My Harvard Business School class, Launching Tech Ventures (LTV), begins in just a few weeks. I have taught the class for ten years across over 1000 students and it remains a joy and privilege to engage with our brilliant, ambitious students in the study of startups as they seek to achieve product-market fit.
This year, there are a number of changes happening at the school and in the course. The pandemic has forced us to deliver the course online for the first time and so my colleagues and I have tried to reimagine the course to optimize it for the new medium. I created a few videos to describe that reinvention, and give everyone a “behind the scenes” look at what the course will look like. My faculty colleagues this year are Sam Clemens, Donna Levin, and Reza Satchu. Each of them are accomplished entrepreneurs and investors who bring a wealth of practical experience into the classroom.
Below are the two videos and here is the class website. Enjoy!
I have written about the cultural dysfunction in the venture capital industry before and, six years later, there have been some encouraging steps in the right direction. That said, we as an industry have a long way to go still. A few years ago, we decided to focus more intentionally on diversity and inclusion in our investment practice. Like many, we are appalled by the lack of capital and support for underrepresented founders and are eager to contribute as best we can to address this critical issue.
Over the last few years, we have co-founded and supported three major initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in our innovation ecosystem:
- XFactor Ventures: a pre-seed fund focused on investing in female founders with billion-dollar ideas. My partner, Chip, co-founded the fund with our friend Anna Palmer (founder/CEO of Dough) and they recruited a team of twenty spectacular female CEOs to serve as the investment partners. One of the XFactor Ventures partners refers to her experience in XFactor as a master class in venture capital. Since inception a number of years ago, the fund has invested in over 40 female-founded startups.
- Hack.Diversity: a non-profit program to identify, support and train young engineers of color and help them secure jobs at the top innovation economy companies. Since inception a number of years ago, Hack.Diversity has helped nearly 200 fellows find jobs at 20 participating companies, resulting in an average increase in salary of $65,000. It is not unusual for the fellows to go from a minimum wage job as a dishwasher to a software engineering job paying $100,000 at firms like Drift, Hubspot, Rapid7 or Wayfair. Jody Rose of the NEVCA has been a terrific partner and leader in this work. Our recent impact report is here.
- Global EIR: a non-profit dedicated to helping immigrant entrepreneurs secure visas. Since inception a number of years ago, the program has had a 100% success rate in securing H1B visas across over 70 entrepreneurs. Those entrepreneurs have founded companies that now employ 1000 people and have raised over $500 million in venture capital. Brad Feld of Foundry Group has been a terrific partner in this endeavor as has Bill Brah at UMass Boston and Craig Montuori.
We are proud of these initiatives and continue to work hard to further their missions. At the same time, we know our core business of investing needs to evolve. We believe that diversity in thought and background is key to the success of our ecosystem as a whole as well as individual companies. In other words, we aspire to develop even more of an edge and reputation in backing diverse founders because we think it will yield better investments.
In the spirit of holding ourselves more accountable to this goal, we decided to highlight the underrepresented founders in our portfolio as part of the redesign of our website. Many firms allow you to sort their portfolio by sector or geography. We have added a category for “Underrepresented founders”, using the standard industry definition of those founders that belong to a group that the venture industry as a whole underinvests in relative to the percent of the overall US population. This definition includes founders that are women as well as people of color, including those of African, Latin American, or Native American descent.
We have a lot more work to do as individual partners, as a firm, and as an industry as a whole in this area. Hopefully, by providing a bit more visibility towards this work, we can continue to make steady progress. And we welcome any support or ideas to get engaged and help advance these initiatives.
Finally, if you know great founders we should be talking to, particularly underrepresented founders, please let us know!
Disclosure: I am not an investor in Cloudflare. I have no ties to the company other than a friendship with the two founders.
Amidst all the WeWork IPO hoopla, Cloudflare’s incredibly successful IPO was lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame because the amazing journey that these two founders have undertaken to build a business now worth $5 billion is worth studying.
As depicted in what has become a classic HBS case written by my colleague Professor Tom Eisenmann, Cloudflare founders Michelle Zatlyn and Matthew Prince met as students at Harvard Business School in 2008 and started the company as they were graduating. The two were a powerful combination: Matthew was a hard-charging, technical visionary while Michelle was a skilled operator with an off-the-charts emotional IQ.
The company’s intense culture resulted in a rocky start. Attrition was high and morale low at the time of the case, despite the company’s early success. What happened next is a great lesson in leadership. The founders doubled down on culture and created a more welcoming, nurturing environment while retaining accountability and ambition. Prince and Zatlyn matured as founders and executives alongside the company’s maturing business model. Importantly, they stayed together as co-founders, even as Zatyln’s role evolved with the company’s meteoric growth and despite her taking time off for maternity leave. This summer, in the midst of the intense IPO process, the NY Times portrayed the company’s decision to ban 8chan in the wake of the El Paso massacre. Read the NY Times interview with Prince and you get a glimpse of a leader that isn’t too proud to admit when he’s wrong and willing to tackle tough decisions with a values-based compass.
Ten years after its founding, Cloudflare is a fast-growing, $300 million revenue company worth $5 billion. The company has quietly become a fundamental part of the Internet’s infrastructure and its leaders have become role models for other entrepreneurs for years to come.
I receive many questions from my students and other startup joiners regarding how to evaluate the value of the stock options they are being offered. There is surprisingly little written about this topic, so this post will hopefully be useful to folks interested in answering this question.
In order to properly assess the value of your stock options, you need to know four pieces of information from the company:
- The number of shares they are offering to grant you
- The total number of fully diluted shares of the company
- The common stock strike price of your shares
- The preferred post-money valuation of the last round of financing
Many HR departments don’t know the answer to these four simple questions and get very defensive when asked by candidates, perhaps out of embarrassment or a false sense of confidentiality. Don’t be afraid to escalate the conversation to a more senior hiring manager or financial executive to get the answer. After all, it’s impossible to understand the value of the options package unless you have the data you need to evaluate it.
From these four data points, you should perform the following calculation using your best judgment: what might be the dilution that I will face in the coming years as a result of future financings and what might be the range of valuation increases that the company might be able to achieve.
With this information in mind, you can derive a range of possible values of your stock options and evaluate whether the scenarios make sense to you and what range of value is possible under the different scenarios. The spreadsheet template below provides an example that you can play with or download here:
Hopefully, this template and post are helpful! I welcome any feedback or stories you might want to share on your own stock options negotiation process.
Many thanks to Matt Wozny for contributing to this post!
The central theme of my Harvard Business School class, Launching Technology Ventures (LTV), is that startups are experimentation machines and the choice and design of experiments during a finite envelope of time and money is the central strategic decision that founders make. In other words, founders should test the experiments that matter most.
If done correctly, these early experiments eventually lead to finding product-market fit. But finding product-market fit in the context of a dynamic system that makes up the startup business model is complex and nuanced. Each component of the business model is linked to the other. Thus, experiments should be run that hold certain elements constant and focus on testing the most important, critical path business model elements first.
To help frame those decisions, I have developed a simple framework that builds off Professor Tom Eisenmann’s work on business model analysis for entrepreneurs to communicate the early strategic choices in experiment design. Founders need to answer two simple questions:
- Which experiments should I run between testing the Consumer Value Proposition, the Go To Market and the Cash Flow formula (sometimes also referred to as the business model)?
- What organization should I build to execute each of these experiments in the most efficient fashion?
The following two slides summarize these two questions visually:
The other day, my friend Ed Zimmerman of Lowenstein asked me to “speed present” my entire course in 5 minutes in advance of a panel that he hosted as part of his VentureCrush series. Here is that presentation, where I cover the experiments as well as the metrics that help determine where you are in your quest for product-market fit:
I welcome hearing about feedback from your own experiments!
My partner, Chip Hazard, has been on a blogging tear lately on the topic of Applied AI.
We are pretty fired up about this theme here at Flybridge and Chip’s recent posts provide a nice outline as to why. His first post from a few weeks ago, Applied AI: Beyond The Algorithm, provides a description of how we think about next generation AI companies and the opportunities and challenges they face. Today’s post, the AI Paradox, gives a more detailed view on what we are internally referring to as “AAA grade” AI companies: those that are focused on building Absorable, Applied AI. We are very bullish on this category of startups.
The kickoff last week of MIT’s billion-dollar new AI school, the Schwarzman College of Computing (pictured above), was a punctuation point in an ongoing arc of historical significance. We are entering an era where applied AI is on the cusp of impacting billions of lives and businesses. This wave will be a fun one to watch and participate in.
Every year, I do a talk at Harvard Business School regarding how to raise your first round of capital. In the past, folks have found the slides to be helpful, and so I am sharing them here. The longer version of this material is covered in my book, Mastering the VC Game (first chapter is free) and this teaching note on Raising Startup Capital. I hope they’re helpful!
In my blockchain investment work (we have invested in six early-stage projects, including bloXroute, Enigma, FalconX, NEX and two stealth projects), I have been struck by the fact that decades of progress on applying the scientific method to entrepreneurship (e.g., experimental design, lean startup, design thinking), as well as decades of established governance modeled, are being effectively blown up by Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs).
Steve Blank and Eric Ries popularized applying the scientific method to startups in an incisive fashion with the publishing of their books, Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Lean Startup, respectively. These became canons for entrepreneurs around the world as they embarked on the journey for product-market fit.
With blockchain startups raising over $5 billion in 2017 and over $12 billion through the first three quarters of 2018, it appears that this discipline of staged experimentation and fundraising is being discarded.
Harvard Business School professor Ramana Nanda and I spent some time on this issue in an article we published last week in Harvard Business Review called “The Hidden Cost of Initial Coin Offerings”. In it, we outline 3 defenses of large ICOs, some of the downsides they present and how they constrain the team from executing successfully on their mission. We hope it adds to an important debate on startup staging and experimentation in the context of this exciting, emerging funding mechanism.