Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2012

Innovation and the Financial Guillotine

by Ramana Nanda and Matthew Rhodes-Kropf


We examine how investors' tolerance for failure impacts the types of projects they are willing to fund. We show that actions that reduce short-term accountability and thus encourage agents to experiment more simultaneously reduce the level of experimentation financial backers are willing to fund. Failure tolerance has an equilibrium price that increases in the level of experimentation. More experimental projects that don't generate enough to pay the price cannot be started. In fact, an endogenous equilibrium can arise in which all competing financiers choose to be failure tolerant in the attempt to attract entrepreneurs, leaving no capital to fund the most radical, experimental projects in the economy. The tradeoff between failure tolerance and a sharp guillotine help explain when and where radical innovation occurs.

Keywords: innovation; venture capital; Investing; abandonment option; failure tolerance; Venture Capital; Attitudes; Investment; Failure; Innovation and Invention;


Nanda, Ramana, and Matthew Rhodes-Kropf. "Innovation and the Financial Guillotine." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 13-038, October 2012. (Revised November 2012.)