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Wharton School Press  |  June 23, 2020

Not All Rainbows and Unicorns

Wharton Professor Ethan Mollick Aims to Bust Startup Myths with Evidence-Based Approach

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The Unicorn's Shadow Cover with RuleWhen we think of successful startup origin stories, we most often think of the famous “unicorns” that have achieved valuations of over $1 billion—think Facebook, Google, and Uber.

These stories have created a popular perception of young, hotshot founders, “aha” moments, and flashy pitch decks.

But Wharton professor Ethan Mollick has found that many of those perceptions simply don’t match up with the data. In The Unicorn’s Shadow, a new book released Tuesday from Wharton School Press, Mollick confronts the conventional wisdom behind what a successful founder looks like, how they succeed, and how the startup ecosystem works.

In doing so, he provides a roadmap for aspiring entrepreneurs, while taking readers to the forefront of an empirical revolution in entrepreneurship. Mollick has spearheaded this approach, which he calls “Evidence-Based Entrepreneurship,” in his teaching as an associate professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

“By examining a wealth of evidence and academic studies, the author moves beyond jargon and accepted wisdom to highlight the issues that startup founders need to consider and the obstacles they may have to overcome,” writes Kirkus Reviews.

Drawing from the evidence, Mollick outlines the factors that have proven to aid a startup’s success. Among the surprising findings, he shares:

  • How to found a company with the right partners: You may not have to look much further than the family or close friends with whom you’ve been isolating amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Or, you may find out that going it alone is not as daunting as you think.
  • Where the best startup ideas come from: Mollick details the right questions to ask to find the right idea.
  • The importance of diversity in organizations: Mollick parses data on how startup teams are more innovative, and therefore more likely to raise money and, ultimately, succeed.

Mollick 2018 HeadshotThe Unicorn’s Shadow combines research from nearly 150 academic papers and manuscripts, including Mollick’s own groundbreaking research. Mollick notes that we are still in the early days of understanding startups. He presents the book as the start of a conversation as the entrepreneurial world continues to “learn and build out the real, messy, complicated, and sometimes counterintuitive story behind the myths.”

Mollick argues that democratizing entrepreneurship is an important cause—perhaps now more than ever—both for society and for the individuals who start companies. He argues that we can only do that by following an evidence-based approach that puts to rest the false narratives that surround it.

To learn more, visit The Unicorn’s Shadow.

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