What Do the Founding Teams of Billion Dollar Companies Look Like?
Tod Francis and Nikhil Basu Trivedi of Shasta Ventures recently published a great analysis on what 25 B2C billion-dollar Unicorns and 7 likely soon-to-be Unicorns looked like at the time of their Series A. We were interested in unpacking more of the data around these companies, and specifically learning more about their founding teams — what did the founders look like and what can we learn from their backgrounds?
Caveats to note up front:
- Our data are from publicly available sources like LinkedIn and CrunchBase, thus they’re neither 100% accurate nor comprehensive.
- Data are current as of April 19, 2015.
We looked at the same 32 companies that Nikhil and Tod looked at in their research (shown below). Via CrunchBase and LinkedIn, we identified 78 founders across these companies.
We were initially curious to see which investors took early bets on these companies.
The following 12 investors had invested in 2 or more of these 32 companies in their seed/angel rounds.
Andrew Boszhardt, Jr.
Series A investors
The following 18 investors had invested in 2 or more of these 32 companies in their Series A rounds.
Bessemer Venture Partners
Union Square Ventures
The following 14 people have 2 or more board seats across these 32 companies.
Roelof Botha, Sequoia Capital
Mary Meeker, KPCB
Alfred Lin, Sequoia Capital
Bijan Sabet, Spark Capital
Bill Gurley, Benchmark
Bryan Schreier, Sequoia Capital
Craig Sherman, Meritech
David Lawee, Google Capital
Gary Little, Morgenthaler
John Lilly, Greylock
Larry Summers, Harvard
Mark Bailey, DFJ
Matt Cohler, Benchmark
Randy Glein, DFJ
We next took a look at the founders of these companies.
Number of Founders
Founding teams of 2 or 3 founders account for the vast majority.
Founders attended a broad spectrum of colleges & universities. Stanford stood out from the pack, with 6 founders. The remainder of the schools with multiple founders, listed below, are mainly representative of full founding teams that went to school together. For example, the 4 people from Wharton are the four founders of Warby Parker. Notably, New Roads High School in Santa Monica makes the list — two of the Lyft (then Zimride) co-founders were classmates there.
Fields of Study
The top 6 college majors, each represented by at least 2 or more founders, were Computer Science, Economics, Business, History, Electrical Engineering, and Product/Industrial Design. Of the undergraduate majors recorded, we found that the majority were in non-technical fields.
Founders of these B2C unicorns did not typically pursue advanced degrees. Instead, it appears that they opted for work experience, which we look at next.
Age & Work Experience
We extrapolated each founder’s number of years of work experience and their age by looking at their work & education history on LinkedIn. This method was only applicable to those who had reported the years associated with their work & education history on their LinkedIn profiles, and is of course an imperfect proxy. Using this method, we could also extrapolate the founder’s age at the time of founding their company.
The mean number of years of work experience was 6 years, with a standard deviation of 6 years. The mean age at the time of founding was 29, with a standard deviation of 6 years.
The graph below shows the distribution of number of years of work experience. Note that these values are rounded to the nearest year, and a negative value reflects that the founder started their company while in school. Note also that outliers were not removed.
Our data highlight 4 founders who started their companies while in school (corresponding to -1 and 0 years of work experience, based on rounding, as seen on the graph below). This doesn’t necessarily suggest they dropped out though.
Prior Industry Experience
A large portion of founders historically worked at tech companies prior to founding their own companies, while other prominent industries were VC, management consulting, and finance. Below are the industries represented each by 2 or more founders.
Founders have keen product skills & instincts — with most frequent LinkedIn endorsements for user experience and product management — alongside skills in technology and business. Below are the top 15 skills, each represented by more than 12 founders.
For fun, we looked at the frequency of first names across the founders of these 32 Unicorns. Here are the first names shared by 2 or more founders.
Here are some of the things we learned about this group of founders:
- 2 or 3 person founding teams are the norm
- They attended a broad array of schools, with concentration among top US colleges & universities, and Stanford is most common
- Non-technical degrees are more common than technical degrees, and most didn’t attend advanced degree programs
- They have on average 6 years of prior work experience, most often in the Software & IT space
- They most commonly demonstrate skills in user experience, product management, e-commerce, and strategic partnerships