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The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup [Hardcover]

Noam Wasserman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 25 2012 0691149135 978-0691149134

Often downplayed in the excitement of starting up a new business venture is one of the most important decisions entrepreneurs will face: should they go it alone, or bring in cofounders, hires, and investors to help build the business? More than just financial rewards are at stake. Friendships and relationships can suffer. Bad decisions at the inception of a promising venture lay the foundations for its eventual ruin. The Founder's Dilemmas is the first book to examine the early decisions by entrepreneurs that can make or break a startup and its team.


Drawing on a decade of research, Noam Wasserman reveals the common pitfalls founders face and how to avoid them. He looks at whether it is a good idea to cofound with friends or relatives, how and when to split the equity within the founding team, and how to recognize when a successful founder-CEO should exit or be fired. Wasserman explains how to anticipate, avoid, or recover from disastrous mistakes that can splinter a founding team, strip founders of control, and leave founders without a financial payoff for their hard work and innovative ideas. He highlights the need at each step to strike a careful balance between controlling the startup and attracting the best resources to grow it, and demonstrates why the easy short-term choice is often the most perilous in the long term.



The Founder's Dilemmas draws on the inside stories of founders like Evan Williams of Twitter and Tim Westergren of Pandora, while mining quantitative data on almost ten thousand founders.


People problems are the leading cause of failure in startups. This book offers solutions.



Frequently Bought Together

The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup + The Startup Owner's Manual: The Step-By-Step Guide for Building a Great Company + The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses
Price For All Three: CDN$ 73.46

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Review


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

From the Inside Flap


"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



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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Get Your Entrepreneurial Fog Lights Here! Feb. 24 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While The Founder's Dilemmas is based on a sexy but narrow subset of start-ups (healthcare/biotech and tech), it offers great insights into the potential consequences of choosing either available path to take when an entrepreneur faces anyone of the numerous forks along the road to start-up success. Having been a successful co-founder and CEO of a VC backed biotech, I learned a lot from this book and I think you will too, which is why I am happy to recommended to current and prospective entrepreneurs in high potential ventures. After you read this book, it will help you see the foggy road to start-up success a whole lot clearer!
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By Zemour
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Is helping us deal with issues that friends tend to gloss over in the early days of startups. Wish I had read it before my last startup.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  71 reviews
41 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Your Typical Book of Start-Up War Stories March 17 2012
By Jeff Bussgang - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Noam Wasserman teaches a class called "Founder's Dilemmas" at Harvard Business School that has become a "must-take" session for aspiring entrepreneurs. This book is the outgrowth of Noam's research and that class. It outlines a series of make-or-break decisions that founders make when embarking on their ventures. Noam analyzes the fundamental trade-offs such as when to found a company, who to found it with (if anyone), how to determine roles and responsibilities, equity splits and many more sensitive issues.

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.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moneyball for Entrepreneurship March 16 2012
By F. Nazeeri - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
What I like most about this book is the hard analytical analysis of the key decisions that a founder faces when launching a new venture. I read a lot of books on entrepreneurship and none come close to this in terms of quantitative detail to back up key recommendations. That alone would make it a great book, but Wasserman also addresses the softer, qualitative side of entrepreneurship and shows how it fits into the big picture.

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.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally! A startup book based on actual research! March 16 2012
By Daniel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As an entrepreneur, I read a ton of books about startups. Most of them are pretty entertaining, but I've always felt hesitant actually implementing any of what I read. For the most part, the advice tends to be something along the lines of "I started this company when I was 14 with $50, and now's it's a $1bn company and here's how I did it- you should do the same." Umm, yeah, but does that apply to MY startup?

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!
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I've been teaching this material for years, and it is great March 16 2012
By Not a Kansan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I've been teaching Noam's material at the MBA level for a couple of years now. The course is very popular because it addresses some of the key issues students - or any founders - face when starting a company. It seems that most of what is written is about how to build a business plan, how to choose a business model, etc. But this book is all about the TEAM.

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!
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Book About The Dilemmas Founder's Face May 6 2012
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Founder's Dilemmas by Noam Wasserman is another book that belongs on every entrepreneur's bookshelf. It's excellent.

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. He's done a ten year quantitative study that he follows up with his own analysis and then intermixes this with actual stories from a set of founders, including two that I know reasonably well - Dick Costolo (FeedBurner - I was on the board), Genevieve Thiers (Sittercity - we looked hard at investing but ultimately didn't) and many I know from a distance. As a result, I was able to back test the stories and anecdotes and they were completely factual in contrast to many other books like this where the qualitative stories are embellished to fit either the ego of the participants or the point being made by the author.

Noam systematically marches through all of the major dilemmas I could think of for founders: career, solo-vs-team, relationship, role, reward, hiring, investor, failure-vs-success, founder-CEO succession, and wealth-vs-control. I believe he'll coin several new reference phrases, including my favorite around wealth-vs-control ("do you want to be king or want to be rich?") He looks at each of these from all sides (e.g. yes - you can be king and rich, but there are other options that may get you where you want to go faster and with a much higher chance of success) and uses a great blend of data, analysis, and anecdote to make and support his points.

If you are a founder, or considering being a founder, a board member, or an investor, buy The Founder's Dilemmas right now. One of your goals should be to do everything you can to maximize your chance of success. This book will help a lot and you won't regret the time you invest in it.
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