Founders' Journey - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Founders' Journey

Course Number 1676

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

Educational Objectives

Founders' Journey deals with the human side of building a venture that matters. 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 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. 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.

Course Content and Organization

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

  1. Founding a venture: Are you ready to found 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?
  2. Scaling a venture: How can you set up the structure, process and culture to deal with growth? What are the common patterns of failure as the venture grows? What skills do you need to lead the organization through changes and growth (hiring, leading, firing)? How should you manage the key external relationships with Board members, and investors?
  3. Exiting a Venture: Dealing with Success and Failure: How can you navigate success and failure in a venture? How do you know when to quit and when to double down? How do you balance the needs of the company with your 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 cases. In most classes we work through actual decisions facing the founder by participating in exercises or workshops that build experiential learning. 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.

The course consists of 24 -28 sessions depending on your section. Students in the regular section will have 28 80 minute sessions. Students in the afternoon class will have 24 sessions that are between 100 and 120 minutes each. Students are expected to write reflections at the end of several classes and at the end of each module, and submit a final paper in lieu of an exam.