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Research

My research focuses on entrepreneurial strategy, particularly how startups scale and why there are international differences in scaling. Specifically, it assesses the role of strategic decision-making and digital technologies in driving convergence and divergence in entrepreneurial growth around the world.

Publications

Can accelerators pick the most promising startup ideas no matter their provenance? Using unique data from a global accelerator where judges are randomly assigned to evaluate startups headquartered across the globe, we show that judges are less likely to recommend startups headquartered outside their home region by 4 percentage points. Back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest this discount leads judges to pass over 1 in 20 promising startups. Despite this systematic discount, we find that—in contrast to many past studies—judges can discern startup quality and are no better at evaluating local firms. These differences emerge because the pool of startups accelerator judges evaluate is both broader and less “local,” suggesting that judging ability depends on the composition of the companies they are tasked with evaluating.

This is the first study to consider the relationship between open source software (OSS) and entrepreneurship around the globe. This study measures whether country-level participation on the GitHub OSS platform affects the founding of innovative ventures, and where it does so, for what types of ventures. We estimate these effects using cross-country variation in new venture founding and OSS participation. We propose an approach using instrumental variables, and cannot reject a causal interpretation. The study finds that an increase in GitHub participation in a given country generates an increase in the number of new technology ventures within that country in the subsequent year. The evidence suggests this relationship is complementary to a country’s endowments, and does not substitute for them. In addition to this positive change in the rate of entrepreneurship, we also find a change in direction—OSS contributions lead to new ventures that are more mission- and global-oriented and are of a higher quality. Together, the results suggest that OSS can boost entrepreneurial activity, albeit with a human capital prerequisite. We consider the implications for policies that encourage OSS as a lever for stimulating entrepreneurial growth.

Selected Working Papers

Can strategy help startups compensate for constraints in local endowments like venture capital, market size, and talent pools that prior work finds important for startup performance? This paper addresses this question by interviewing executives of 253 scaling software ventures from over 30 economies and scoring the alignment of their market and organizational choices to detect whether they have a strategy, developing the first dataset of its kind. The study finds that having a strategy negatively moderates the relationship between HQ city and economy endowments and startup performance. This effect is concentrated among startups in more irreversible circumstances. The results suggest that strategy is a substitute for local endowments, with the potential to help startups overcome resource scarcities that constrain growth around the world.

Does participating in open source software (OSS) communities spur entrepreneurial growth? More efficiently developing shared code, learning from what the OSS community has developed, and shaping the direction of massive projects, such as those linked to frameworks for AI algorithms, attract many participants. Yet, contributing valuable resources to OSS, such as time and code, might give away too much, making it more difficult for firms to appropriate value from innovations. To gain a deeper understanding of participation, we analyze novel data matching accounts from GitHub—the largest OSS hosting platform—to the universe of global software venture-backed firms identified by PitchBook. We find a robustly positive relationship between OSS contributions and entrepreneurial growth, driven by both selection and treatment effects. The treatment effects account for roughly one-third of the overall impact: firms that increase GitHub contributions—in terms of the number of lines of code and number of users contributing—see an increase in their valuation and funding. Human capital, OSS policies, and market size moderate the statistical relationship between contributing to OSS and valuations, suggesting that OSS complements supply-side and demand-side country endowments. This research reveals that contributing to OSS can lead to entrepreneurial growth worldwide, with implications for policy and entrepreneurial strategy.

Attracting early adopters in new markets is crucial for startup growth. But it is not clear where startups should test to learn about demand in these markets. While testing with existing users can offer them clearer and cheaper signals, testing with new market ones can offer more transferable ones. This begs the question: (When) Do startups that test in existing or new markets attract more new market early adopters? I test this question in the context of international decisions on a digital product platform where startups post their early-stage products to attract early adopters from around the world. Taking advantage of variation in feature timing, I find that startups that test with a higher share of existing (local country) users initially attract more new market (foreign country) early adopters after they feature on the platform. This effect magnifies among startups headquartered in countries where fewer languages are spoken, making local signals clearer, but only when they are in product categories with small differences in tastes between countries where these signals are more transferable. Consistent with the idea that testing with local users gives clearer signals that improve product development, a supplementary experiment reveals that evaluators give higher ratings to products of startups that tested locally. Together, this study reveals that testing in an existing market can attract new market demand in more homogeneous contexts where signals are clearer but still transferable.

Wright, Nataliya Langburd and Laura Huang. “When the Journey—And Not Just the Destination—Matters:

How Internationalization Shapes Entrepreneurial Experimentation."

Internationalization—gaining exposure to cross-border markets—is often the result of an entrepreneur’s experimentation and strategy around their core business. Scholars have shown how entrepreneurs develop products or services, and after achieving some traction, turn to international markets to help them continue growing and scaling their businesses. Yet, what may be neglected in this prior work is how internationalization may not always be the result of—but instead the catalyst to—new information, entrepreneurial discovery and sensemaking, and important developments in an entrepreneur’s core business. Through an inductive field study of 84 entrepreneurs across 27 countries in the global technology industry, we examine how internationalization influences the entrepreneurial process and the profound effect that it has on how entrepreneurs identify and exploit opportunities. We find that internationalization shapes the way these entrepreneurs engage in experimentation, and in turn, how they define their business. We propose a process model that sheds light on how entrepreneurs (a) define, (b) scope, and (c) externally validate ideas based on their international exposure—a process that aids them in creating and capturing value. Our findings show how cross-border markets may offer unanticipated information to entrepreneurs, which adjusts their perceived choice sets and helps them ultimately define their business, contributing to research on experimentation and internationalization and new theory on how cross-border exposure shapes innovation and growth.

New AI technology now makes it easier to send signals of quality, whether it be in a job application or a startup pitch. This study is the first to assess how AI changes the informational value of such signals. We theorize that AI could either increase or decrease information transmission, depending on whether AI complements or substitutes prior signaling ability. In experiments in entrepreneurship and hiring settings, we find that generative AI (ChatGPT) lowers information transmission by 2% on average and increases demand for costlier, more objective signals both by senders and receivers. Information loss is stronger for senders with lower ex-ante signaling ability for our tasks, including senders from lower-income countries. These results are consistent with a model of AI as a substitute for ex-ante signaling ability.

Wright, Nataliya Langburd and Ed Saiedi.“How startups scale into new markets: Large-scale evidence from digital language tools”

Technology startups often scale by entering new markets. Doing so nearly at once as a full commitment allows them to gain more users to spur network effects, while doing so experimentally by staging market entries enables more learning. (When) do startups expand into new markets as full commitments or experimentally? We assess this question in the context of international expansion decisions. As the first study to track digital startup internationalization worldwide, we use BuiltWith data of website language tool adoption by nearly 50,000 software firms from 2001-2022. Startups, on average, adopt foreign language tools gradually across their lifecycle, even from smaller markets and with platform business models (characterized by network effects). Experimentation by smaller market startups with greater expansion incentives predicts greater internationalization. These results suggest that startups pursue market expansion experimentally.

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