August 01, 2011
Entrepreneurship Lessons from VeggieTales
Posted by Christine Hurt

Like a lot of us, I've been traveling a lot this summer and have not been blogging the past few weeks.  My apologies. 

At the beginning of the summer, I read a book I had been wanting to read for a long time:  Me, Myself & Bob:  A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables.  The book tells the story of Phil Vischer, the creator of VeggieTales and Bob, the talking, singing, dancing tomato.  If you had children in the late 1990s, early 2000s, then you probably know of VeggieTales.  In these videos, vegetables appeared in stories that paralleled Old Testament stories or more general morality tales.  I knew that for awhile the videotapes and DVDs of these animated shows were ubiquitous, but I didn't know that in 1998, Big Idea (Vischer's privately-held corporation) sold 7 million VeggieTales videos or that Big Idea made the first 30-minute 3-D animated film.  I also didn't know until this year that Vischer lost Big Idea in bankruptcy, and the business (including Bob the tomato) was bought by Classic Media.  Here is an abbreviated version of the story; the book tells the whole thing.  One could chalk it up to the dot-com boom, but the story has a lot more to it.

The book touches on at least 3 themes, all of which are interesting to me:  (1) how does a company go from being a great small company to a great bigger company; (2) how does a company with a social goal avoid mission drift; and (3) how to discern what God wants you to dow with your professional life.  I'll leave #3 to some time when you catch me in person, but I'll touch on #1 and #2.

So VeggieTales was an amazingly successful small company, but tried to grow to be a bigger company.  Yes, we've all heard the stories of companies growing too big, too fast, but what does that mean?  For Big Idea, it meant that the cost-center parts of its budget grew a lot faster than the profit-centers.  HR went up, payroll went up, marketing went up, production values went up, expenses went up, but sales couldn't grow at the same rate.  Vischer talks about "Things I Learned #1:  Never Lose Sight of the Numbers" and "Things I Learned #2:  Ignore the Voice That Says "I Deserve It."  Vischer characterizes himself as a creative person and acknowledges that he lost sight of the numbers.  In his words, he was a Walt Disney who didn't have a Roy:  someone who could tell him when ideas were too expensive, too unrealistic.  He says good ventures have a Walt and a Roy.  If you read the book, you see the train going off the cliff (new fancy building, plans to have the first full-length 3-D animation movie), and you want to yell "Stop!"

The second point is one that my students and I talk alot about in my seminar Law and Microfinance.  How do pro-social firms maintain profits and even go public without losing sight of its mission or can they?  Vischer created VeggieTales because he wanted to provide children with Biblical entertainment that had one message:  God loves you.  During the rise of Nickelodeon and the Disney channel, Vischer felt called to counter what he saw as disturbing media influences on the youth.  As someone who had been obsessed with filmmaking, puppetry and animation his whole life, he thought he was in a position to change the world.  But, as the company grew and hired employees, he struggled with how to maintain this mission.  Some hires were in tune with the religious mission, but others were merely talented animators who wanted to live in Chicago rather than L.A.  Vischer wanted to keep everyone happy, so eventually none were and the watered-down mission that was left didn't inspire any of them.  Eventually, all of the top executives were against Vischer's original mission.

I recommend the book to anyone interested in animation, entrepreneurship or finding one's calling.  It reads very quickly.  Vischer is very funny.  After all, he did create talking vegetables.  One amusing tidbit:  I had always thought that VeggieTales stuck to the Old Testament to have a wider religious audience.  However, the real truth came from Vischer's mom, who told him that he couldn't do anything from the New Testament.  Jesus could not be a vegetable!

In case you're wondering what became of Phil Vischer, he now owns JellyTelly, which produces the fabulous and hilarious What's in the Bible.

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June 02, 2011
Law & Society: Mini-conferences on Entrepreneurship
Posted by Erik Gerding

If you are at Law & Society this Friday and Saturday, come to the mini-conference on Entrepreneuship & Law that Brian Broughman (Indiana - Maurer School of Law) and our own Gordon Smith (BYU) have organized.  Here is the line up:

Friday, June 3, 2011

8:15 am to 10:00 am Regulating Entrepreneurs 2122 (Chair: Brian Broughman)

  • Mira Ganor (Texas), The Power to Issue Stock
  • Erik Gerding (New Mexico), Shadow Banking, Financial Innovation, and Regulatory Arbitrage
  • Michelle Harner (Maryland), Mitigating Financial Risk for Entrepreneurs
  • Poonam Puri (Toronto), The Regulatory Burden of Corporate Law
  • Discussants: Kristin Johnson (Seton Hall) & Sarah Lawsky (UC Irvine)

12:30 pm to 2:15 pm Governance Structure of Entrepreneurial Firms 2322 (Chair: Brian Broughman) 

  • Brian Broughman (with (Jesse Fried & Darian Ibrahim), Delaware Law as Lingua Franca: Evidence from VC-Backed Startups
  • George Geis (Virginia), Organizational Contracting and Third Party Rights
  • Alicia Robb (Kauffman Foundation), Entrepreneurial Finance and Performance: A Transaction Cost Economics Approach
  • Discussant: Bobby Bartlett (UC Berkeley) 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

8:15 am to 10:00 am Law, Entrepreneurship, and Innovation 3116 (Chair: Gordon Smith)

  • Mike Burstein (Harvard), Exchanging Information without Intellectual Property
  • Sean O’Connor (Univ. of Washington), Transforming Professional Services to Build Regional Innovation Ecosystems
  • Peter Lee (UC Davis), The Accession Insight and Patent Infringement Remedies
  • Karl Okamoto (Drexel), Law and Entrepreneurship: An Assessment Approach

4:30 pm to 6:15 pm Global Entrepreneurship 3519 (Chair: Gordon Smith)


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February 08, 2011
Symposium at Ohio State on "The Big Squeeze: Small Business Financing During the Great Recession"
Posted by Erik Gerding

Our readers with an interest in entrepreneurship might be interested in a symposium being hosted by The Ohio State Entrepreneurial Business Law Journal on March 10, 2011 that will focus on the damage that the financial crisis has inflicted on the ability of small businesses to raise capital.  Details are here.

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October 14, 2010
"We have always focused on the market. The size of the market. The dynamics of the market. The nature of the competition."
Posted by Gordon Smith

Legendary VC Don Valentine tries to explain his success. Why the obsession with the market?

"Because our objective always was to build big companies. If you don't attack a big market, it's highly unlikely you're ever going to build a big company."

An elegant explanation of how to change the world.

P.S. Valentine tells a story (start around 50:00) about Sandy Lerner's termination from Cisco. You might be interested if you know Urban Decay. He describes her as "tough beyond all comparison." Hmm.

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October 01, 2010
The Social Network is a Great Movie for Transactional Lawyers
Posted by Gordon Smith

Is it possible to have a spoiler when the story is this well known? If you don't want to know what's in the movie, don't read this post.

The Social Network begins with a frenetic exchange between Mark Zuckerberg and his soon-to-be-former girlfriend, Rachel Something, who becomes a Rosebud for the creation of Facebook. Later in the movie, Rachel utters the memorably stupid line, "The Internet's not written in pencil, Mark. It's written in ink," but that was one of the few missteps in this script. 

While the supporting actors are terrific, this movie depends on Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg, and Eisenberg is terrific. I will leave the serious movie reviews to others (including Christine and Larry, who seem to have a good thing going at Illinois), but I wanted to note that The Social Network is a fabulous movie for lawyers, particularly transactional lawyers.

One of the main threads of the story is Zuckerberg's alleged theft of the Facebook idea from Cameron Winklevoss, Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra, which I blogged about over three years ago when it led to litigation. Another thread is Zuckerberg's conflict with Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin, which involves an attempted dilution of Severin's shares. Then there is the angel investment by Peter Thiel and the distributions of shares to various other people, including Dustin Moskovitz, whose important role in developing Facebook is cheated in the film.

In the end, however, this film is only about one person. And his Idea. That Idea is at the heart of Facebook and the movie, and watching people grasp for a piece of it is what makes this movie fun.

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April 27, 2010
Lemonade Day: Did Regulation Kill the Lemonade Stand?
Posted by Christine Hurt

Our town, Champaign, IL, is participating in Lemonade Day, a program designed to encourage entrepreneurship in children.  Here is the Champaign Lemonade Day site.  Our eight-year-old is hosting a stand with his fellow second-grade buddy and his little brother.  (I have to admit that the other boys' mom has done everything, and I've done absolutely nothing to make this happen.  And, she's an OB-GYN, and she just had her fourth child.  Not that I am competitive or guilt-ridden or anything.)

Anyway, they participated in the best-tasting lemonade contest last weekend and will host their lemonade stand in front of our house on Sunday, May 2.  They did a run-through a few weeks ago and made $60.  All of their proceeds will go to Salt & Light here in Champaign.

So, here is the value I'm adding -- there are too many rules.  I have added value by pointing this out. Here are the health & safety rules for hosting a lemonade stand as part of Lemonade Day.  After I buy new pitchers with lids and a canopy, I can teach the boys a little about start-up cost barriers of regulation.  During our run-through, we sold homemade brownies, cupcakes and cookies.  Without a license.  Maybe I'll add value by drafting a waiver.

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March 09, 2010
Pandora & Entrepreneurship
Posted by Christine Hurt

Forget Facebook with their Waiting for Godot IPO teasing!  Pandora may be going public

I'm a medium Pandora fan.  My colleague Tom Ulen showed it to me in Fall 2008, and I use it once a week or so.  If you live under a rock, Pandora (and it's competitor Slacker) let you create your own streaming radio station by plugging in an artist or a song title -- then the algorithms pick songs that would fit that artist or initial song.  You cannot ask the station to play a particular song, however.  I listen to music mostly when I'm running, though, and I can't take the uncertainty.  If I need something to inspire me to finish strong, Pandora may give me something less than inspiring.  Once I set up a "Thriller" station, and I had "Don't Stop Believing" followed by "Don't Stand So Close to Me."  That made me wonder if the algorithm used as a characteristic "the first six letters in the title."

What I found interesting about the article, though, was it's description of the founder, Tim Westergren, and his search for capital during its pretty lean first 10 years.  The article quotes one of his eventual venture capital investors as saying

“The pitch that he gave wasn’t that interesting,” Mr. Marcus said. “But what was incredibly interesting was Tim himself. We could tell he was an entrepreneur who wasn’t going to fail.”

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November 27, 2009
Law, Entrepreneurship & Society: A Call for Papers
Posted by Gordon Smith

I posted this in October, but I am moving it up as a reminder ...

Darian Ibrahim, Brian Broughman, and I are organizing a "conference within a conference" for the next Law & Society Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois on May 27-30, 2010. The LSA's call for papers is here. Our goal is to assemble several paper panels of scholars who are doing work relating to law and entrepreneurship (broadly defined). We welcome not only legal scholars, but also scholars in other disciplines.

While much of the work at LSA is empirical -- and we encourage the submission of such proposals -- we also encourage other proposals.

This year the LSA is soliciting proposals for projects in the early stage of development that could be presented at work-in-progress sessions. We would be interested in developing a proposal for such a session focused on law and entrepreneurship, so please feel free to submit such projects to us.

You may submit a proposal to any of us via email, but as a default matter, please send your proposal to Gordon Smith by November 30, 2009.

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November 17, 2009
Just a little patience . . .
Posted by Erik Gerding

Here is a new economics paper that might be of interest to Gordon and the rest of you out there interested in law & entrepreneurship: Azoulay et al., "Incentives and Creativity: Evidence from the Academic Life Sciences". Here is the abstract:

Despite its presumed role as an engine of economic growth, we know surprisingly little about the drivers of scientific creativity. In this paper, we exploit key differences across funding streams within the academic life sciences to estimate the impact of incentives on the rate and direction of scientific exploration. Specifically, we study the careers of investigators of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which tolerates early failure, rewards long-term success, and gives its appointees great freedom to experiment; and grantees from the National Institutes of Health, which we are subject to short review cycles, pre-defined deliverables, and renewal policies unforgiving of failure. Using a combination of propensity-score weighting and difference-in-differences estimation strategies, we find that HHMI investigators produce high-impact papers at a much higher rate than two control groups of similarly-accomplished NIH-funded scientists. Moreover, the direction of their research changes in ways that suggest the program induces them to explore novel lines of inquiry.

What might this mean for law? Shooting from my hip, it might imply that companies that are subject to short-term pressures to produce (either because of the types of investors, the incentives of managers, or incentives created by corporate law) might produce less long term innovation. Any thoughts, Gordon, on what might be the results of a study of similar start-up companies backed by v.c. funds with different horizons?

What might this mean should law firms invest more in r&d? The best results may require a longer gestation.

Something for scholars to think about too in our own scholarship.

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September 12, 2009
Securities Law Impediments to Entrepreneurship
Posted by Darian Ibrahim

My research has focused on how sophisticated entrepreneurial parties – including angel investors, venture capitalists, venture lenders, and entrepreneurs – structure their relations, and how the corporate, securities, and commercial laws respond to their unique needs. In my venture debt paper, I discuss how lender liability and equitable subordination rules shape venture lender practices. In this post, I’ll focus on the securities laws.

First, there’s the exit structure of venture capital (with credit to Gordon for an excellent paper of the same name). In the past, hot IPOs allowed VCs to return big gains to their fund investors. In this recent public policy proposal (click on the Apr. 29, ’09 doc), the National Venture Capital Association laments that there were only six IPOs total in the U.S. in 2008. The securities laws aren’t helping the situation. As Larry Ribstein and others have observed, the costs of going public thanks to Sarbanes-Oxley have dampened the IPO market, and there’s a legal minefield we teach in the securities course known as the gun-jumping rules that makes the IPO process far more cumbersome and error-prone than the process for seasoned public offerings. Sure, a start-up needs to provide more disclosure than Microsoft, but it’s not like no one has vetted these companies. They have been subject to rigorous and repeat scrutiny from (venture) capital markets from their inception. Why are the gun-jumping rules so complex?

Second, long before exit, private placement rules and broker-dealer laws might be impeding optimal levels of funding from angel investors, the precursor to venture capital. In my last paper, Financing the Next Silicon Valley, I explored both the ban on general solicitations in private placements and the reach of the broker-dealer laws to see whether angels had reason to fear the application of these laws to their activities. I concluded that there is a plausible case that the letter of these laws, if not the spirit, are indeed violated by routine angel group practices. First, when entrepreneurs approach angels (and VCs) without a “preexisting relationship,” as they do whenever they send a business plan cold, there appears to be a general solicitation. This leads to a host of potentially bad outcomes including recission rights, dissuading follow-on VC financing, and delaying an IPO. Second, when individual angels take the lead on a start-up’s due diligence for their group and receive extra stock in the start-up as compensation, they arguably fit within the definition of a broker-dealer. I can’t imagine that the broker-dealer laws were meant to apply to this situation, and granted the SEC hasn't enforced either of the laws I mention (to my knowledge), but the cloud of uncertainty they hang over angel group practice certainly isn’t enticing more angel investments, at least according to my sources.

Bottom line: with our traditional economic engines like Wall Street finance and the auto industry in crisis, we need start-ups more than ever, and there won't be start-ups without angels and VCs. Market forces have already hit these investors hard; the securities laws shouldn’t exacerbate the problem. The SEC and Congress should re-examine these laws and ease up a bit to help keep our entrepreneurial culture going strong.

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September 01, 2009
Debt is Sexy
Posted by Darian Ibrahim

Thanks to Gordon for his nice words about my new paper on venture debt, and for his great help whipping it into present form (a new version just went up on SSRN). When I started the paper, I remember a friend warning me that “debt is not sexy.” Worse, the financial crisis has given debt a bad rap. Yes, consumers may take on too much debt, but don’t believe all the naysayers. Debt is awesome. It is extremely important in financial markets. Even in the start-up world my paper explores, where equity from angel investors and venture capitalists dominates, the use of debt makes for a fascinating story. Start-up companies have no track records, no positive cash flows, no tangible collateral, and no personal guarantees from entrepreneurs, yet are able to attract billions of dollars in loans each year. How is that possible? Read the paper to find out. Long live debt!

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June 09, 2008
"There is no secret sauce"
Posted by Gordon Smith

Anne Miner is giving the opening remarks at a conference entitled "Technology Entrepreneurship and Institutions: Contemporary and International Research," which is being held at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A trip back home for me, and a nice reunion with Anne, Masado Ueda, Timo Goeschl, and others.

Anne's central point -- one that I heard her make often during my time in Madison -- is that  entrepreneurship scholarship of the sort she is interested in promoting is not like car repair. The point of entrepreneurship scholarship of this sort is not to produce a how-to manual, but to understand the forces that drive entrepreneurial behavior. Of course, causal theories are nice, and as we develop them, society will benefit. But we shouldn't expect to find a "secret sauce" that can turn any region into the next Silicon Valley. Indeed, Anne asserts that there is no secret sauce.

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June 04, 2008
Growth Blog
Posted by Fred Tung

Two economists at the Kauffman Foundation, Robert Litan and Tim Kane, have started Growthology, a new blog on entrepreneurship and economic growth.  Gotta love the name.  The Kauffman Foundation announcement is here.

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January 17, 2008
Irish Entrepreneurship
Posted by Gordon Smith

The NYT suggests that Ireland's recent entrepreneurial success is the "culmination of nearly four decades of government policies." Here's the formula:

The government rewrote its tax policies to attract foreign investment by American corporations, made all education free through the university level and changed tax rates and used direct equity investment to encourage Irish people to set up their own businesses.

In addition, there was the fact that Ireland is a member of the European Union. What, exactly, has the EU contributed?

One reason for many changes in Ireland is its membership in the European Union, which has brought new perspectives and regulations from its governing councils in Brussels.

New perspectives and regulations? "Perspectives" seems to refer to the fact that some Irish entrepreneurs are transcending Ireland's borders. Of course, that is not just a matter of perspective, but a matter of free movement of goods and services across EU member state borders.

The EU "regulations" referred to in the story aren't new rules designed to promote entrepreneurship, but rather new rules that, for example, aim to improve worker health and safety, thus creating business opportunities for compliance firms. One firm's burden, another firm's treasure.

Of course, all of the EU benefits inure to every member state, so what makes Ireland special? Is it really just a matter of reducing taxes, providing free higher education, and making direct government equity investments? This paper suggests a more complex answer for Ireland:

Regional transformation through technology-based entrepreneurship cannot be easily measured by solely by 'tangible' resource input factors such as access to seed capital or telecommunications infrastructure. Instead, it is important that policy makers need to recognize the importance of fostering a 'bottom-up' approach towards technology-based entrepreneurship especially the role of 'intangibles' such as role models, culture towards risk and failure, and leadership in stimulating technology based entrepreneurship in regions.

I am not trying to suggest that the academics are spot on about Ireland while the NYT reporters are hopeless simpletons. But I believe that finding the root causes of entrepreneurship is a difficult task. In the end, I tend to give more credit to the accounts that describe a stew with many ingredients than the linear cause-and-effect stories.

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May 21, 2007
Law & Entrepreneurship Retreat
Posted by Gordon Smith

Yesterday at the University of Wisconsin Law School, a group of legal scholars gathered to discuss "law and entrepreneurship." Anne Miner, my colleague in the UW Business School, launched the day with a discussion of "What is Entrepreneurship?" in which she mapped to progression of that field of study. Here I am with Anne after her session:


The morning was devoted to teaching law and entrepreneurship, and the afternoon was filled with paper presentations. In between, we took an impromptu hike along Lake Mendota:

Left to right: Vic Fleischer, Mike Guttentag, Usha Rodrigues, Bob Lawless, Gordon Smith, Darian Ibrahim, George Geis, Bobby Bartlett, and Brian Broughman.

At the end of afternoon session, Mike Guttentag provided the recap of what we had learned, though I am not sure you can get that from the whiteboard:


We finished the day on Capitol Square at The Old-Fashioned, which provided an authentic Wisconsin experience, including fried cheese curds. Dan Burk, who will be speaking at the companion conference entitled Technology Entrepreneurship & Institutions: Contemporary & International Research, met us for dinner.


A good time was had by all.

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