Magnus Thor Torfason

Assistant Professor of Business Administration (Leave of Absence)

Magnus Thor Torfason is an assistant professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, where he teaches the Founders’ Dilemmas course in the MBA elective curriculum. Previously he taught The Entrepreneurial Manager course in the MBA required curriculum.

His research focuses on how behavior is influenced by the social structure of individuals and organizations. One research stream explores how social networks and group identities jointly affect adherence to informal societal rules and norms of behavior. Another research stream examines norms and their violation within exchange networks, including VC investment networks and transactions using electronic currency. In a third stream, Magnus has examined the birth and death of network weaving organizations – organizations whose main purpose is to provide connections between other actors.

Magnus Thor Torfason is an assistant professor in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School, where he teaches the Founders’ Dilemmas course in the MBA elective curriculum. Previously he taught The Entrepreneurial Manager course in the MBA required curriculum.

His research focuses on how behavior is influenced by the social structure of individuals and organizations. One research stream explores how social networks and group identities jointly affect adherence to informal societal rules and norms of behavior. Another research stream examines norms and their violation within exchange networks, including VC investment networks and transactions using electronic currency. In a third stream, Magnus has examined the birth and death of network weaving organizations – organizations whose main purpose is to provide connections between other actors.

Several of Magnus’s research projects rely on electronic trace data generated in online interactions, and he has a deep interest in both the methodological questions associated with the analysis of large scale electronic data sets and the theoretical questions associated with studying behavior in environments that are not considered “real” in the conventional sense.

Magnus is the recipient of a number of awards for his research and scholarly work, including a best paper award at the 2009 Transatlantic Doctoral Student Conference. Previously, he was a finalist for the Douglas Nigh Memorial Best Paper Award in 2007. His work has also been profiled in media outlets such as The Washington PostBBC, Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg.com.

Magnus was a co-founder of HandPoint, a software company currently headquartered in the UK, which develops payment and point-of-sale solutions for handheld computers. He served as Technical Director until he began his doctoral studies at Columbia in 2005, but continued to serve on the board of the company until 2009. He did his undergraduate studies at the University of Iceland, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in both electrical and electronic engineering and computer science.

  1. Founders' Dilemmas

    Founders' Dilemmas examines the early, often difficult, 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 early choices that can lead to them.

    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.

  2. The Entrepreneurial Manager (TEM)

    This course addresses the issues faced by managers who wish to turn opportunity into viable organizations that create value, and empowers students to develop their own approaches, guidelines, and skills for being entrepreneurial managers.

    The course teaches students how to:

    • Identify potentially valuable opportunities.
    • Obtain the resources necessary to pursue an opportunity and to create an entrepreneurial organization.
    • Manage the entrepreneurial organization once it has been established.
    • Grow the business into a sustainable enterprise.
    • Create and harvest value for the organization's stakeholders.