LTV Readings

Launching Technology Ventures
Course Number 1755
Senior Lecturers: Jeffrey Bussgang & Jeffrey F. Rayport
Winter, Q3: 1.5 credits
14 sessions; One short essay related to a team project, optionally published on the course blog.

Course Syllabus
The course materials are available online via the course platform (Canvas).

Class date
Growth Panel
Product Panel
Wrap up

Background Reading:

Students are encouraged to review the following Case Notes that were taught during the MBA First-Year Course, "The Entrepreneurial Manager."

Here are three additional blogs that you may also find helpful before the start of class:

If you want an accessible backgrounder on coding languages and software development processes, read this:

I. Monday, January 23--AARDVARK:
Aardvark is an online social search service founded by veterans from Google. This case captures the management team in the midst of searching for product-market fit. We will focus on Aardvark's early strategic decisions and use of lean, user-centric product development process.

  1. Do you consider Aardvark a success as of January 2010? To what extent is Aardvark's success or lack of success attributable to the team's reliance on user-centric product development methods? What hypotheses were they testing? 
  2. The Aardvark team refused to implement the features most requested by their users. How does this square with user-centric design?
  3. Why isn't this social service more viral? If you were in charge of marketing for Aardvark, what would you do to stimulate growth? 

II. Wednesday, January 25--CLASSTIVITY
Techstars graduate, Classtivity, has a vision for helping people stay fit by making local gyms more accessible but has struggled to achieve product-market fit. The founders are debating whether to persist with their new model, which is getting some traction, or contemplate launching a second major pivot. Our class guest is co-founder/CEO, Payal Kadakia.


Optional Reading:
  1. The first pivot seemed like an obvious choice. Can you think of an MVP test they might have conducted that could have saved them 18 months of work building the search engine?
  2. If you were Payal, would you pivot away from Classtivity? Does it have to be an either/or decision or can you stick with Classtivity while experimenting with the subscription offering?
  3. Evaluate Passport's early results from the case, exhibits 3 and 6 (Pitch Deck) and exhibit 9. What do the unit economics look like and how would you assess the value proposition for the user and the studio? How sensitive are the unit economics to your assumptions? E.g., If you wanted a 3x LTV/CAC and assumed 20% conversion, what price would you need to charge assuming similar churn and class usage? 

III. Monday, January 30--SHIPPO
Shippo is a graduate of 500Startups trying to revolutionize e-commerce shipping and fulfillment. The company is struggling to decide the best go to market approach: API-based or application-based. Which path will position the company best for success and why? Our class guest is Laura Behrens Wu, cofounder and CEO of Shippo.


Optional Readings: 

Assignment Questions:
  1. Does the Shippo founding team represent founder-market fit as compared to the Classtivity founders? 
  2. How do you interpret the volume figures in exhibit 7 and churn numbers in exhibits 8 and 9? Does the app strategy appear to be working?
  3. What should Behrens Wu do- continue to focus on the app, pivot to the API, or try to do both?
  4. How would you configure the sales and product organization and focus areas appropriately?

IV. Tuesday, January 31--PLASTIQ
The young founders of a venture-backed startup needs to figure out their go-to-market strategy and the right profile for their first key sales hires. Should they develop partnerships with channels that would provide leverage or build out a direct sales force? And should the sales team be led by an experienced senior sales executive or a scrappy mid-level sales manager? Our class guests are Eliot Buchanan and Dan Choi, co-founders of Plastiq.


Optional Readings
  1. What go-to-market strategy should the founders choose? What are the tests they can conduct to help validate their go-to-market decision? What metrics should they use to help determine if they're on the right path? 
  2. How far down does the sales learning curve is the company by the end of the case? What specific metrics should they achieve before scaling more aggressively?
  3. Who should Plastiq hire to become VP of Sales and why?

V. Monday, February 6--BABBACO
Having just raised a Series B financing, the founder of BabbaCo is faced with a tough decision: should she "step on the gas" and scale the customer base, or continue to focus on fine-tuning the product and business model. The case describes the various marketing channels employed by the BabbaCo team (Search, Email, Social Media, Deal Sites, Affiliates, etc.), including the strategy and effectiveness for each. Our class guest is Jessica Kim, Founder of BabbaCo.


    Optional Readings:
    1. Is now the right time to scale? If not, why not? If so, what areas would you invest more heavily in? 
    2. Analyze the various customer acquisition channels and develop a dashboard evaluating the effectiveness of each channel. Are there additional customer acquisition strategies or tests that Kim should attempt? 
    3. Discuss and come up with additional approaches Jessica could use to refine the product and content offering to build a successful company in the long-term. What tests would you run to validate these approaches? 
    4. What strategy should Kim present at the upcoming board meeting?

    VI. Tuesday, February 7--YAHOO!
    This case explores both sides of an acquisition-hire ("acqui-hire") with Yahoo! as the acquiring company and Stamped as the start-up potentially being acquired. Our class guest is Bart Stein, co-founder of Stamped.

    1. Evaluate Yahoo's M&A "acquihire" strategy and corporate development organization at the time of the Stamped acquisition opportunity and describe what direction the corporate development group needs to take to contribute to the Yahoo turnaround.
    2. Should Jackie embark on the Stamped acquisition? What should be her main consideration in evaluating the decision? 
    3. Should Robby accept the Yahoo offer? What should be his main consideration in evaluating the decision? 

    VII. Monday, February 13--RapidSOS
    Founded in 2014, RapidSOS aspires to transform emergency response communications systems through a mobile-centric approach. In the earliest stages of figuring out its go-to-market strategy, the company has a range of options, including the opportunity to team up with a major industry player. Our class guest is Michael Martin, CEO of RapidSOS.

    Optional Readings:
    Assignment Questions: 
    1. Consider the four entrepreneurial strategy alternatives laid out in "Full Speed Ahead...but in What Direction?" Do you think these are mutually exclusive choices for RapidSOS or do you think they can "do it all"?
    2. Is there an experiment you can propose that would allow them to choose between the alternatives they face?
    3. Given the information available in the case, which one would you recommend?
    4. How does the opportunity offered by Big Mobile impact your recommendation? How should Michael and his team react to this opportunity?

    VIII. Tuesday, February 14--GROWTH PANEL
    For class today, we invited three experienced Growth Managers to discuss their experiences and answer questions.


    Optional Readings: 

    IX. Wednesday, February 15--PRODUCT PANEL
    For class today, we invited two experienced VPs of Product to discuss their experiences and answer questions.


    Optional Readings: 

    Assignment Questions:
    1. Read the HBS Case Note, along with a couple other items of your choice from the list of optional readings.
    2. Read the biographical backgrounds of each panelist.
    3. Submit questions for the panelists via the poll on the course platform.

    X. Tuesday, February 21--MATTERMARK
    Mattermark is a SaaS start-up that provides business information and analytics software. Having raised a successful Series A, the company's founder is faced with a dilemma--whether to invest in scaling sales and marketing or the product? Our guest will be CEO and founder, Danielle Morrill


    Optional Readings:

    Assignment Questions:
    1. Has Mattermark achieved product-market fit? Why or why not? Looking at Exhibit 3, what are the key metrics that inform your answer to this question? Please make sure to calculate CAC and LTV and the ratio of the two.
    2. Is it time to expand into other markets beyond venture capital?
    3. If you were Danielle, what would your presentation to the new board look like in terms of specific recommendations and courses of action? 

    XI. Wednesday, February 22- LIGHTRICKS
    Without any outside capital or assistance, the Lightricks team has successfully bootstrapped their flagship app, Facetune, into a bestseller on the Apple app store. How did they do it and what comes next in terms of pricing strategy, product roadmap and financing? Our class guest is cofounder, Itai Tsiddon.

    Assignment Questions:
    1. What do you think of their paid vs. free decision? Do you agree with it or would you have made a different decision?
    2. Do you agree with Fred Wilson's statement that "marketing is for companies with sucky products?" Should Lightricks have focused on free acquisition early on?
    3. Reflect on the ways in which the company has bucked conventional wisdom in their decisions vs. "startup 101". Why? Has it worked?
    4. Look at Exhibits 6a, 6b, 6c, 7a and 7b. If you were in charge of pricing at Lightricks, what price would you set and why?

    XII. Monday, February 27--JIBO
    The Jibo team is trying to achieve something very rare- successfully launch a new consumer electronics platform in the home that will attract third-party developers. This case explores the challenge of turning a product into a platform while creating a new category: social robots for the home. Our class guest is CEO Steven Chambers.


    Optional Readings:

    Assignment Questions:
    1. Should the Jibo team pursue a platform strategy at launch or should it build all of the initial applications themselves and evolve toward a platform strategy over time?
    2. When it comes time to develop a platform strategy, what approach should Jibo take--top down (with strategic partners), bottom up (developer driven) or a combination of the two?
    3. If you were hired as head of the strategy and you were now in the room with Steve, Lynda and Cynthia, what execution plan would you recommend to attract developer investment in a platform that will not be shipping for over a year?

    XIII. Tuesday, February 28--CODECADEMY
    NYC-based Codecademy has seen tremendous growth and user adoption since its launch. The company is now contemplating its next move--whether to continue to drive adoption or begin to run monetization experiments. Our class guests are Ryan Bubinski and Zach Sims, co-Founders of Codecademy.


    Optional Readings:
    Assignment Questions:
    1. Union Square's Andy Weissman warns against pursuing monetization strategies too soon. Do you agree with this? When is the right time to pursue monetization strategies and how do you know when the time has come? 
    2. Is it time for Codecademy to pursue monetization efforts?
    3. If so, which one should they choose and why?
    4. What experiments should Codecademy run next to test out monetization strategies? Or is time to focus on, and scale up, one particular model?

    XIV. Monday, March 6--WRAP UP
    This final class is dedicated to reviewing and discussing the concepts learned during this course.


    Optional Readings: 

    Assignment Questions: 
    1. Please complete the Feedback Poll on LTV Cases & Sessions.
    2. Please bring your laptop to class to complete the HBS Course Evaluation.

    Note: Final project and exam guidelines have been posted to the final class module on the course platform.

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