The Online Economy: Strategy and Entrepreneurship equips students whose career paths will be closely connected to online businesses. In particular, the course is appropriate for students planning entrepreneurial ventures in online businesses, and students whose careers as managers, investors, or consultants will focus on online businesses.
Technical expertise or prior online business experience is neither necessary nor expected.
Student performance is evaluated based on three components: class participation (including occasional polls), a blog post, and either an exam or a final project.
Class participation (40%)
Come prepared to every session. If an unusual schedule conflict prevents you from attending one section but allows you to attend the other, that may be possible with advance email approval. If you are unable to attend, please be sure to timely submit the official absence form (available through myHBS).
We will include occasional polls on Learning Hub. Please be sure to complete these submissions on time and with care.
Although polls open remain until 8am on the day of class, I’ll have more time to review submissions that arrive earlier. To be sure I consider your submission when finalizing my teaching plan, please submit your poll by 9pm the day before class.
We will include one round-robin-style poll, in which one each student’s response is routed to another student for review and feedback. It is particularly important that all students submit timely and thoughtful responses, lest others be denied the expected feedback.
Blog Post (15%)
Prepare a brief written analysis, on any subject reasonably related to the class, for posting to the course blog. Submissions should be written for a general audience and should not assume knowledge of course frameworks or first-year MBA training. Minimum length is 400 words (roughly 3-5 paragraphs). You may submit plain text or HTML (links, lists, images, etc.). Your blog post may be, but need not be, related to your project.
Due dates will be staggered and assigned randomly. The second week of class, we’ll distribute a listing of assigned due dates. Each week, beginning in week four, roughly 10% of students will submit their posts. Submission will be electronic through a web tool we’ll provide.
In addition, submit at least one thoughtful comment in response to a classmate’s blog post. Submit your comment before the start of the first day of exams (December 13 at 11:59pm).
If you prefer to submit a written analysis and/or comment for instructor review only, not for posting on the course web site, please request this option by email.
I am open to any written deliverable that demonstrates your learnings from this course and your insight into online businesses. I have seen successful projects in several categories:
Prepare a business plan / Assess an opportunity. Create a business plan for a viable online venture. Historically, many students who chose this option have written about an actual venture they simultaneously pursued, though this is not required. Note that a single venture can serve as source of material for submissions to both this course and to the HBS business plan competition. However, the deliverable for this course should place particular emphasis on course frameworks.
Analytical project. Obtain and analyze large-sample data about an online business. Some companies may be willing to share data, appropriately anonymized, upon request. Alternatively, you may be able to write a “crawler” to collect data from the web. I can offer limited guidance as to crawler-based data collection including some training in crawler design (via sample code and readings previously prepared for others) and potentially a collaboration with a doctoral student (pending interest on both sides). That said, I urge anyone considering this option to budget ample time for obtaining data.
Profile a company / Solve a problem. Select an online business and perform a thorough analysis using frameworks from the course. For example, for a business in an early stage, you might identify and evaluate the company’s mobilization strategies. For companies in later stages, you might focus on strategies for attracting users, monetization and market design. If you see a design flaw or other shortcoming in a company’s approach, explain the problem and propose a solution. A contact at the company is useful although not required. Be sure to present material that is not generally known (either a little-known company or a lesser-known aspect of a well-known company).
I welcome both individual projects and projects pursued in pairs. If you think your project would benefit from a larger group, please let me know as early as possible.
I’ve found that 2,000 words are sufficient for most individual projects, and 3,500 for most pair projects. If you think your project requires more, please let me know comfortably in advance. Appendices do not count towards the word limit, but should not be abused. Please limit appendices to bona fide supplemental information that does not advance the core of your analysis. Indicate your paper’s word count on the first page, and if you include significant appendices, please indicate the length of the body paper versus the appendices.
If you are writing about a company you are involved with, have been involved with, or are thinking about starting, please be sure to mention this.
Please write in prose (sentences and paragraphs). Use bulleted lists only when the substance of that portion of analysis is a series of brief ideas.
Please select a project topic by October 6. We’ll have an electronic submission system to receive project plans.
I will select a few projects for presentation to the group on the last two days of class, December 7 and 8.
Your project is due before the start of the first day of exams. Specifically, please submit before December 13 at 11:59pm. Submit your project electronically using exam.hbs.edu. Upload your submission with your last name and first name as the first two words of the filename.
Multiple papers/projects from a single research base
In every course at HBS, it is expected that all work submitted for the course was completed solely for that course. Self-plagiarism includes the practice of submitting identical or very similar material for credit in two separate courses. If you seek to submit deliverables from a single research effort to multiple courses or independent projects, please be sure to complete the required form (available from MBA Registrar Services). You will need to obtain permission from all relevant faculty.