Scaling Technology Ventures - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Scaling Technology Ventures

Course Number 1788

Senior Lecturer Jeffrey F. Rayport
Spring; Q3Q4; 3 credits
24 sessions

Career Focus

Scaling Technology Ventures (STV) is designed for students who plan to join rapidly growing digital technology ventures, who are preparing to scale their own technology ventures, or who plan to evaluate such ventures through the lens of principal investing, with a particular emphasis on scaling new ventures in the Internet, mobile, and enterprise software sectors.

Educational Objectives

The course adopts the perspective of the CEO and functional leaders in growing digital technology ventures, with a focus on formulating strategy; designing organizational structure, systems, and culture; and managing challenges within and across the product and engineering, sales and marketing, and business development functions. We explore issues that leaders and managers encounter after a startup achieves product-market fit, that is, a match between its product solution and market needs.

STV is a natural companion to the MBA elective Launching Technology Ventures (LTV). LTV focuses on early-stage ventures that are still searching for product-market fit, whereas STV focuses on later-stage ventures. Given its integrative general management orientation, STV will overlap modestly with some other technology entrepreneurship-themed courses, but in ways that should be largely complementary, since these courses provide a deeper immersion into a single topic area and typically explore this topic across both early- and later-stage startups.

Course Content

Through case discussions, STV will examine executive leadership and functional management challenges in scaling startups after the "search and discovery" stage of startup evolution. These challenges include:

Strategy Formulation: At what pace and in what directions should a new venture grow, balancing the trade-offs across market and competitive dynamics, financing options, product and operational readiness, talent availability, and customers? For example, when should a startup expand into new geographies or markets versus aggressively expanding its customer base in existing geographies or markets? At what point does product-line diversification make sense? In contrast, when is scaling a new venture premature?

Executive Leadership: When and why should scaling ventures replace a founder-CEO? How do professional CEOs differ in their approach when they "inherit" a scaling venture? How should ventures onboard new executives hired into senior positions? How does the board of directors evolve as a startup matures?

Organizational Design: When and how should a rapidly scaling startup - especially one with a strong, product-oriented founder - introduce more formal organizational structure, systems, and processes? How quickly should startup leaders shift from generalist to specialist recruiting, and map out a plan to assure cross-functional integration?

Culture: How do leaders in rapidly growing ventures scale culture? How do they assimilate hires who are less mission-driven and more political than the first wave of recruits? What are best practices for mitigating friction between the "old guard" and new arrivals?

Sales and Marketing: When should a startup venture shift from expeditionary to process-oriented sales? What are best practices for bringing professional sales people into an organization with a startup culture, and for scaling a direct sales force? How do marketing goals, tasks, and metrics evolve from early-stage ventures to scaling ventures?

Product and Engineering: How should new ventures balance market demands for offer customization versus platform standardization? When should a venture pay down technical debt? What are best practices for product management as an organization scales?

Business Development: How does a business development team prioritize "moonshot" strategies while assuring a steady flow of day-to-day opportunities? At what point does the founder pull back from a role in bus dev activities? How do bus dev teams manage negotiating asymmetries, such as dealing with firms much larger than themselves?

In exploring these issues, we will adopt the perspective of the CEO and functional leaders, and pay close attention to how they manage collaboration and conflict with their counterparts in other functions and organizations. We will also study organizational structures and systems used in scaling startups to manage cross-functional conflict as well as managing through acquisitions.

Students will have a choice between a final exam and a final project that applies course concepts to a scaling venture. For the final project, they are encouraged to work in teams with a scaling venture, and then draft a short essay, optionally published on the STV course blog, about what they learned.