Dream Teams: The Characteristics of Billion-Dollar Startup Founders

There's a perptual and roaring debate in Startupland about the ideal founding team. Should the ideal team be entirely computer scientists? How important to success is having an MBA/business person? What about the stories of billionaire dropouts?

To answer that question, I've aggregated the academic backgrounds of 30 of the top startups of the past few years and analyzed the make up of each of those founding teams.

Above is a chart comparing the number of "billion" dollar startups by the total number of founders and the share of technical founders. The full dataset is here.

Here are the key observations of this data:

  • The average founding team has 2.4 founders; the median is 2
  • 70% of teams have at least one technical founder
  • 40% of teams are exclusively computer scientists
  • 30% of teams have no technical cofounders
  • 15% of founders have dropped out of an undergraduate or graduate degree program
  • 10% of founders have an MBA

The sample size here is small, only 30, and by definition each one of these companies is an exception. But a few patterns emerge from the data. First, there is no clear correlation between the fraction of technical founders and the ultimate success of the business. In this data set, there are an equal number of successful non-technical teams as technical teams as semi-technical teams. The share is split a third to each.

Second, there are as many dropouts as MBAs among these teams, which asks more questions about education than it answers.

Third, looking through the data, there is a slight bias towards technical teams in enterprise companies particularly where technology is the main differentiator. No surprise there. But in the consumer world and in software as a service, there seems to be no patterns. For every Pinterest, there's an Uber; for every Box.net, there's a Workday.

The data confirmed what I believe: great founding teams can come from anywhere.

28 October 2013

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