– We are not knowing how to communicate what we do. There are people who are staying with the heavy guys in the sweatshirt. But you stop to think what we do, the ‘feedback’ we receive. I could tell you about the case of a goat herder. He has understood that, being left alone with milk production, there is much value that escapes him. It has set up an ‘e-commerce’.
-Has a pastor signed up for your master’s degree?
– A goat herder, first-division footballers, second-rate footballers, elite athletes, musicians, marine biologists … There are people with brutal concern.
Rafael Gozalo is one of the founders of ThePowerMBA. It is likely that your advertising has haunted you online, especially during confinement: four men appear in their forties dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt and phrases that seek to capture your attention.
“Due to high demand, this online master has opened 500 more places.” “Try the master created by YouTube founders, Tesla, Shazam … for free and start to understand the business as they do.” “The founders of the biggest companies (YouTube, Shazam, Waze …) create the master you see as a Netflix series.” “The biggest ‘business angel’ in Spain challenges you to discover how much you know about business.”
The tune is repeated in articles paid for in the media, such as East – “This is one of the most demanded master’s degrees for technology companies and Ibex 35” – signed by the brands section of El Confidencial, East special publicity in El País, entitled “ThePowerMBA: these are the reasons that have made it the fastest growing school in Europe” or this positive opinion in the world. They have also invested in the international edition of Forbes, where count “How Online Education Forges a New Reality for Business Education”.
ThePowerMBA is sold as a “master for those not looking for a master”. Classes are online, in fifteen minute videos, and the complete programs cost between 499 and 799 euros. The promotion is purely digital: they invest a lot in media, search engines and social networks, to the point of saturating those who turn out to be their ‘target’. The price of online advertising fell during the pandemic, so they have dedicated themselves to doing even more, as recognized by its president, Hugo Arévalo, in an interview in El Confidencial.
Born in 2017 in Madrid, the company claims to have 40,000 students worldwide. In 2018, according to the accounts presented in the Mercantile Registry, she billed one million euros (about 2,000 students) with losses of 8,800 euros, despite the fact that they insist that they have always been profitable. In 2019, 6.8 million euros came in, according to their own data. That is 13,600 students, considering that they all pay 500 euros. Many of the teachers do not charge. The position of “local ambassador” (student who manages the community, does events ‘offline’, etc.) is also unpaid. Payroll expenses have had to skyrocket in the last year and a half, as they assure that they already have 200 people hired to expand in more countries.
Last week, a person who had recorded a video for the company uncovered the pandora’s box. Carlos Sánchez, a designer currently working in New York, rebuked ThePowerMBA for saying he was part of their team and having invented his position. “When they did the interview, they didn’t even put me on the web. Then someone told me that I appeared,” Sánchez explains to elDiario.es. “At some point they made changes and started introducing people as ‘our team’. They didn’t call me to ask me, so I decided to give them a hint. My anger is about using my image and my name.”
Sánchez’s story – which was followed by a public confrontation with the chief of marketing, Kike Corral, who described the situation as “incredible” – was the trigger for dozens of people on Twitter to charge against ThePowerMBA, criticizing his marketing and bad shapes.
Ignacio Arriaga, co-founder of Acumbamail, said that the founders had called him asking him to erase a thread criticizing the “huge bubble in online training” and the company’s aggressive campaigns.
“Hugo Arévalo wrote me on LinkedIn. We talked about it and he was very nervous, because people were messing with them,” says Arriaga. “He insisted that I erase the thread. It neither comes nor comes to me, so to get out of trouble I erased it.”
Sitting in a cafeteria in the center of Madrid, Gozalo acknowledges that what happened on Twitter was “the wick”. “There is a latent discomfort, a consequence of what Borja says [otro de los fundadores] in the video [grabado como disculpa]: aggressive and repetitive marketing during confinement. They are ‘claims’ [eslóganes] that are perceived as being on the threshold of lies or truth, “he considers.” Digital channels are ultra saturated. You have to get attention. Another different thing is that what you tell is true or false. We have understood that there are a certain number of users who perceive that our communication is intended to deceive. ”
The most conflictive point is the statement that the “master” has been “created by the founders of YouTube, Tesla and Shazam”, when the reality is that the master has been created by four Spanish businessmen. The company’s argument is that these people have created “part of the content” of the courses. According to legal sources consulted, it is an attackable confusion from the point of view of advertising: it is not true that the founders of YouTube, Tesla and Shazam have created the course even though they participate as teachers. Saying that someone who has recorded a video is “part of the team,” as Sánchez criticized, may be confusing and debatable, but it does not seem illegal, according to these same sources.
A master that is not a master
The germ of ThePowerMBA was the brainchild of Rafael and his consulting partner, Borja Adanero. They founded the company in August 2017 and in mid-2018 Hugo Arévalo, Rafael’s partner at the university, entered the scene.
At that time, Arévalo was already an old acquaintance of the Spanish startup world: he was one of the first investors in Tuenti – a company that was set up by his university colleagues and bought by Telefónica – and in recent years he had chaired Hawkers and entered fully in the VTC licensing business. Arévalo maintains this activity: he is a director in more than a dozen transport companies that accumulate hundreds of licenses. Gozalo also manages MPE Gest Cars, which has fourteen VTC authorizations in Madrid.
“I said, let’s brainstorm [tormenta de ideas] which sectors are lacking, which have not yet made the disruption “, Arevalo explained in an interview. “We said: is there a reference in education that has changed things? Well, it didn’t work out. We realized that there was a ‘gap’ [hueco] very big in MBA. They are not democratized, they need a lot of time and they are very expensive. We are not an MBA, we do not want to be certified as an MBA because we are going to a thing called disruption of education respecting everyone else. We have all been educated in this type of university, but we want to change a number of things. Finally, ThePowerMBA is born. A syllabus from scratch is made [un programa desde cero], comparing it with Ivy League university programs, top universities, ‘tier one’ [de primer nivel] of the United States. ”
The idea was to turn the business model of the big schools around: instead of admitting a few students who pay a very high price, attracting many who pay a very low price. Hence the tremendous investment in advertising.
One of the company’s first concerns was making it clear that they do not sell an MBA, even though they carry the term in their name. Not even a master. Technically, a master’s degree is a postgraduate course regulated by the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation (ANECA).
As ANECA usually takes time to approve degrees, universities create their own degrees. Powereducation SL, the parent company of ThePowerMBA, is registered as a higher non-regulated FP Teaching. The correct word is the one that appears in its terms and conditions: program, which is the same one used by other schools.
“But of course, who searches for ‘program’ in Google?” Asks a consulted lawyer. “For me, a master’s degree is not correct. And it must be clear that it is not a master’s degree, but a course that allows you to acquire skills.” Other legal sources indicate that talking about a master’s degree is misleading advertising.
According to Gozalo, “the terminology ‘master’ is absolutely free, as long as you make it clear that it is not accredited. Why is it not a master? Because what has traditionally been considered a master is called a master? We could debate to infinity.”
Students contacted by elDiario.es explain that, despite the fact that they call it that, they are clear that the course is neither an official master’s degree nor an MBA. “Precisely, the value proposition is that you get content of equal or greater quality than a traditional MBA at a fraction of the price,” says Alejandro Bernardo, who shared your experience on LinkedIn. “That position is, in my opinion, exaggerated. Some content is of good quality, but there are topics that are not given in the same depth that you could have in a face-to-face master’s degree. Accounting is left in a too basic introduction. it generated expectations that are not met. ”
Carla Herrero, another student who studied with a scholarship, indicates that “obviously, you don’t end up getting a super deep knowledge of things, but it does help you gain vocabulary, have a global vision, read better business cases … I thought I wouldn’t learn much, but my experience was pleasant. ”
Of the 40,000 students who say they have, 15% come from companies. ThePowerMBA has reached agreements with soccer clubs (Real Betis) and banks like Santander, which has provided the course to women who left their jobs to raise their children and want to rejoin the labor market, the company itself indicates. In the list of companies that cite as a promotion are Telefónica, Ernst & Young and Coca-Cola. Consulted by elDiario.es, sources from the latter say that “they are not aware” that they have contracted ThePowerMBA services.
After the downpour that fell on Twitter, the founders are in the midst of an image washing campaign. In addition to the apology video, they plan to change the texts of their campaigns and adapt them to reality. Now they say “learn from” instead of “created by”. In the advertising in english – in which they sell the course for a thousand dollars – they speak of “alternative to an MBA with founders of Waze, Tesla and Shazam”. They have also hired a person to take care of relationships with teachers.
“We have to find the point. If you go into detail, they are not very relevant things, but they have generated mistrust. At first they messed with us: they called us old, posh, everything. We were funny. It became something identity. But when it has led to a message of mistrust, we have to rethink some lines of communication, “concludes Gozalo. “I have read things that have hurt a lot, because they do not grant the benefit of the doubt. But I understand that when you pose something disruptive, there are people who fall in love and people who don’t.”