Founders' Journey - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Founders' Journey

Course Number 1676

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

Educational Objectives

Founders' Journey deals with the *people* side of building a venture that matters and provides value. How do you assemble, motivate and lead a team when you have big ambitions, limited resources and a compass instead of a map? 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 entrepreneurs make in growing an organization, creating value, and eventually in exiting the business. It covers successful companies as well as companies that are struggling or failing. The course's goal is to give students a strong conceptual foundation and to give them practical tools for addressing the interpersonal situations they are likely to face in entrepreneurship. This course is for students who are interested in being involved with high growth ventures, working with entrepreneurs as investors or advisors, or working in entrepreneurial environments that are dynamic, complex and changing.

Course Content and Organization

The course is divided into three modules that cover key milestones in a Founders' Journey.

Founding a venture: What are the key considerations involved with founding a venture? How do you attract and motivate a co-founder and a team before you have the resources or direction fully worked out? How do you create a foundation for effective working relationships? How should you deal with differences in experience and motivation and work with prior friendships or family relationships? What happens when the venture outgrows your ability to lead it?

Building a venture: How can you set up the structure, process, culture, and resources to deal with growth? What skills do you need to lead the organization through changes and growth (hiring, leading, firing)? How should you manage key external relationships with customers, suppliers, partners, board members, and investors?

Exiting a Venture: What does success and failure mean in the context of entrepreneurship? How do you navigate these dynamics, such as when to quit and when to double down? How do you balance the needs of the company with your own personal goals and skills? How do the business model and team choices you have made in the earlier stages of your journey influence your choices later in the journey?

Most classes are structured around a mix of cases and experiential learning. In most classes we work through actual decisions facing the founder, and about 30% of the classes will be simulation-style exercises or workshops. For example, students structure agreements with co-founders or investors; source, select and make offers to potential partners and employees; 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.

Students write reflections at the end of each module, and submit regular interactive assignments in lieu of a final exam.