Stanford Professors Want To Teach You How To Scale Your Business Without Screwing It Up

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After eight years of studying best practices for expanding a business, a pair of Stanford professors are scaling up the size of their classroom with their first foray into massive open online courses (MOOC).

Huggy Rao and Robert Sutton, the authors of “Scaling Up Excellence: Getting To More Without Settling For Less,” will bring the lessons they learned from their research to the virtual classroom. When their five-week, free MOOC launches on Sept. 15, it will feature interviews with prominent investors like Ben Horowitz and Michael Dearing.

Normally Rao and Sutton teach the book in their executive education classrooms, but true to their research, they found the MOOC to be a scaling tool that could help them reach more readers.

“They can not only consume the book as in reading it, but more importantly they can actually apply it to their own venture or startup idea,” said Rao, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Sutton, a professor at the Stanford School of Engineering, said the pair has experience in teaching for-credit online courses in the past. He said this is most likely the only time that the course will be offered in the free MOOC format.

“It will particularly be helpful to entrepreneurs trying to scale their ventures [...] because when people think about scaling they think about the footprint,” Rao said. “The footprint won’t survive and it certainly won’t thrive unless you have a mindset to sustain it.

Because the course is a MOOC, it is open to everyone, but Rao and Sutton said fledgling entrepreneurs would benefit the most from the class. The course specifically focuses on what small ventures can do once they get funding and are looking to scale their businesses. In addition to offering advice from famous investors, Rao and Sutton will include interviews with successful entrepreneurs, including some who they used for their own research.

The course will include an interview with the founders of Pulse and an executive from Survey Monkey.

Sutton called the Pulse founders Ankit Gupta and Akshay Kothari “stars” of the scaling book, saying they told a story that gave him and Rao important perspective that they hope to share with the MOOC students. When Gupta and Kothari were scaling their business, they began to run into many more problems. They realized that by splitting into smaller subgroups and then reporting what each group did at the end of the day, they could be more effective and efficient.

“To us that’s a scaling problem that comes up quite frequently,” Sutton said. “It’s one that a lot of founders run into.”

When it comes to scaling a venture, Sutton said there should be three ideas that students take away from the course. The first is that it’s a process of both addition and subtraction.

“There’s always the stuff that’s getting in the way,” Sutton said.

The second is that there needs to be a combination of patience and impatience. Founders need to work aggressively everyday, but also be patient for the long-term awards that work will bring. The third lesson is what Sutton calls “the grass is browner problem,” which means scaling startups is more messy than stories and research after the fact would lead you to believe.

“Scaling requires that you drop your tools and develop new tools,” Rao said.

“What got you there won’t get you to the next level,” Sutton added.

Students must register for the course by Sept. 12.

IMAGE BY Stanford Business School