Complementary experience in founding teams and tech-venture performance

This article was also published on Medium, click the link if you prefer to read it there.

In 2015, I published a Master’s thesis titled Complementary Experience in Founding Teams and Tech-Venture Performance. The thesis was both my Duisenberg School of Finance graduation project and part of a larger study I was conducting with a team of data analysts at Deloitte Innovation and THNK School of Creative Leadership. This study became known as the Scale-up Study and got nationwide coverage. You can find the report here.

We worked with a database of 400,000 companies and enriched the dataset allowing for more in-depth analysis. For my Thesis, I worked with a subset for which I manually collected data on the founding teams (yes this was a painful process).

The results were not shocking, mind-boggling, or revolutionary, but confirmed existing theories.

The key takeaways from my research

The key takeaways on complementary experience in founding teams:

  1. In the context of founding teams, entrepreneurial experience is the most important predictor of high-growth performance of technology startups.
  2. Startups with founding teams that have a combination of academic + corporate + entrepreneurial experience are most likely to be in the top performer group.
  3. Unicorns — startups valued at $1B or more within a five-year time frame — have the highest rates of complementary experience in founding teams AND the highest ratio of gender diversity.

The academic experience present in high-growth founding teams is typically technical, computer science and engineering being the most dominant fields.

The key takeaways from the Scale-up study

In the Scale-up study, we looked at other factors beyond founding teams, such as industry growth, business model design, and revenue evolution. Below are the key takeaways.

  1. Scale-ups have experienced leadership and functional depth, debunking the popular image that successful companies are founded by 20-year college drop-outs in their garage.
  2. Scale-ups and unicorns are designed for scalability, their business models allow for agile development and short and continuous iteration cycles.
  3. Scale-ups and unicorns get market timing right, either by being patient and deep industry and/or market knowledge or, well, by luck.

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