About a year ago I got an email from our friends at Tandem Entrepreneurs with an introduction to Harvard Business School‘s (HBS) Silicon Valley-based team. HBS was looking to write a case study about the state of early-stage fundraising (in 2011) and how the explosion of angel investing changed the way entrepreneurs looked at financing. Since PunchTab had recently closed seed financing and the decisions we’d made were fresh in my mind we agreed that it would make sense to meet. (It also helped that the PunchTab team was holed up in the building next to HBS in Menlo Park… welcome to Silicon Valley!)
I could not have predicted what happened next. In what seemed like a matter of weeks we had our first conversation with the folks at HBS, the team from Cambridge flew to Menlo Park to interview us and our investors, and by autumn PunchTab was featured in a brand new case study about what decisions founding teams make about raising capital to launch and scale new companies. And, by the way, would we be willing to visit the HBS mothership to sit in on a few classes during which the case would be studied?
Fast forward to earlier this week: Mehdi and I rolled into campus at 8:30AM to be briefed about what the day held (3 one-hour-long case discussions followed by 20-minute question and answer sessions that would be seen live by 900 MBA students). Suffice it to say that it was a fascinating experience listening to hundreds of the brightest young business minds in the world analyzing the pros and cons of the choices we had to make over 12 months ago. It also dawned on us how different the company is now and the new opportunities that have emerged as the business grows.
Some of my favorite questions from the students:
1. What were the biggest experiments that we’d conducted and the learnings from the last year? The classes really understood that at the concept stage of the company all you really have is a smart team, a big market, and hypotheses to test. The quicker you create a learning engine and get feedback from the market, the higher your chances of success.
2. How did the mechanics of various fundraising options affected ownership, risk, and control? My answer to this was two-fold: i) I was very impressed with how technical the class was willing to get to understand the nuances of the various funding devices available. ii) At the end of the day while all this is important you should focus on getting the right people around the table rather than optimizing deal terms. The best companies I know have done this.
3. What would we do differently? In all honesty we are very pleased with the way the company has progressed over the last year and how supportive our investors, customers and friends have been. Chalk it up to experience, we learned a lot of lessons the first time around.
My biggest takeaway was that there is a bounty of information available to folks looking to start businesses these days and that’s a good thing for everyone. Also Mehdi and I agreed that compared to the students who were asking us questions about our venture we were complete slackers in college… or maybe just late bloomers?
Thanks again to everyone involved in creating the case study for giving us the opportunity to participate. We hope our story helps, in some small way, getting dozens of new businesses off the ground. Sign us up for the next session! If you have any early stage company building questions post them here or catch us on twitter: @ranjithkumaran @mehdiaitoufkir