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

4.02 of 5 stars 4.02  ·  rating details  ·  681 ratings  ·  47 reviews

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 ventu
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Hardcover, 496 pages
Published March 25th 2012 by Princeton University Press (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

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Brad Feld
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
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Carlos Rodarte
My expectation for The Founder's Dilemmas was pretty high as a result of having just read several of Professor Wasserman's publications, including "Stewards, Agents, and the Founder Discount: Executive Compensation in New Ventures."

The book explores key decisions faced by startup founders throughout the life of a company ... from pre-founding, funding options, initial team and transitional hires, salary negotiations, board management, to exit. I especially liked Wasserman's explanation around th
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Shannon
If you are thinking about founding a business, or you are a founder of a business, I highly recommend checking if your library has this book. From Harvard Business School, Wasserman has studied the social and economic dilemmas and decisions of start-up founders for 10+ years, and in this book he gives us exquisite data on the results. Wasserman focuses on tech start-ups and businesses in the life sciences, but this book applies to all business founders if you read around the tech details and loo ...more
Tigran Mamikonian
Quite instructive book about different stages of startup development with plenty of examples and statistical data.

The central theme of the book is so called RICH or KING dilemma. Which refers to two basic types of founders - motivated to get profit (RICH), or motivated to control and creation (KING).

Of course there is a middle point to which author refers as "Ideal entrepreneur".

The book is longer than it could be, however I'd recommend it for reader who would want to dig deeper in this area. An
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Pavel
Very good book, easy to read given the topic. Mostly based on research, and where not, is clearly stated.

The book covers a lot of grounds for startups from co-fouding, to hiring first people, getting investors, and selling the company. The book goes over the decisions founders will face and how they affect long term value or control of the company.

I would not recommend an eBook. There were a lot of footnotes and end of book notes, some of which I felt were really important. Having the book in eB
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Way
This is a fantastic book on the various decisions, conflicts, and pitfalls that befall a burgeoning startup. The biggest takeaway is what's called the wealth-control dynamic, where a founder can often take a series of choices that either increase wealth or increase the amount of control of the startup.

Building wealth involves tapping weak ties, finding highly motivated and talented cofounders, hiring expensive but skilled workers, pursuing VC funding, and being willing to let a nonfounding CEO t
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Arvin
I started reading this book to answer the question... "Why do people sell their companies to big corporations if it usually means the death of their product?" While this book does focus onthe wealth vs. control aspect of founding a company... it focuses more on the early stages and dealing with early investors rather than a corporate acquisition (was covered briefly in an appendix at the end of the book).

Still there were some useful information for would-be entrepreneurs.
1) For first time, foun
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Luke Kanies
This is probably a great book for someone thinking of starting a company, but useless for someone who has. And even then, it should have had a lot more information. It presented problems, but very few useful tools for solving them.
Pete
A thoughtful and academically precise review of the dilemmas facing founding and operating a startup

I have to say I always rather enjoyed Noem's book on entrepreneurial dilemmas. It is a dry and fact based read, yet very much a worth while endeavor. The book does a good job of mapping out the decisions and dilemmas implicit in the creation and operation of a startup company using the framework of control verses wealth generation to compare choices and potential outcomes.

I was reminded of late t
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Brian
While The Founders Dilemmas focuses primarily on tech and medical science startups, with high revenue potential (as do a remarkably high number of startup books), Noam Wasserman takes care to relate the principles of the book to the small business owner.

What sets The Founders Dilemmas apart from many business books on startups is the wealth of data it draws from. Wasserman tracked the progress of literally hundreds of startups and their founders over a ten year period to draw his conclusions.

Rea
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Adam Wiggins
As a company founder, you'll face a lot of decisions and situations that have no parallel to the challenges you face in, for example, a salaried job in an existing company or going through school. I found this book very helpful in shedding light on patterns for those decisions and what their outcomes often are.

However, I also found it tedious in many places due to the author's systematic, academic approach. Many of the statistics they rattle off seem like meaningless numbers. Thankfully it's wov
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Herve
The Founder’s Dilemmas – The Answer is “It depends!”

The Founder’s Dilemmas is at the same time a fascinating and frustrating book. Fascinating because it’s providing very seldom seen (and mostly unknown) data about founders and high-tech start-ups. Frustrating because it is also seldom providing answers to the dilemmas founders may face. It took me the full reading of the book to finally understand that the answer Wasserman provides is that there is no best solution for a founder facing a proble
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Jake Desyllas
This book usefully outlines key questions facing business founders, such as: are you going to start solo or with others? If with others, how will you split equity? Should you seek funding from investors? Wasserman outlines the potential impact of choosing each option for these dilemmas and also provides statistical evidence on which of the options founders tend to choose more or less.

This book is based on his research on tech and life-science startups, which means is very much focussed on busine
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Jake
The book covers a variety of key decisions that founders must make at different stages of the startup. Most are pretty obvious. But the book does a good job explaining how to make the choice that is right for you at the various points. You're encouraged to do a lot of introspection and determine exactly what it is that motivates you. Only then, once you truly understand yourself, can you make the best decisions.
The Founder's Dilemmas draws on a bunch of research and summarizes how things have wo
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Craig Cote
The only reason this didn't get 5 stars is all the repetition and the appendices, which were no fun to listen through. Summaries at the end of chapters are OK, but should be short and sweet.

As for content, this is a 5 for anybody new to the game or considering it, and could be the same for those who've been to the rodeo a time or two. It really all boils down to one question and whether you believe (as the author has provided evidence and done the math to try and prove) if all subsequent decisio
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Allisonperkel
fantastic look into start up culture and how companies, and people, tend to move. As someone who has been in several start ups (from mildly successful to not) this book helped me see the patterns present in the companies I've worked at. In fact, this book helped me see some of the areas where maybe, just maybe, past decisions hurt the growth of places I worked.

If you ever worked at a start up or want to work at one, or are crazy enough to start one - read this book.
Branimir
A good book, that pinpoints the possible hurdles ahead of a startup. It is true, as many have pointed out before me, that Wasserman is more of a researcher, so no solutions are given. Still, even seeing a list of structured examples is of great assistance to an entrepreneur. I personally found all of the struggles that I have met so far to be presented inside (and valid for new non-US businesses).

Future readers, have in mind that this book is intended for people that are about to get into a new
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Muwaffaq
I did enjoy the book and found it interesting. It highlighted many interesting areas for introspection. The main reason I gave it 3 stars though is it really does not provide any decent advice other than "know thyself". Given certain motivations etc it tells you what may happen in the future and may help shape early decisions that you make for the better but that would be the best case scenario. Without all the supporting examples and repetition it could have been written in about 25 pages.
Nic Brisbourne
Founders Dilemmas exposes the choice founders face between maximizing the value of their shares and retaining control of their company. Most entrepreneurs want to do both, but Wasserman empirical study shows that for all but a few lucky founders it is either or. He then goes on to explore the current choices founders can make and how they promote either value growth or control.

The most important of these are:
- whether to have co-founders
- whether to raise venture capital
- whether to make expensi
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Andrus
Content deserves 5-stars at times, but the quality of writing is poor. Especially the first half of the book is dry, un-storytelling (maybe not a real phrase but it fits here) and doesn't make points economically. This makes the book unnecessarily long. Still, glad I made it until the end.
Christian E
Interesting and serious research. Founders life is much more complicated than most think. There is a lot of data and analysis that makes it a bit heavy to read. But I learned a lot of things I didn't know.
Steve Pipenger
Good. Insightful. Makes one think. Assesses what makes entrepreneurs entrepreneurs. Talks about the advantages and disadvantages of starting one's own business at different experience stages and stages of life.

However, this strikes me as a prototypical book where someone in academia writes about "entrepreneurship." He leaves out a sizable segment of people who have started their own businesses because they had to, either through a layoff, having to go back to work...entrepreneurs by necessity (p
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David
Unbelievably awesome book for anyone starting a company that will hire outsiders or solicit investors. Walks one through the decision trees regarding roles, relationships and rewards for early employees. Also has similar trees for investors. Talks about wealth maximization vs control maximization for the founder(s).

Built from surveys of startups. Has the raw data. Also anecdotes. The anecdotes are too long and repeated too often for my taste but they do not do enough damage to make me rate less
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Nithin Mathew
must read for anyone who aspire to be a founder. this book is a treasure chest of information for people who has no prior experience in startup environment. gives a general visibility(with numbers backing of course) of journey from initial idea development to an exit. the points discussed in the book prepares you for the startups battle to survival.
Miles Wen
This is a massively useful book for any prospective/ongoing entrepreneurs. The writing is highly academic and deliver convincing statistics and insightful suggestions.
Andres
The author conducted valuable research but undermined it with his overly complicated writing and his inane diagrams.
Olga Levinson
Insightful but too academic in style. Same stories and examples repeated over and over.
Josh Steimle
This is a great addition to data-driven literature that can truly help entrepreneurs. It covers basics every entrepreneur should be aware of, like the perils of setting things up the wrong way at the beginning. But rather than just being the pontifications of someone who has been there done that, it's real data, showing the probabilities of things working out well or poorly depending on choices made during the founding process. Along with Founders at Work, Four Steps to the Epiphany, and Venture ...more
Leo
Interesting overview of the "dilemmas" that startup founders face as they build tech companies. The author believes that the harshest of these dilemmas is the choice between wealth and control. I found the chapter on founder-CEO succession -- which explains why even highly successful founders are likely to be replaced -- particularly interesting. (In short, being great at going from A to M doesn't mean you're the right person to go the rest of the way to Z -- a bit obvious in retrospect, but som ...more
Dvir Oren
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The Founder's Dilemmas: Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup (Kauffman Foundation Series on Innovation and Entrepreneurship)

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