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The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup (The Kauffman Foundation Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship) Paperback – April 1, 2013
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Winner of the 2014 Entrepreneurship Practice Award, Entrepreneurship Division of the Academy of Management
Winner of the 2013 Silver Medal Book Award in Entrepreneurship, Axiom Business
Finalist for the 2013 George R. Terry Book Award, Academy of Management
"Wasserman's book is on track to take as lofty a position in the entrepreneurial literature as HBS's Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma did in the field of technological change."--Peter Cohan, Forbes
"[A] seminal work. . . . Sure to be required reading in business school curricula, this illuminating and captivating read will also appeal to aspiring entrepreneurs or founders who want to make better decisions in existing ventures."--Publishers Weekly
"[A] first-aid manual to help resuscitate ailing start-ups."--Jessica Bruder, journalist, author, and adjunct professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, You're the Boss blog, New York Times
"Wasserman illustrates his findings with real world examples that translate into immediately applicable advice. But rather than creating a prescriptive list of commandments that would be impossible to follow, he adopts a more holistic approach. Encouraging entrepreneurs to study how others have handled similar challenges in the past, his insights highlight the common ground found in seemingly unique situations."--ForeWord
"Harvard Business School professor Noam Wasserman is one of the writers and teachers who best captures the high stakes decisions that entrepreneurs face every day."--Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe
"There are plenty of books, lots with stories, anecdotes, and suggestions, but none that are particularly systematic about going through all of the issues. Noam's book is the first I've read--and he totally nails it."--Brad Feld, Feld Thoughts
"[T]he definitive book on the topic. . . . If you are a founder or thinking about becoming one, you should read this book."--Dharmesh Shah, OnStartups.com
"This is a serious book for a serious endeavor: creating a company from scratch that can be a world-beater and life-changer. . . . Wasserman's book is a towering guide to making these decisions thoughtfully and purposefully. Every founder should read it--and take the time to digest its rich data and lessons."--Jeff Bussgang, Seeing Both Sides blog
"Highly recommended for those who plan to embark or are already living the entrepreneurial lifestyle, it can serve as a guide to very tough situations for founders to evaluate the best possible way out."--Bernard Leong, SGEntrepreneurs
"Ten years of extensive research combined with winning case studies make this a trustworthy source not only for the potential startup owner but also for the classroom."--Library Journal
"[A] must-read for anyone thinking of creating a startup, who is currently involved with one or who is an investor/advisor in the startup ecosystem."--Dilip James, Business Standard (India)
"This book, upon release, becomes the single-most indispensible guide for founders of startups. Comingling research, straight talk, and a human voice--so often lacking in books with an academic bent--Dilemmas totally rocks as a business school required read and a founder's gripping, absolute must-read. Turning the last page, anyone with an entrepreneurial femur in their body will be fully armed with a battery of knowledge that can make or break a passionate first or even fifteenth venture. Do not start a startup without this book."--Ted Sturtz, New York Journal of Books
"[S]obering. . . . Professor Wasserman provides a great deal of data and stories about high-potential technology and life-sciences startups. His book offers much more information than most entrepreneurs can handle at once, but it is probably essential for them to know."--Harvey Schachter, Globe & Mail
"Wasserman presents a series of entrepreneurship vignettes and case studies, drawn from a massive 10,000-founder survey he created. Due to the size of this business start-up survey, several of the stories, including accounts from founders of Blogger, Sittercity, and SmarTix, should prove fresh to readers. Much of the advice in the book governs key decisions founders have to make and factors that can cause decisions to turn out well or badly. . . . [T]his work includes valuable, unique content."--Choice
"[A] uniquely valuable resource for any entrepreneur."--Terrence Murray, Financialist
"The Founder's Dilemmas can't prevent entrepreneurs from repeating the mistakes of their predecessors; we all know how well human beings learn from history. But it's a worthwhile, prudent read for anyone considering or engaging in entrepreneurship. In pointing out the patterns, the common quandaries and routes, The Founder's Dilemmas can eliminate one headache along the path of business-building."--Tamara Micner, LSE Politics and Policy blog
"The guru on this subject is Noam Wasserman, who wrote an insightful book called The Founder's Dilemmas."--Luke Johnson, BusinessDay
From the Back Cover
"This book provides the rare combination of practical advice and scholarly research. It gets to the heart of the people issues that can bedevil every, and I do mean every, startup. Issues such as founder motivations, equity splits, and equity control can make or break a company. I guarantee that the price of this book is approximately one-thousandth of what you'll pay lawyers to clean up your mess if you don't read it."--Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment and former chief evangelist of Apple
"The Founder's Dilemmas is required reading for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and the professionals who work with them. Few entrepreneurs appreciate the far-reaching implications of decisions they need to make at the beginning of a startup venture. Most founders make these critical decisions based on their gut instincts; backed up by data covering ten thousand founders, Noam Wasserman shows that the most common choices made at the outset of a new venture are often the wrong ones. This book also shines a light on the difficult conversations that entrepreneurs need to have with their colleagues and with their investors, and makes plainspoken, commonsense recommendations that facilitate this dialogue."--Pascal Levensohn, founding partner of Levensohn Venture Partners and member of the board of directors of the National Venture Capital Association (2007--2011)
"The Founder's Dilemmas will change the way we think about the internal dynamics that can make or break startup companies. Drawing on substantial research and considerable insight into practice, Wasserman uncovers the inner lives of startups, exploring the personal and professional conflicts that founders encounter on their entrepreneurial journeys. His book will appeal to academics and practitioners alike."--Thomas Hellmann, University of British Columbia
"The research that Noam Wasserman has assembled here can help entrepreneurial companies who want to prepare well for their future. The Founder's Dilemmas is a must-read for anyone thinking about starting a business."--Timothy C. Draper, founder of Draper Fisher Jurvetson
"Looking at the real-life founder issues of many accomplished entrepreneurs, Noam Wasserman draws insights that are both universal and timeless. If you're thinking of starting a new venture, do your homework and read this first."--Jeremy Stoppelman, CEO and cofounder of Yelp
"Noam Wasserman takes you through every major issue in a startup and shows you how to handle it in a prescriptive, logical way. The Founder's Dilemmas is for everyone thinking about starting a serious company, with their eye on a big prize, and for the people who invest in those companies."--Paul Maeder, chairman of the National Venture Capital Association, founder and general partner of Highland Capital Partners
"If you're starting a new company, you probably already know that a crazy variety of land mines await you. What if you had a map that showed exactly where they are and how to avoid them? Wasserman's recommendations are backed up by rigorous research--a rare thing in books about entrepreneurship--and his stories and anecdotes serve as accessible illustrations of situations faced by thousands of companies. Having seen these dilemmas derail countless startups, I wish every entrepreneur and prospective founder would read this book."--Eric Ries, author of The Lean Startup
"Every entrepreneur faces trade-offs when founding and growing their company. As we discovered at YouTube, those early decisions have far-reaching impacts and lead to unforeseen pitfalls down the road. Noam Wasserman uses vivid anecdotes and deep research to expertly outline the key early choices that define a startup, making The Founder's Dilemmas an invaluable alternative to real-world trial and error."--Chad Hurley, founder-CEO of YouTube
"[A] wonderful book. . . . It's a must read before you have even one more discussion with anyone about starting a company with them."--Melinda Thomas, Entrepreneur-in-Residence for the City of New York
"The Founder's Dilemmas fills an important gap in the entrepreneurship literature by providing an in-depth treatment of the people problems that confront all new business founders. Wasserman argues that people problems are responsible for a significant portion of startup failures, and that entrepreneurs tend to underestimate their potentially dangerous long-term effects. In this pathbreaking book, he grounds the analysis of these problems in both richly textured case examples and rigorously developed concepts and theories."--Ari Ginsberg, director of the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at New York University's Stern School of Business
"This book offers a rich understanding of the central personal dilemmas that entrepreneurs uniquely face. These dilemmas are tied to particular choices for entrepreneurs that can have subtle and unexpected ramifications. I don't know of any other book that comes close to examining these specific and important issues."--Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, Stanford University, coauthor of Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos
More About the Author
#1 OR #2 IN NEW BUSINESS ENTERPRISES THROUGHOUT FIRST 10 WEEKS OF PUBLICATION
#1 IN MANAGEMENT
#1 IN BUSINESS SYSTEMS & PLANNING
#2 IN POPULAR ECONOMICS
Noam Wasserman is a professor at Harvard Business School. For more than a decade, his research has focused on founders' early decisions that can make or break the startup and its team. At HBS, he developed and teaches an MBA elective, "Founders' Dilemmas," for which he was awarded the HBS Faculty Teaching Award and the Academy of Management's 2010 Innovation in Pedagogy Award. In 2011, the course was also named one of the top entrepreneurship courses in the country by Inc. magazine.
Both The Founder's Dilemmas (the book) and Founders' Dilemmas (the course) provide a roadmap for founders about the most common pitfalls they will face. The book and course integrate Noam's research results, quantitative data collected over the last decade from 10,000 founders, case studies, and conceptual frameworks. Since 2000, he has been the lead researcher on the annual CompStudy survey of technology and life-sciences startups, which has become the most comprehensive survey of compensation for top management at private companies in the U.S. (and is now expanding to include China, India, Israel, and England). Noam is one of three members of the core faculty of the Kauffman Foundation's Global Scholars program, and he has delivered numerous keynote addresses to meetings of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO), venture capital retreats, entrepreneurship conferences, and other groups.
Noam's research has been published in Harvard Business Review (his 2008 article on "The Founder's Dilemma" became an HBS Publishing best seller), the Academy of Management Journal (2006), Organization Science (2003, 2008), the Best Paper Proceedings of the Academy of Management (2004, 2006), and other publications. He won Harvard's George S. Dively award for dissertation research and the Aage Sorensen Memorial Award for sociological research, and for four straight years won the Outstanding Reviewer award from the Academy of Management (Business Policy and Strategy division). Noam received his PhD from Harvard University in 2002, and received an MBA (with High Distinction) from Harvard Business School in 1999, graduating as a Baker Scholar.
Despite being voted "Most Likely to Become a CEO" by his MBA section, Noam decided to pursue academia as a career and to enter the PhD program (thereby giving up on ever becoming a CEO!). Before coming to Harvard, he was a Principal and Practice Manager at a management-consulting firm near Washington, D.C., where he founded and led the Groupware Practice. He also worked as a venture capitalist at a firm in Boston. He received a BSE (magna cum laude) in Computer Science and Engineering from Penn, and a BSEcon (magna cum laude) in Corporate Finance and Strategic Management from Wharton. He lives in Brookline, MA, with his wife and seven children.
Top Customer Reviews
The Founder's Dilemma's is different. By drawing on some serious research (serious, like, crazy 10-year datasets on entrepreneurs and their companies), Wasserman identifies the key "decision points" any startup faces and then proposes different solutions. Two of my favorite "dilemmas" were 1. How should I split equity with my co-founders? and 2. Should I even have a co-founder?
These are interesting questions, but you can really bank on the proposed solutions because they're based on empirical data. Very few startup books I've read go this far.
This is definitely a lengthy book that requires a decent time investment, but after reading all the one-liners in tech blogs and exaggerated advice other startup books, reading this was super refreshing and just amazingly helpful. Founders, don't miss out!
This is a serious book for a serious endeavor: creating a company from scratch that can be a world-beater and life-changer. Analytical, insightful and even a bit wonky at times, Wasserman's story arc is less about war stories - although the books is chock full of them, featuring the founders of Twitter, Pandora and others - and more about the decision tree every founder must climb. Rather than having these decisions happen by chance, Wasserman's book is a towering guide to making these decisions thoughtfully and purposefully.
Every founder should read it - and take the time to digest its rich data and lessons.
I think you'll find that Founder's Dilemmas is an incredibly valuable addition to the literature on entrepreneurship that you will find yourself referencing on a regular basis whether you're a founder, early employee, investor, business person, government official or just overall fan of entrepreneurs.
Of course there is no shorter of bloggers and ex-entrepreneurs who will tell you their opinion, or their personal story, of what they think should work. What Noam has done here is conducted real research to get beyond anecdotes and case studies to more general patterns. But he introduces the topics with familiar examples that set the stage for the quantitative analysis.
What I think is most important about this book is the blind spots it identifies. Too many entrepreneurs give these issues short shrift until it is too late - until they have painted themselves into a corner. I'm quite sure this will be required reading!
I met Noam for the first time last week when I was at HBS. I was on a panel of VCs (me, Mike Maples Jr., Kate Mitchell, and David Frankel) talking to a room full of HBS alumni who are VCs. Noam and I had exchanged several emails over the past few months and he sent me a review copy of the book but it got lost in my infinite pile of books to read. After seeing him and talking to him briefly, I decided to put it on the top of the stack. I laid on the couch all day yesterday with Amy and the dogs and demolished a pair of books. The Founder's Dilemmas was the first.
I get asked endless questions about founder dynamics, solo founders, optimal number of founders, equity allocations between founders, roles of founders, alignment between founders, and investor - founder relationships. I've been involved in many conflicts between founders, transition in roles between founders, emotional struggles with founders as businesses grow and change, investor conflicts (other than me) with founders, and the list goes on and on and on.
I've never seen a book before that was particularly helpful - to a founder - about the wide range of issues a founder will face. There are plenty of books lots with stories, anecdotes, and suggestions, but none that are particularly systematic about going through all of the issues. Noam's book is the first I've read - and he totally nails it.
He covers it three ways - with data, with analysis, and with stories.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Loved it! It had an academic style and was kinda repetitive (because of the academic style) which was annoying, but if you can ignore that it's really a fantastic book!Published 16 days ago by David Snopek
I don't have the words to describe how amazing and helpful this book is, just when you think you're the only entrepreneur going through many dilemmas you find out that you're not... Read morePublished 18 days ago by NevadaTex
One of the most valuable books I've read as an entrepreneur to help me make the hard decisions. Highly recommend it to anyone who is starting a startup company, especially when... Read morePublished 26 days ago by Michael
I’ve been working on a startup as a co-founder for the last 12 months, and I can say this book contained some of the best advice I’ve read to date. Read morePublished 3 months ago by staypuftman
Provides an interesting useful insight into how things may go right or wrong for a start-up. Using 10 years research data provides an assurance this is more than just one person's... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Peter
Noam Wasserman provides a detailed analysis on the issues confronted by entrepreneurs. There is a nice database he uses to provide useful statistics. Read morePublished 4 months ago by JohnCanessa
An absolute must read. My only complaint is that some sections are way too verbose and repetitive. 4.5 stars.Published 5 months ago by Robert Christian
Excellent book. All the material is very apt and to the point. Looks like author has done lot of hardwork to write.Published 6 months ago by SJ