Poets&Quants’ Top-Ranked Startup: Wildfire

Foster eventually wrote a mini-case study on Wildfire for the World Economic Forum and is planning a full case study for his class. But Chuard also took quite a few classes in design and human computer interaction outside the business school that helped him manage Wildfire’s software development, which was outsourced to Estonia.

At Harvard, Ransom picked up valuable insights from professors Joe Lassiter, who used Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing The Chasm to show how startups can become high performing ventures, and Tom Eisenmann, who taught Managing Networked Businesses. The latter course, now called The Online Economy, is an elective that examines strategies for platform-based businesses that leverage network effects. She also did an independent study with Eisenmann to help develop the idea of Wildfire.

When it came to funding their new venture, Chuard and Ransom largely bootstrapped, though Chuard’s Stanford classmate at Facebook made them aware of a Facebook Fund that led to a $100,000 grant in 2008-2009. It wasn’t until early 2010 when the pair raised $4 million in Series A funding from Summit Partners, Gary Vaynerchuk, 500 Startups, Felicis Ventures, and SoftTech VC that they had some big money to play with. Summit Partners ponied up another $10 million by the end of 2011 in a Series B funding.

“Business school connections did not help us to get access to funding because our business had enough traction that investors were coming to us,” recalls Ransom. “We were lucky. I bet it would have helped us. Had we not had that inbound interest, it would have been really helpful because a lot of people I know from HBS are in VC firms and by now they are quite senior.”

Their MBAs, however, did help establish instant credibility among investors. “When we were getting funding and you got to the bio page and it became clear we had gone to Harvard and Stanford,” adds Ransom. “It definitely felt like, ‘Alright, check, they are probably pretty smart.’ It’s not like that is going to sway someone one way than another. But it helps as a reference point, so it felt like it helped.”

Ransom believes they have yet to leverage the full value of the Harvard and Stanford alumni networks. “The funny thing about the network is I feel like the value of the network grows dramatically over time,” she says. “When you first graduate, all your classmates are like mid-level people in organizations. Then you start seeing this person who just started out at a VC firm become a partner. This other person who was toiling in their living room on a startup is now very successful and has a lot of contacts. And I bet over time that happens more and more. The person who aspires to go into politics is now a senator. So the value of that network grows over time and becomes a very strong advantage if you are tapped into that.”

Last year, when Google came calling, the search engine giant was one of several possible acquirers. “We were not looking for a deal,” says Ransom. “I feel like everybody says that, but in our case it is true. They came to us as did other acquirers. There was record consolidation in our industry in a very short period of time. It was the best possible dynamic. We had several acquirers all interested at the same time.”

When the deal was announced to employees on July 31, 2012, the room burst into applause. Employees leapt to their feet in a standing ovation and high-fived each other. For the MBA duo, it was a magic moment–not quite the end of a modern fairy tale but certainly the completion of another chapter in an unfolding success story.”

Chuard and Ransom, who have since married, say life at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA, has been good for them and their 400 employees. “I think Google is a fantastic company,” says Chuard. “Google changes the world and being part of that movement is really very exciting. I think we can play a big part in that.” Adds Ransom: “Google has huge customer relationships. They have unbelievable infrastructure. They have the smartest engineers in the world. Google has a sales office in every country in the world. You just have to figure out how to tap into that.”

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