and leverage their network during school and post-graduation.

“MBA Cocktail lets MBAs use the strong connections already developed with classmates to apply to jobs with references and grow careers. In addition, our platform lets members grow their personal networks by interacting with the school-specific, regional or global community of MBAs. Since we are only targeting MBAs, all jobs and content are completely relevant to our users.

“MBA Cocktail launched a few months ago. Currently, we are growing membership and have received positive feedback on the site functionality. When approached, students are immediately receptive to our value proposition and have been easily recruited to our platform. However, the challenge is capturing large-scale user growth across MBA programs and graduation years. One of our biggest challenges is recruiting and engaging MBA alumni.

“Right now, we are focused on building and engaging the MBA community specifically in the D.C. region to start growing our user base. Our goal is to have the community providing the content, with users posting ‘insider’ jobs to serve as references for fellow MBAs as well as events to connect the MBA community.

“MBA Cocktail needs help creating a marketing plan to increase our visibility, market exposure and improve its growth rate with students and alumni. We also need help developing engagement strategies to increase user participation to encourage a greater sense of community.”

The advice

Jason Shrensky, entrepreneur-in-residence, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“This business seems to touch the work of two significant departments at business schools: career services and alumni relations. Perhaps the way to solve your ‘chicken or the egg’ predicament (what comes first — job listings or MBAs?) is to align your system with the work being done by career services and alumni relations departments.

“Career services departments have a ton of job listings that can become the content of your site in the early days. These job listings are not the ‘insider’ listings you are ultimately hoping for, but they are a good start. If there is something special about your platform that aids placements, career services might be a great initial partner.

“In a similar vein, alumni relations departments desperately want graduates to feel engaged and connected to the school. If your platform can create engagement through online alumni networking, alumni relations could be an early partner who would be happy to populate your system with MBAs and co-market the solution.

“Obviously, this ‘partner with business schools’ plan has the added benefit of giving your company some options vis-à-vis its business plan. MBA Cocktail could end up the independent, consumer-facing brand you envision today, or you may find that it is better positioned as an enterprise white-label solution for business schools. Either way, I think the key to getting MBA Cocktail off the ground is creating a strong value proposition for career services and alumni relations departments.

Reaction

Brown

“You provided some great feedback to build off ideas we have started implementing. Since focusing on membership development, we realized that there might be other approaches that we could leverage. Based on this, we brought in a third partner, Jennifer Romaine, who is also a [Robert H. Smith School of Business] grad. Per her recommendations, we have been building relationships with local business schools’ career services departments to post community jobs and events while providing benefits to both career services and student/alumni populations outside of current existing channels.

“Once partnered with career services, ideally we would like to integrate MBA Cocktail to provide alumni relations with a cohesive, transparent yet simplified way to reach out to students and alumni. I believe this is important because the strength of a business school’s brand is measured in part by its network, and its networks’ ability to access each other. As a Smith alumnus, I want to not only remain connected to my classmates, but also want to be accessible to provide advice to current students, and I want to find other entrepreneurs like me who have an MBA, but didn’t go to my school.

“MBA Cocktail would consider white-labeling more along the provision of a branded portal for schools. Instead of white-labeling for individual schools, it would be more mutually beneficial to partner with schools and provide official branded space to enable cross-school networking. MBA Cocktail wants to significantly improve MBA connections by strengthening synergies between MBA students, alumni, and business schools while developing mutually beneficial partnerships to capture the true value of the MBA.”

 
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