For Startups, Adaptability and Mentor Network Diversity can be Pivotal: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment on a MOOC Platform

MIS Quarterly, Forthcoming

68 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2015 Last revised: 13 Jul 2019

See all articles by Charles E. Eesley

Charles E. Eesley

Stanford University - Management Science & Engineering

Lynn Wu

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Date Written: June 15, 2019

Abstract

Entrepreneurs leading digital ventures are often advised to be adaptable. However, research on how to pursue adaptable strategies and whether such strategies improve short- or long-term digital venture outcomes is sparse. By utilizing the ability to control content presentation and to measure outcomes through a course using a MOOC platform, we can introduce exogenous variation in strategies and mentorship characteristics, and link these attributes to venture outcomes over time. Contrary to expectations, we find that minimizing adaptability by adhering to a strong, persistent vision often results in better short-term outcomes as measured by quality of the pitch in digital startups. It also however results in worse long-term outcomes as measured by revenue, funding, and pivoting to a new venture. A more adaptable approach, when combined with a mentor who can facilitate this strategy by providing access to a structurally diverse social network, can offer the best combination of short- and long-run financial outcomes and increase the likelihood of pivoting to start another venture. The results suggest that guidance on mentor selection—especially selecting for the mentor’s social network attributes—is important over time for reaping the benefits of an adaptable strategy, particularly for digital ventures at their early-stage.

Keywords: Social Networks, Entrepreneurship, MOOCs, Randomized Experiments

Suggested Citation

Eesley, Charles E. and Wu, Lynn, For Startups, Adaptability and Mentor Network Diversity can be Pivotal: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment on a MOOC Platform (June 15, 2019). MIS Quarterly, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2571777 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2571777

Charles E. Eesley

Stanford University - Management Science & Engineering ( email )

473 Via Ortega
Stanford, CA 94305-9025
United States

HOME PAGE: http://chuckeesley.com

Lynn Wu (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3733 Spruce Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6374
United States

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