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Start-Up: The Making of a Harvard Business School Course

Harvard Business School professor Tom Eisenmann, an expert on start-ups and platform-based businesses that exploit network effects, has just launched an MBA course called Launching Technology Ventures. What's particularly interesting is Eisenmann's desire to blog about how the course was developed, and solicit feedback on how it can be improved.

He also includes many resources that should be of interest to those who are heads of start-ups, or thinking of creating a new company. It's not quite like being in the classroom, but it's the next best thing.

Eisenmann's focus is on "lean" management practices. That's not lean as in no resources, but rather akin to Toyota's lean management process, relying on short product development cycles to eliminate waste and gain rapid market feedback.

"Most start-ups fail -- usually due to lack of customer demand, not product development problems," Eisenmann writes. "These new ventures burn through their capital, wasting money on engineering and marketing before discovering they have built a product no one wants. Start-ups are more likely to succeed when they rapidly and iteratively test assumptions about a new venture's business model based on customer feedback, then quickly refine promising concepts and ruthlessly cull the flops. New ventures that follow this approach are lean start-ups."

Here are the major sections of his blog.

  • Course overview. "LTV focuses on the integration of marketing and engineering functions and emphasizes implementation rather than strategy formulation issues."
  • Preliminary syllabus. The course modules examine challenges confronting early-stage ventures as they search for product-market fit, scaling, and early financing needs. The course also dives into the unique challenges of capital-intensive, science-based ventures.
  • Tools and techniques. "This is a set of tools and techniques that I think any MBA working in a tech venture should master."
  • Course readings. Essential reading; everything from Steve Blank's The Four Steps to the Epiphany to an essay by Ken Norton on how to hire a product manager.
Eisenmann asks for help both from academics and practitioners. "I'd be grateful for feedback. Next year, I'd like to add a case about a big tech company (e.g., Google, Amazon) launching a new product. What else is missing? Can you suggest other case studies that would complement these?"

Help him out.

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(Image by Flickr user opensourceway, CC 2.0)
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