Founders' Dilemmas: Success and Failure - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Founders' Dilemmas: Success and Failure

Course Number 1676

Professor of Management Practice Shikhar Ghosh
Fall; Q1Q2; 3 credits
28 Sessions

Career Focus

This course is for students who plan to become involved in high growth ventures or to work in environments that are dynamic, complex and changing. This involvement can occur as founders or early hires of a new venture, or as investors or board members in enterprises that face market uncertainty and growth.

Educational Objectives

Founders' Dilemmas examines decisions that leaders of entrepreneurial ventures make in starting, growing and exiting their companies. The course starts with an examination of the choices a founder makes in selecting a founding team and choosing a business model. Subsequent modules explore the decisions he or she makes in growing the organization and in exiting the business. It covers successful companies and companies that are failing. The course's goal is to give students a strong conceptual foundation and to give them practical tools for addressing situations they are likely to face. The cases cover early and growth stage ventures and entrepreneurship within large well-established companies.

Course Content and Organization

The course is comprised of three major modules:

  1. Founding a venture: How should I structure a founding team? How should we divide the roles and the equity? What are the benefits and consequences of founding with close friends and family? How will my decisions affect my ability to keep control of my venture?
  2. Scaling a venture: How should I structure the organization as it grows? How can I create an innovative and efficient culture? What skills do I need to lead the organization through changes and growth (hiring, leading, firing)? When should I make major structural and cultural changes?
  3. Exiting a Venture: Dealing with Success and Failure: How and when should sell my company? When should I shut down a failing company? How should I define and measure success and failure? How can I fail well if the venture has to shut down?

Most classes are structured around cases. In most classes we work through actual decisions the founder by participating in exercises that build experiential learning. Students structure agreements with the team or with investors, interview and make offers to potential hires, provide difficult feedback or fire employees and negotiate terms for selling or closing their companies. Approximately 50 percent of classes have the case protagonists as guests.

The course consists of 28 sessions. Students are expected to write reflections on classes, publish blog posts on major course themes, and submit a final paper in lieu of an exam.