Educating founders about the upcoming decisions and challenges they will face
Last week was HBS Graduation Week, marking the official end of the debut semester for my “Founders’ Dilemmas” course. I had a great semester with a terrific group of very sharp students (who generously bestowed on the course the 2009 HBS Teaching Award). In honor of those bold, risk-taking students who were willing to bet on a new course, I’m going to devote my June posts to outlining the course’s structure and content and to delving into the case studies I developed for it. In addition to their being useful for educating the future founders in my classroom, I have also found that these case studies are useful for educating current and future founders who are already off campus.
Below is the official course overview. The bottom half describes each of the course’s four “modules.” Each of my next four posts will describe the cases in those modules. In the meantime, I would love to get any comments or feedback on the high-level structure or any of the rest of the content!
Founders’ Dilemmas: Money and Power in Entrepreneurial Ventures
Associate Professor Noam Wasserman
20 sessions + Paper
For students who plan to become involved in new ventures now or at some point in their careers. This involvement can occur in any of the following ways:
- As founders of a new venture
- As early hires, early advisors, or board members in new ventures
- As potential investors (e.g., VCs), customers, partners, or acquirers of new ventures
This course was designed to help these potential founders, hires, and investors prepare for the decisions they will face both before and during their involvement with new ventures.
This course examines the early decisions that have important long-term consequences for founders and their ventures. Potential consequences include losing control of their ventures, breaking up of the founding team due to tensions between founders, and jeopardizing the financial gains from their hard work and innovative ideas. The course’s goal is to help students be much more informed about those long-term consequences before they make the early choices that can lead to them. The course also arms students with tools and frameworks with which to assess potential outcomes and avoid common mistakes.
We will focus on “people” issues (i.e., the key challenges faced when deciding when and how to involve other people in the venture) and on “universal” issues (i.e., those issues faced by founders regardless of the industry, geographical location, or period of time in which they are founding their ventures). The cases emphasize high-potential ventures (as opposed to “mom-and-pop shops”), where the choices we examine have the most impact on the future success or failure of the venture.
COURSE CONTENT AND ORGANIZATION
The course is comprised of four major modules:
- When to Found
Should I start a company now, or work elsewhere first? What are the pros and cons of different career paths vis-à-vis my ability to successfully start and run a new venture?
- Building the Team (Co-founders and Hires)
Should I be a solo founder, or should I try to attract co-founders? If I attract co-founders, who should they be (e.g., my good friends?); how should we split the roles; and, how should we split the equity? Once I start hiring non-founders, should I hire “right” or “right now” employees?
- Beyond the Team (Investors and Other Outside Resource Providers)
What are the tradeoffs involved in attracting outside resources? How will my decisions affect my ability to keep control of my venture and also build its value? How should my motivations for becoming a founder affect the choices I make?
- Achieving the Entrepreneurial Ideal
How have some founders managed to build valuable ventures while still maintaining control of them? What general lessons can we learn from these founders about the decisions we should make at the outset and throughout the building of our ventures?
Most classes are structured around cases, but we will also feature video clips, a negotiation exercise, a panel discussion, and guest appearances from case protagonists to enhance the classroom experience.