Prior social ties and the limits of peer effects on startup team performance’

Strategic Management Journal 40(9)

(with Rembrand Koning)

We conduct a field experiment at an entrepreneurship bootcamp to investigate whether interaction with proximate peers shapes a nascent startup team’s performance. We find that teams whose members lack prior ties to others at the bootcamp experience peer effects that influence the quality of their product prototypes. A one-standard-deviation increase in the performance of proximate teams is related to a two-thirds standard-deviation improvement for a focal team. In contrast, we find that teams whose members have many prior ties interact less frequently with proximate peers, and thus their performance is unaffected by nearby teams. Our findings highlight how prior social connections, which are often a source of knowledge and influence, can limit new interactions and thus the ability of organizations to leverage peer effects to improve the performance of their members.

Conversations and idea generation: Evidence from a field experiment

Research Policy, 48(9)

(with Rembrand Koning)

When do conversations lead people to generate better ideas? We conducted a field experiment at a startup bootcamp to evaluate the impact of informal conversations on the quality of product ideas generated by participants. Specifically, we examine how the personality of an innovator (openness to experience, capturing creativity) and the personalities of her randomly assigned conversational peers (extroversion, measuring willingness to share information) affects the innovator’s ideas. We find that open innovators who spoke with extroverted peers generated significantly better ideas than others at the bootcamp. However, closed individuals produced mediocre ideas regardless with who they spoke, suggesting limited benefits of conversations for these people. More surprisingly, open individuals, who are believed to be inherently creative, produced worse ideas after they spoke with introverted peers, suggesting individual creativity’s dependence on external information. Our study demonstrates the importance of considering the traits of both innovators and their conversational peers in predicting who will generate the best ideas.

When does advice impact startup performance?

Strategic Management Journal, 40(3), 331-356

(with Aaron Chatterji, Solene Delecourt and Rembrand Koning)

Why do some entrepreneurs thrive while others fail? We explore whether the advice entrepreneurs receive about managing their employees influences their startup’s performance. We conducted a randomized field experiment in India with 100 high-growth technology firms whose founders received in-person advice from other entrepreneurs who varied in their managerial style. We find that entrepreneurs who received advice from peers with a formal approach to managing people—instituting regular meetings, setting goals consistently, and providing frequent feedback to employees—grew 28% larger and were 10 percentage points less likely to fail than those who got advice from peers with an informal approach to managing people, two years after our intervention. Entrepreneurs with MBAs or accelerator experience did not respond to this intervention, suggesting that formal training can limit the spread of peer advice.

iSPIRT: M&A Connect (Part B)

Stanford GSB Case Study

(with Sarah Rosenthal)

Part B explores the launch of M&A Connect, a one-man initiative led by Sanat Rao, to serve as a matchmaker between viable, high-potential Indian startups and U.S.-based acquirers such as Google, AutoDesk, and Intel.  Students learn how Rao approached the challenge of finding inroads into the corporate development departments of these American companies in order to connect them with virtually unknown Indian startups.  While he has achieved success, the process is ongoing and the future of M&A Connect continues to unfold. Also see Part A.


Learning Objective


The learning objective of the case is to provide students with an opportunity to apply social network theory to a real life business challenge. As Rao, students are asked to navigate the challenges and opportunities and determine a pathway forward for launching M&A Connect based on limited financial resources and numerous constraints. What personal and professional networks should he tap into, what resources can he use, what value can he bring to the respective audiences with whom he is speaking? Once students learn the details around how Rao actually launched the program, they are then asked to evaluate the next steps in Part B. How can he overcome the dual challenge/opportunity that iSPIRT’s status as a nonprofit brings? What new challenges does he face as he attempts to identify the “top” entrepreneurs throughout India while at the same time trying to establish credibility with the top tier technology firms in the U.S.? As Rao refines his model, how can he go about scaling it such that iSPIRT can have