StudentCity.com

Case details
About the author

Dr William Bygrave of the Arthur M Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, Babson College, USA, on StudentCity.com, written with Carl Hedberg.

Bill Bygrave & Carl Hedberg

Why StudentCity.com?

Here at the Arthur M Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, Babson College, we have comprehensive guidelines for preparing case proposals, which give advice to both faculty writing the cases and the principals of the case subjects. These guidelines aim to maximise the chances of cases being published and avoid the drain on resources of aborted cases. One guideline is to find case subjects that cover new curriculum territory or issues. I wanted to produce teaching materials that dealt with entrepreneurship as a career choice, how entrepreneurs gain experience, acquisition and buyback, strategy, merger, financing, harvesting, transitioning from a 'bricks and mortar' to a web-based business, all against the backdrop of the Internet boom and bust. I wanted to give students a sense of the commitment of an entrepreneur and how he/she must mature as a focused strategic leader and of the rewards he/she can reap. StudentCity.com offered me the opportunity to look at all these aspects in one case.

How was contact made?

Another of our case proposal guidelines stipulates that cases should be based on field research. This was no problem with StudentCity.com because the entrepreneur in the case, Mario Ricciardelli, had been an undergraduate student of mine. His first venture, in 1987, had been to start a travel agency on the Babson campus, which he continued with after graduation. My links with him have become closer over the years, as both a business mentor and family friend. This has led to a high level of mutual trust between us and that greatly facilitated the process of information gathering for the case. It also meant that we had his full co-operation in the process of writing and filming the accompanying video. As a general rule, the more open and frank a principal in the case can be, the greater the learning potential there is for the students of the case.

Making the video

At Babson we aim to provide a video and teaching note with every new case. We filmed Mario in a Q&A session with students immediately after the first teaching of StudentCity.com, which was the time he was the most spontaneous in his answers about the events of the case. At later meetings with students he began to rationalise his experiences to a greater extent, rather than retell them freshly. Future students can see and hear Mario on the video spontaneously answering questions only a few months after the case was written. We always try to help a visiting principal to establish a rapport with class students before this Q&A session by encouraging him/her to make notes of issues that arise during the class and the individuals who raise particular points. We always ask students and the principal to sign release forms immediately after the session. The video is then professionally edited and only the case writing faculty can make final edits.

The case itself leaves Mario just as he is trying to decide whether or not to follow advice and sell StudentCity.com. By the time we made the video, he had just sold the company and was staying as CEO. The major decision in the case and the outcome were still very fresh in Mario's mind, and he was beginning to experience life in his new role as CEO reporting to an executive of the company that had acquired StudentCity.com.

Any advice?

When writing a case, a good test of a principal's future willingness to be frank and open about the company is to ask, right at the outset, whether the faculty writing the case can see the company's financial statement. The response is generally a good indicator of future openness during the case development. As far as teaching the case is concerned, it would be best used near the end of a new ventures course. It could also be useful in an entrepreneurial finance course. 

Recommended background reading is Entrepreneurship by W Bygrave and A Zacharakis, NY: Wiley, 2007, up to and including chapter ten.

Case details

Click on the case title to view further details and, where available, an inspection copy.

StudentCity.com
William Bygrave and Carl Hedberg
Arthur M Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, Babson College
Ref 146-C05A-U
Also available:
Teaching note

Ref 146-T05A-U
Video

Ref 146-V05A-U

About the author

Dr William Bygrave is Professor Emeritus at the Arthur M Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, Babson College, USA. 
e bygrave@babson.edu

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