i think it depends on the company ability to succeed in the long term, a brilliant developer is a great start, but no one said he is not a personal contributor... i would say if the its a one man show it should be a product manager, he has technical abilities, management and customer facing...
I think your mix is good, but is missing THE most important ingredient.
You MUST have a LEADER who has an incredible sense of the VALUE that the product delivers to the customer.
Not someone with "vision," at a high level, but someone with an extreme practicality and sensibility for the customer at the product level who can create, adapt and evolve the idea as you get feedback from customers and ultimately hone it to the service that makes them crazy for it.
(this is not usability)
It is similar to the CTO/developer analogy...you must have the more practical problem solver for the customer, otherwise you are just churning out code and generating inbound traffic, but not necessarily creating real value for the customer.
Some longer term thoughts on creating products with lasting value here...
I respectfully disagree. If the startup is a "one person show", then I don't see how having anyone *other* than someone who can write the product can build the business.
Not saying that programming is the only skill needed. Most solo entrepreneurs need to have a mix of other things too.
Great post. I believe that a developer is more than needed in the founding team. On the contrary, I believe that you can actually outsource the design work, if you have someone with ux experience in the team to guide it.
Also I think that product&business developer are extremely important. I see too many "great products" that lead nowhere, because nobody is willing to pay for it.
But totally agree on the inbound marketer, greatly needed to start with, but as much as the sales guy.
I agree, on paper, that these functions are probably ordered correctly. However, founding teams are (IMHO) more about personalities and relationships.
Structuring co-founder teams this way is extremely difficult, instead a team should focus on good personality and leadership fit.
These 4 roles should be treated as the hiring list for most consumer internet startups. If your founding team is missing some, they become your first hires.
If a stellar developer has a great working relationship with someone who's not Design oriented, there's no need for them to feel that they might be somehow less effective as a founding team. They just need to get MVP out ASAP, and then focus on getting $$ in for a great design hire.
Inline tweeting... what a great idea. I only thought of it yesterday, but didn't figure when to implement. Now I don't need to!
Anyway, Joel York has a critical point: somebody has to lead the project in a direction customers find interesting enough to open their wallets for.
Happy to see a designer here high up on the founding team, partly because I think what a designer brings to the table is an unswavering focus on your audience, your users, and a suite of techniques for innovating with your future users at the center.
A devigner = develpper AND designer. The name is nice but it doesn't exist : either you are a good developper either a good designer, I never met someone who can do both, it doesn't exist...
@Joel, @Javier, I agree with you both. A great sense of business and marketing is necessary so you don't build a solution in search of a problem.
As you said, too many techno entrepreneur think they have a great idea (which is often the case, but doesn't matter) and that just by being there, people will come.
Developers can be found for very cheap on Elance and similar freelance sites. If you can write up what the product is supposed to do in detail, you can get it done easily. You can also use WordPress or Drupal to develop a site quickly with almost no technical knowledge.
If I had $10,000 to start a web company, I would spend countless hours, days and weeks on product research and writing the specs, and then I would spend $1,000 on the design, $1,000 on the development, and $8,000 on marketing (SEO, PPC, social media).
sorry, guys... startups are all about cash flow and getting a product on the street very quickly to generate some form of continuing revenue. You need someone who understands money in the mx... that there is a payroll that has to be met every two weeks and the payroll taxes have to be paid... etc. Tech guys are ok but there needs to be a business head somewhere in the mix ... from the beginning.
Ah yes, keep inflating the ego of the developer.
The Leader or the business developer is for me the most valuable founder. All the other functions Can be hired but if you dont have the guy WHO knows that its probably good to hire a specific person at a specific point for a specific task then you end up with nothing
Thanks Dharmesh for speaking your mind rather than drinking the koolaid from the bandwagon with so many others.
I think you're absolutely right that the key members of a founding team are those that can produce the most immediate and substantial value, and that means 1) product, followed by 2) audience, resulting in 3) sales. Since most of us understand that user experience is as important, if not more important, than the engineering wizardry (twitter q.e.d.), that means a developer and a designer (this means user experience pro, an not illustrator guru). Adding inbound marketing and sales just means that you can accelerate those processes earlier, assuming your product can keep up, that is.
Leadership, this wonderful quality that everyone loves to tout as THE MOST CAPITALIZED QUALITY BECAUSE OF ITS IMPORTANCE is nothing more than having the commitment to work hard, the personality to adapt, and the maturity to admit one's own imperfection. If people want to call that "leadership," that's fine, but you had better hope *each and every founder* has this kind of leadership in their bones - the founders that don't are liabilities, not assets.
I agree on your other roles, but would insert a business/operations person in third position. After the designer and developer have a firm idea of what they want to do, someone with some business experience is invaluable in helping shepherd them through the next steps, including choosing the subsequent hires and managing financial matters. This person need not be full-time, and is often filled by an angel, but they should be an integral part of the founding team. Just think about how many mistakes have been made and money has been lost by well-intentioned novices who made basic mistakes because they just didn't know any better, and didn't know what questions to ask.
What about the 'business and money' person? Mundane as it sounds, every business needs someone who's focus is the business, and not necessarily the product. Raising capital, managing cash flow and maintaining the business details (legal, accounting, tax, partnerships) is every bit as important and has to be done properly from the very start. This is not a bookkeeper, and can be part of another founder's role, but to be sure few businesses survive without the business leader.
Several of the comments suggest 'buying' the missing talent. If your development or marketing team spends their time raising money to buy and manage talent, then where is the product and what are they marketing?
Start-ups are exciting, while business management & accounting generally are not, but you risk factor goes way up without their active participation in getting the business off the ground.
Here we go again, putting an elitist in charge of creating entrepreneurs. I think that it's awfully nice of you pigeon-hole all of the entrepreneurs in the world into your neat, small and limiting package.
The reality is entrepreneurs come in all shapes, sizes, skill-sets and backgrounds. Their business accumen is usually best seasoned by experience with a lot of road-rash along the way and WE NEED THEM ALL. NOT JUST THE FEW THAT FIT YOUR MOLD.
Thank God not all entrepreneurs have been blessed with your narrowly focused view of who should become what when they grow up.
The founder has the vision and the leadership. There is no reason that the founder can't farm out the work that he/she doesn't want to do, or is not capable of doing. The leader takes their vision and gets the team, either full time or part time, moving in the right direction.
Nice article. While I believe developers are important, my experience says there must be a cohesiveness and good working relationship between the developer and all other team members. The greatest problem I've seen is with creating great code, but never getting it off the ground. Great code without a place in the market is pretty useless until someone can articulate at least 2 things; 1) what's the value to a customer, and 2) how can we market and sell it properly.
All the team members are important, and maybe you could add a few. I'm not sure I agree with the order, though. If the team can't get along, you'll need some C-Level experience to guide the team together. Someone who has the experience in the industry you're trying to penetrate, and the wisdom to work the pieces he has together for success; not an easy task.
And hopefully, you don't run into the classic problem of having to tell the developer, "stop coding already and lets get this product to market so we can sell it". :-) Developers and Visionaries are great, but sometimes need to be "encouraged" that there are strategic points in all projects where "something" needs to be published...otherwise you're back on the street looking for more action.
Great article. Thanks for putting it together.
you need someone who has strategic vision and skillset, regardless of their other contributions; otherwise you'll just be stumbling around. Man or woman, Sharel.
And who will pay the bills? Does this group of 4 fund itself? Is their goal to play with their ideas for free? The first thing a start-up needs is the a VALUABLE idea. The very next thing is someone who knows how to raise cash and operate a business. The ideal person would be a "jack of all trades" someone who can act as the CFO / COO / Legal counsel. Most of the founding teams I encounter make the unfortunate mistake of trusting outside advisers with their future. A founding team should include a legal mind that will protect the interests, stock options, and income of the technical team in a way that allows them to focus on their task of crating the product or service that will make them all rich. Only by including a legal mind in the founders team, can such a team be sure that their interest will be protected through rounds of funding. the team described above will end up diluted, or ousted as soon as there is any real value to the thing they originally created.
Thanks for the provocation Dharmesh. As a self styled leader and marketer, I wish this weren't the right order, but I think you're right, at least for a web startup. I liken a web startup to a boat: when you're boat only has 1-3 rowing, it doesn't take a leader to change directions because the entire team can see where you're going. Similarly, throwing time and money at sales and marketing should be avoided until the product is worth buying. Great post.
Including a seasoned business operations person in the startup mix to build the business infrastructure and run the business during this time is crucial. A great operations person allows all the other team members to focus on their work an not on the surprising number of tasks that are related to administration.
Interesting article - interesting comments. While I think this article is insightful, the title is flawed.
You're assuming each of these roles need to be in place to have a "winning" team... and given "founder" status ---
The hierarchy of these roles is also flawed. As the company grows so does the demand for each position and they shift constantly.
This article should be called "how to run a start up with as little money as possible" considering you don't have to pay yourself to build your site if you're a developer.
Each of these positions can be "hired"... it all depends on the idea person (aka the person who pays the bills) and if they have a clear vision on what the company can do, is going and how to get there.
If you hire the right people, you can do anything. If you hire the wrong people, they will be easy to replace and you won't have to worry about "founder" status... keep it clean. You won't regret it.
So much for the software engineer's view of the perfect team.
It is difficult to read your words without eliciting not just disagreement but anger. Anger only because your words may actually influence the inexperienced who believe what you say.
The most important and necessary characteristic of a founder or team of founders is leadership (the need for a leader). In the absence of leadership little can happen except by accident. To choose "Developer" as the definitive requirement of a one person start-up is the equivalent of choosing "golfer" as the differentiator to be a successful surgeon.
I am so impressed that you included a marketing person as the number three person. The tech side gets so much airtime (understandably) and often marketing is just seen as a subset of sales -- would love to see a post sometime from you on the role of marketing in a web startup. Or perhaps you've done this? By the way, I am not a marketer (except for how this plays out in my work in general).
Let's just hope that one of these founders is also a great leader or smart enough to know when it's time to hire one.
Thanks everyone for your comments.
One point of clarification: I'm not suggesting that founders don't need to have business skills, some leadership skills and lots of passion. I take that as a given. Without those, nothing works.
I'm focused on the underlying "core talents" of the founders, especially when there can be only a limited number of people (as is the case in the early, early days).
I'm on a start-up team, background in sales/marketing/systems admin, and I have a UI guru, a devel manager, and a sales guy on my team. We purposefully shut out any coders from our start-up team because the available ones tend to have egos that hurt the project and an unwillingness to understand the rest of the business or to work with tools they that are most suitable for the project but that they are not as comfortable with. We are going outside to hire a system architect for $1K, spending about $2K on the UI, and spending tens of thousands on third-party development of the application. We intend to hire a programmer during/after beta testing.
I've only known one company personally that was started by a developer - ultimately successful company, once the founder was bought out and a professional manager brought in to grow the company.
Hmmm, that really depends on the startup and what you're building and who you're selling it to.
If you are building a cloud tools company, for example, you don't need inbound marketing - your target audience could fit into a high school basketball arena. Etc....
I would have said you need a tech guy and a business guy as the minimum team - both of them should be brilliant at hiring great people in their sides of the house.
It all depends on the business model of the startup. If it is a bootstrap model, you need an owner entrepreneur with a few paying clients to solve a real problem with real market. I would say that it is about who you can do without. A committed developer is absolutely a must, the designer can wait until you are making the payroll.
Great post. I agree that whatever the product, product creation and development are vital. With that said, other critical requirements are driven by our objectives.
If our objective is to simply create a great new product and sell it to someone else, then product development is the only thing that really matters. For most start-ups, however, it is also about creating and building a “business”. If we’re looking to do the latter, it also requires “product”, “people” and “processes”.
At some point early on, we have to recognize that we also must build the foundation of our business. It’s defining who we are as a company; what we stand for; the problems we can solve for our customers; the kind of culture we need to create; the organizational and operational processes that will enable us to actually be the company we desire it to be.
That means it’s imperative we also have a strong business “leader” with the breadth and depth of business acumen that will help transform our great product into a great company. (I suspect that more start-ups fail not because of their “product” but because of their lack of experience or bandwidth to successfully build a business.)
It truly doesn't matter about anyone on the team without a great visionary, an extraordinary idea, and a massive set of human balls.
I agree on 1 and 2 cause you do need a product before you can get anywhere.
However I think the third leg really needs to be more of a General Manager and have a vision about how to get the product or service to the market. Like a lot of folks have mentioned, there are business issues from day one, and you can’t ignore them or they will consume you eventually
Like many have said, there have been many great products that have wilted away and many average products that have been market leaders.
Here's my checklist for you on that perfect someone:
1. Understands the problem you are trying to solve deeply and is not only willing to engage early adopter prospects and convert them to customers, but enjoys the interaction. This will also provide value when dealing with Press and Analysts. You can’t create content without the knowledge you get from customers.
2. Understands Cash Flow, not financing, you can get plenty of help with that when you get revenue. Basic Cash flow, how much do you have and how long will it last and what can we sell to lengthen the time before it runs out. Organic growth is the only real growth, and revenue is the only organic growth.
3. Understands the difference between a feature request and a sales objection, and how that impacts a development schedule. If someone wants a screen to be blue they need to understand why, and if that blue screen will be interesting to other prospects. If it is interesting to other prospects, how many, what is the revenue impact, how long will it take to develop and what impact does that have on other existing development commitments.
4. Someone who understands support enough to track what are the biggest issues, how are they fixed, can development time be spent to correct them, or will better documentation solve the problem. Since development will involved in early support you have to manager this carefully, cause some developers want perfect code and will spend too many hours fixing problems for the noisiest customers, not necessarily the most valuable.
5. Someone who can identify market segments that can be easily identified and communicated with. This goes way back to the old Crossing the Chasm, finding a beachhead and securing a Flagship account that can be replicated easily.
The idea of create the content and they will come has been proven over and over too be ineffective, the people who want to charge you BIG $$$ for SEO, PPC, Paid Search may tell you differently.
15 years of Web and 30 years of Software Experience tells me that you have to engage your prospects in meaningful dialog first, then you may be able to start creating valuable content that you have to continually refine to make sure you are attracting the right activity.
Too many unqualified leads is worse than no leads at all, takes money and time to manage them and you get little in return.
So that third person has to be able to communicate with Prospects, Customers, Press, Analysts, Potential Partners, and be able to dissect that communication and relay the important parts back to the other team members honestly.
@ian: How would someone know if they (or one of their potential co-founders) is a "great visionary"? Also, I agree that founders need the ability to take calculated risks, I prefer not to characterize it as needing "large balls" -- women make great entrepreneurs.
The developer makes it big is certainly a sexy story - but not the only story. Timing, luck, execution, natural curiousity, drive and much more are what matter most - not necessarily the role.
You don't have to BE the developer, but you have to fundamentally understand the tech (whatever it is).
"Today, a great product with good marketing usually wins over a good product with great marketing."
I smiled when I read this - I would like to believe it as well. But people make choices all the time that have everything to do with marketing, and little to do with product quality. It's just not true.
I think you've mixed a vital role in with the designer. That is the role of solving a problem or need the target user has. You've out this in with the designer, and I'm not sure why. A designer creates the UI, the look, the feel which are all crucial but is not the same as actually coming up with the idea and vision behind the site. That is the #1 most important part of a startup and it could come from ANY of the roles you list. In fact many of the startups we are all familiar with today were founded by a developer who had the vision. How can you have a one man team, with a developer and no vision? This statement, "take a problem that humans have and come up with a software solution that humans want to use — repeatedly and delightedly." should also be in the developer section.
I agree with the post. One founder must hands on with the technology who can understand real time problems and deliver end user friendly product.
But second founder should be in sales. Its true that starups don’t need a VP of Sales — they need actual sales. Who can sale the product in the market and generate revenues.
Even sometime bad product with good sales wins over great products with ordinary sales.
Lot of examples are there.
Apart from this, founding member must be passionate, committed and good leaders.
I think it depends on the type of startup. For a "true" bootstrapped / low investment startup, the ideal team in my mind would be:
The devigner :), who is systems designer, developer and most likely visionary in one.
The marketing expert, who gets things done instead of writing 3 year marketing plans.
The bulldog sales guy, if neccessary, depends on the product.
The *administrator*. Not neccessarily the MBA, but rather a person who focuses on administrating the business from a financial and practical viewpoint.
In the long term this will be the CEO / CFO, at the beginning he is "just" making sure the team can focus on the product.
It is hard (if not impossible) to get a good designer on the founding team. Good designers ordinary have very very good gigs and very rarely join startup which will pay only equity and some small $$.
And sales and marketing are very very important - but it is also hard to get them.
My rule is:
30% - development
30% - marketing
30% - sales
10% - luck
I'm a fan of "markitect" or "marketeer" for developer / marketer. In my experience, these people are EXTREMELY hard to find, especially the right ones. Typically, you'll find them as social media guru's who understand basic principles of web marketing and can hack all kinds of cool tools and applications together with frameworks and API's. IMO, there is a real lack of engineering skills on the marketing / product marketing teams across most corporations.
I think it's an accurate dissection of the standard evolution. Developers create "widgets" (rarely businesses) so typically are employee #1.
But quite frankly, most developers are not entrepreneurs. But some entrepreneurs can develop and outsourcing is not much different than leading an in house team. A good programming team is a good team. And if the lead developer is also founder /ceo there's something not being done properly.
If you are money raising, the CEO is just doing that. This is a fine list until you take/need/raise money. Then CEO is a money "whore" and development must be done by others.
Good discussion though.
Everyone has to be in sales, otherwise they are just overhead. The founder must develop some sales skills to get the first people on board, the first customers and the first investors. A true inventor, may just keep on inventing and never getting a product to market.
The beauty of Dharmesh's post is that it says, "This is how I think the world should be!" which is an approach that will always draw a GREAT discussion out of the woodwork. The key takeaway in my opinion is that all startups are different, and predicting success is a gamble no matter what.
I believe in FOCUSED PASSION. The Founder has to have passion for what he/she is going after and a certain amount of focus to stay on track. If this is the case, he/she will be able to get other co-founders on board to follow the wave. Co-founders don't always last, but the Founder has to last or the dream will die.
Your business model is totally in line with my thinking. I've been developing software for over 40 years, and, without the design, marketing and sales help have never been able to launch any kind of successful business. Oh, I've got a web site, but, that's it until lately. I'd rather cut off a finger than spend time on anything other than coding. Unfortunately, I'm now spending my time doing just that (not the cutting part). With the help of "Inbound Marketing" and other resources, I'm starting to delve into the social media and blog venues. The downside is that while I'm creating all this exposure, my next product upgrade project has slipped to the back burner. No time left to work on it. Kind of a Catch-22, eh, what? I'd love to have people filling the other three slots on my team. Then I could crawl back into my puka and do some coding. (@2goodsoftware)
In all my years of teaching business and working with IT people, without sales, NOTHING will ever happen in a business. SO many technical people have brilliant ideas but not idea of how to create for the market need and then deliver to them. Good points.
Something I really saw with some of the young entrepreneurs on the web the other day - they find the need first and then the solution and then marry them up quickly no that might be nice thinking
I simplify it further:
There are only two roles in the startup.
1) build the product
2) sell the product
everything else is superfluous. You can have more co-founders but every co-founder and every hire should fit obviously in either bucket.
It turns out that you need a product visionary to have your startup succeed. But it's optimal if that person is either the developer (eg Zuck) or the sales person (eg Jobs). I'd argue that a true product visionary must be, by definition, one of those two people.
I think the problem with the post is that it makes it seem like you have to choose between these in some way.
The essential founding team has to have development, marketing, design, usability, sales, customer service, operations, business finance, writing, and so on... pretty much all boiled down into 2 or 3 people.
A startup with just a "developer" would be doomed.
In fact, even if you have all four founders listed above you're still dead unless those people are multi-talented and can cover ALL aspectes of business. ALL of them.
However, other than development most of the other roles rely on personality more so than training for success. So its not hard to self-study internet marketing (HubSpot can help with that) if you're already a good "people person" who understands usability and sales.
So it is important to make sure you have a "technical co-founder" because you need them to work for free at first.
@Chad - you should put your answer up at Quora (I'm not affiliated with it). It's insightful.
As you mentioned, in rare cases, you can find a great developer who is also a great designer. This was our good fortune at FastSpring, where Ryan Dewell, the developer who pioneered a lot of what today is standard in our industry, is also an excellent designer, and even a good business person. If it had been otherwise, I don't think our UI would have ended up being considered the most "elegant", but would have looked similar to our competitors, and user experience/UI would not be the competitive advantage it has become for us.
In our case, the reason we don't need a lot of sales is more because of our customer service than our marketing and product, though those help as well. When you blow customers away with your customer support, they can't wait to help their friends access the same experience for themselves. If you do this right, you don't need much of a sales team.
I think it's important to have at least one person who can set an ambitious vision that the team can work to execute on. Ideally, this is a person (and team) agile enough to adapt to the market's responses to the original vision. In our case, we work off of the same vision we had back in 2005. It took a number of years, however, before we started to really take off and truly have the vision realized.
I believe that the right profile for the best entrepreneur (not just web, but any startup) is someone that can talk about the product/company and can convince anyone to love it. You need someone with good communication skills and of course a business sense, if not you are just getting a good code, but not an actual business. A good communicator will bring to the team the right developer, the right UI/UX guy and will drive the customers to the product. What about rising money? You need to pitch your potential investors and in a few words convince them that YOU and your product will kick some asses.
Hmm.. Your article is interesting and a good idea to stop and think about.
However, I cannot agree with you regarding "if the start up had only 1 person, it should be a developer". From my experience working with
developers, they are great about coming up with functionalities and it is definitely useful to have them as part of the team. But they tend to have
a lack of commercial background, necessary to think business.
I have met various developers that have built websites but not only they looked horrible, but also they had no idea who was their target market,
how to market the product, sell it, etc...
Developers can be contracted. They are essential to projects and it is best if they are part of the funding teams to save costs, but not the main person.
The main person is someone who apart from having an idea, follows through to make it happen. And this main person can contract resources &
suppliers or convinced them to join him in his/her adventure.
Well, that's what I think...
I disagree with the whole theory.
For first, I dont see any business different from any other. I mean, running a milk dairy requires same set of skills as running software start up : Time to market, know your customers, cost of development, selling as product or as a service and things like that.
If we agree on above, then your point number one would mean for starting a milk dairy the founder should be someone who himself produces gallon of milk !!!!
I think founder should be someone who can "tame" the herd = Leader.
A person who is confident and keeps on "thinking" even in crunch situations. Someone who is confident of his plans ( need not be innovative in idea of the product itself but should be creative in implementing it.)
Someone who is a work horse himself. Sits with people and "help" them do what they do best.
Such as person can build a team and get things done.
It's a great thought. I am running my business from last 5+ years (TechAcme.com). And I am Developer. Based on my experience I suggest DevMarker is a great combination.
Business is not just development or designing or sales or marketing. Only singe skill never drive a long run business. (Study any long running IT company - MS,Google,Facebook and many more)
So, I believe combination of developer and marketer would start and run a long business.
Thx. that's my 2 cents.
I think the Founder should be a visionary who can understand the business holistically. It is good to have a founder with a technical background for a web start-up. But You can always hire one developer, may be, who can develop/maintain/debug the codes etc. But the initial leg work that ANY start-up would need, has to be done by the founder. And that means, the Founder should understand all the aspects of a business - how to keep costs under control, how to reach the target customers effectively, how to strike deals. He/she MUST necessarily be sales oriented first. A start-up HAS to generate revenue. Otherwise it will perish. The point is, even if it is web start-up, if there is one founder he/she has to be SALES background.
I was agreeing all the way and suddenly you said: "Human's dont care about other peoples vision!"
I have no idea where is that coming from, but I believe thats all thaat matters. Be you a coder / developer / designer / saelu / marketing guy or whetever, u need to sell your vision to people / employees / customers /parents / people u do business with or anyone else for that matter.
What? Never heard of a marketeloper?
Thx for your brilliant post!
I will replace your "Inbound Marketer" by a "Deal Closer"
Who is not only a Sales or a Marketing person but someone with the ability to find partnerships and evangelists, to create tractability and gather feedbacks.
Nice Article. But I think Before the developer, the first founder should be the one, who have the idea or concept which will generate revenue
i am a User Experience Designer and building a product for people who want to Design. When i say "building", it doesn't only mean "coding". i have outsourced the coding work. What i am trying to drive here is that a function can be either outsourced or resources hired.
Currently, i am the only founder and may have another founder(s) if i find the right match. Isn't finding co-founders like getting in a relationship rather than matching skill-sets?
First of all Dharmesh - you are a great marketer - you have managed to provoke and engage us all and pushed a lazy guy like me to respond.
Whether the founder is developer or designer or anything else - s/he is an entrepreneur. Which by definition mean that s/he has a solution to a problem which someone would pay for. That's why a developer or designer or marketer becomes a entreprenuer and others don't.
In a no-so-ideal scenario, I do not expect a pure developer to be able to make it as an entreprenuer unless s/he is also a decent marketer. It is easy to pay for design, but extremely difficult to pay for in-bound marketing.
If the web entrepenuer is not a developer it does not mean, it is doomed. It is important that the entreprenuer is a passionate evanglist and has a deep understanding of technology.
What is the problem with development shops in Croatia? :)
I think Dharmesh has it right for a certain type of startup with enough technical complexity.
A developer is more valuable to an early stage company when he or she is also business-savvy and can wear multiple hats. The ability to design a product, assemble a team, interface with early customers, raise cash, and/or conceive a brand can be acquired sometimes on-the-fly by sufficiently creative and intelligent people who also have serious technical talent if they are interested in doing so.
Chances are in the beginning you do not have to be the greatest "leader", cash-raiser, brand-builder or whatever -- you just need to have some minimal competence in those departments in addition to the critical ability to build a functioning product and get it to market.
If you have money to spend, it is possible to outsource a lot but that increases the time to profitability and introduces a lot of execution risk depending on who you deal with. Some technical ability to integrate the work of various parties and evaluate the quality, helps mitigate that risk and hold cost down.
great post and comments.
here's a blatant plug of our business (http://hackfwd.com/) but also an answer as to how we address the complex issue of how to build the ideal startup:
as early stage investors our strategy is to identify and invest in the top 1% of 'geek' talent in the european marketplace.
we offer eligible geeks the chance to focus on the technical challenge of their startup by surrounding them with a high quality support network containing functional experts in talent, product, marketing, finance, legal etc plus a peer group of other startups.
our startups contain up to 3 people in their first year and we provide a notional '4th person' being a blend of all the support functions and our startup network.
Darmesh, you have obviously tossed out a great topic.
One thing you didn't mention was the type of startup your generalizations are targeting. I think for a business with a self-service application that is targeting external funding within 3-9 months your formula is probably fine. Or possibly for a company creating core technology, rather than a product.
However for an enterprise solution and/or a business where funding is NOT the short-term goal, (bootstrapping the business, for example) then I strongly believe you need a strong, well-connected sales person in the #2 position.
Too often we have all seen a team of enthusiastic developers spending precious time developing technically advanced features or products without any thought for what their prospective customers may really need. Engaging prospective customers during the early development phases is invaluable in steering you more quickly towards the revenue stream that is hopefully your goal. A strong sales person with good connections in the target industry can make those connections, and even generate funding via highly interested prospects that doesn't cost the initial founders equity in their company.
If the early founders are capable of wearing multiple hats, so much the better.
I have to agree with this list! If anyone out there is looking to be a developer co-founder of a startup, get in touch with me ASAP!
A developer can, in their spare time, create a working product for close to nothing.
Add a designer, and you get a usable product people want. Still for close to nothing.
Those two people can invest nothing but time and make money.
No one else can do that in a startup, not even if you put it in all caps.
In my opinion the magical founding team for a web startup is formed of a business guy and a tech guy. Business guys imagine the product and have the vision and tech guys build the product.
Design can be outsourced or crowdsourced, and a marketer and a sales persons can be hired.
All very good stuff. Start ups are not about the money, they are about thinking of the business as a real business, not just a job. Each business person has 3 fundamental characteristics - the entrepreneur who is the visionary or dreamer, the manager who brings planning, order and stability and the Technician who is the "doer". The trick is to balance all three characteristics because inheritently one of those will be the stonger one in us. If it is the technician then it will never be a business because it will be merely a job and it will fail. Be prepared to seek outside help for those characteristics that are not your major strengths.
I'm curious, what were the roles of the founders and first couple hires at Hub Spot?
I think the comments by Chad Roll were right on and would have to disagree with the roles listed, unless you're bootstrapping with almost zero cash. Most of these roles can be hired--there's no reason they need
to be on the founding team if you have even minimal funding.
As someone who has played all the roles (developer, designer, marketer, sales) over the past 15 years in three web startups and now an enterprise software startup, my list would be: 1. Manager
Someone who first knows how to hire good people, and second who understands accounting, legal and funding to keep the business running. 2. Product Manager
Someone who knows how to extract requirements from customers, translate those into a product vision, communicate that vision to the developers and designers, and project manage everything to keep it on track. 3. Salesperson / Marketer
Someone who can acquire customers and get them to purchase. For a marketing-driven business targeting consumers and small businesses, this would be your inbound marketer. For a sales-driven business targeting mid-sized to large companies, this would be an actual salesperson. 4. Developer
Someone who can actually code, but who has deep experience with architecture. While this role can be hired, the lack of skin-in-the-game for a long-term payoff can cause contractors to make architecture decisions which are easier in the short-term, but have long-term consequences (when they'll no longer be around).
Having made my own share of mistakes with founders, I firmly believe that if you don't have a founder on the team with a good business sense, then the startup won't last long. And a good product manager beats a good developer any day; the latter can be hired, the former are much harder to find.
Regardless, it's an interesting article. The more important question is how to find these founders. In my experience, it's easy to find developers willing to jump into a startup, much less so with managers or salespeople.
Thanks everyone for your comments. Some great discussion.
I'd make a few points of clarification:
1. This article is specifically about web startups (which is a subset of software startups).
2. I'm not suggesting that there should be 4 founders (or even 3 for that matter) -- but that if there were, that the critical talents needed are in that order.
3. Part of the reason I wrote the article is that I think there's a myth that just because someone's a great developer that they automatically don't have business sense, understand the importance of marketing, or are so married to the coding process, that they don't care if they're solving a real problem. That's simply not true. Some of the best web founders I know are exceptional developers *and* great business people. The two are not mutually exclusive.
To answer the earlier question regarding the founding team of HubSpot: We have two founders. I'm the technical co-founder (I write code) and my co-founder has a strong sales background.
This topic likely warrants a separate blog post to address some of the points made here.
A great startup would be to have just two people a great coder and another a great sales person. And the responsibility to shape product, sense the client's requirements and test the waters all remain with the sales guy. It's like an F1 car where sales guy is driver and coder is engine of the car. Rest all other guys are just pit guys, moment car speeds up, lots of people would come to build up the team assising in winning the race.
Please let me know your opinion about choosing potential cofounder. I cooperate with a person who is solution architect but does part of programming as well. He is smart and creative but very disorganized - needs to have supervisor and project manager because he doesn't know how to manage people. Should I consider him for a cofounder or not?
I absolutely disagree. By this logic, only developers can create web startups. I reject that.
@Doug: Bezos and Benioff have created great companies.
But, I'm not saying that business people can't create web software companies (without a technical co-founder) just that they're less likely to do so than a developer with great business acumen.
Look at Drew Houston (from Dropbox). Hard-core developer, but also great business skills. Result = great company.
Stated differently, if I had to invest in one of two otherwise identical companies: I'd pick the one with the great technical founder -- with decent business skills vs. the great business founder with no development skills.
I think part of the confusion here lies with whether we are talking about roles
. A single person can play multiple roles, and given that, I'd absolutely agree with Darmesh that I'd take a great technical founder with
decent business skills over a great business founder with no technical skills.
However, in my experience, most
technical founders have very little business experience--they play a single role (Darmesh, I think you are an exception here, which may bias your thinking). And in choosing between a great businessman with no technical skills and a great developer with no business skills, I'll pick the businessman any day. Of course, I'd also pick the person who is a great developer, designer, marketer, salesperson and businessman all rolled into one. But that's a pretty rare breed.
For me, the "business" role is more important in a business than the "technical" role. Not that the technical role is unimportant, but that it's easier to hire technical roles than it is to hire an executive business role.
That said, I feel that a leader with a technical background who has learned the business side can make a much greater impact than a business leader who tries to learn the technical side. This is because knowing the deep details of the "doing" side of the business helps the "managing" side of the business, which is why Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were so good as CEOs (though, even there they had their "other" half as a founder).
This isn't restricted to just web businesses or startups. One of the key reasons to promote within a company is that the person being promoted has detailed knowledge of the inner workings of the company that an outsider has a hard time acquiring.
So, in conclusion, on the "people" side, my order would be:
- Developer with Good Business Skills
- Businessman with Good Technical Skills
- Businessman with No Technical Skills
- Developer with No Technical Skills
I'm skipping the extra dimensions of marketer, salesperson and designer, which gives us a matrix of possibilities. Ultimately, the more skilled roles combined into a single person, the better.
In Japan, during the feudal era, it was expected that Samurai learn how to do calligraphy, ride horses, master the sword and write poetry. It was considered important to be 'well rounded" and not just a thug with a bit o sharp metal.
Developers (by developer you mean coder) rarely grow outside their tank. But good ones do. Gates for example. I think the worst problem is that 99% of any given start-up team DON'T know anything about programming. It means that practical issues about development get lost in sales and marketing goals/desires (sell features that don't/cannot exist).
I think having a programming capable founder means less "wish" and more "do" from the product, and the business sense allows for "Done enough to sell" whereas true geeks/coders are never quite ready.
Great topic though, brought a lot of passion and thought.
Your point is well taken. And I agree with Trevor that you are a great example of the best of both world's. But in the end, someone has to be able to engage customers and sell the solution. Put another way:
If I was betting on dinner, would I put my money on the guy who can build a fishing rod but hasn't fished all that much? Or do I put my money on the guy who can get a fishing rod built for him and has caught fish his whole life?
A better analogy is:
We need a fish for dinner, but no one has ever caught a fish before. Do you bet on the guy that knows how to use guns and traps to catch deer, or the guy that knows how to invent new ways of catching things?
A business person may be able to hire a developer, but won't know how to guide them to build the best thing possible. That can work, but it is dramatically less efficient than building it right from the first line of code.
It's interesting how people are pegging each role as vertical - as if people are too stupid to be better than 1 thing (not what the original post said - but in the comments).
A great team I found was 2 devs, 1 UX/dev-designer guy, and 1 biz guy who knows tech.
That biz guy should be able to handle all non-dev related stuff from the start, as well as play a key part in ensuring that what is being built is something that users will want (along with dev-designer).
Great post, Dharmesh. I especially like the coined term "devigner."
I plan to steal this term and use it on my less well-read companions (aka those who haven't read this blog).
Typical developer type, tech guy that believes if you build it they will come...well not for free.
The dot bomb era and to a greater extent the tech booms of the nineties and part of 2000's had an unusual amount of money dumped into aggressive marketing expenditures. Its easy to sell your idea when VC money is dumped on creating a pull as opposed to a push marketing environment. Look at Salesforce.com and their marketing expenditures....3 times the spending on industry averages for marketing.
Where would Cisco be without John Chambers? He was a salesman.
How about Microsoft with Bill Gates who was the ultimate salesman (he sold a product he did not have).
Any start up today needs a salesman to evangelize the company-solution-product.
Just because YOU wrote it does not mean its true.
Please don't take offense.
Thanks for the thought provoking post. Just one clarification. Marketing in its truest sense is the 4 P's - Product, Price,Place and Promotion. Unfortunately, those of us in marketing have let marketing become seen only as the promotion component. In my career in corporate marketing (medical devices), a much larger part of my responsibility was developing product specifications and interacting with R&D. Promoting the product once it was ready for market was secondary and frankly, if you didn't do the first part correctly, you were in trouble with the second. Your #2 person (designer) is actually doing one of the functions of marketing.
I want to point out the coorelation between startups and UX/UI/Designers.
Half of those present at the Startup Dinner in SXSW were of the user expierence trade—in other words, professional problem solvers. In my opinion, it's obvious why.
The common thread of a great startup team is problem solving. Wether you're coding or create an interface, taking care of the pain points for people from the foundation (the big idea the startup is building) to the small details creates memorable, exceptional experiences.
Those experiences spread like fire.
I'm that developer with a product,now I need money for marketing & sales
Mr. Maldonado -- free marketing advice: if you want money, marketing assistance, OR sales inquiries, you need to give people a way to contact you.
A lot of this spirited discussion comes from a lack of definition of what a developer is. While this varies widely, most posters here seem to think it's a guy that is given a bit of paper to turn into Magic Code, and he, the glorified typist, goes and types his Magic Code.
I've been a developer for 15 years, mostly in very small businesses. Virtually every working day of that time, I've been confronted with user problems (or discerned them myself) and I've had to put myself in their shoes and invent ways to solve their problems.
A problem solver. That's what I think a developer is, and what I think a successful web startup is.
Assuming we are talking about web based startups, developer is an important part but is there some one who has thought about the users of the product ?
The end user is not techie.
My opinion , you need people who could visualize, understand the problem they can solve and be mix of techie.
I agree and disagree.
Here's why I disagree: Intelligent and driven people like Victoria Ransom of Wildfire had little of the above qualifications and yet were successful.
Here's why I agree: She had to hire (and yes I said hire) a great team (she got a great rate) that included the developer and designer. She did the inbound marketing and sales herself.
Your list comes across as though you are looking for only founders that will sit behind a desk 12 hours day writing code. That person I would argue would have difficulty attracting investors like you and they often don't sell product.
It is hard for me and obviously many of your readers based on the comments to picture you're looking for your entrepreneurs to have their #1 skill of developer, the same skill that can be outsourced to India for $20/hour (We have 6 great India-based programmers on our team). And then you list the #2 skill of design which many start-ups I know often buy from freelancing graphic designers who do design on the side (we have a full-time India based designer).
I agree with you it is a plus if the technology founder has technology experience but that can be gained by having experience as a coder, designer, project manager or consultant.
I see where you say you would rather invest in a person that has been a developer and that is definitely a personal preference you are entitled too (my investors often look for start-up experience as their #1 which they like in me). But the fact you are investing at all would mean the founders you invest in can sell you on their vision and you feel they possess the ability to build a company worth being acquired. These specific skills are not easily found in developers.
My list would have as #1 - Technology Leader: a proven leader with technology product development skills that can build great products customers will buy and teams that will scale the company!
@Daniel: No doubt that there many great entrepreneurs (including Victoria) that have been phenomenal companies and did not have development backgrounds. I'm arguing that *on average* (all other things being equal), I'd bet on the developer with good businesses instincts acquiring the necessary skills than the other way around.
@Micky: I did a poor job of conveying my point. I'm not remotely suggesting that I would invest in developers that sat behind a desk for 12 hours and coded all day. That would be naive. I'd like to think that I'm slightly smarter than that. :)
I totally agree on the founding team. As my company evolved I noticed we filled exactly those positions first. organically.
I also recently wrote up a short piece on Hiring for Startups: http://tenmiles.com/blog/2010/08/how-to-hire-better/
Well, as a developer/designer I agree on the founding team too. I'm currently in the process of launching my startup & will try to find biz person as a co-founder.
There are more than one ways to achieve a thing.
The above list may be correct, with a lot of implicit assumptions on additional needed skills,but success can be achieved by a lot of other compositions too.
I am no authority in this subject to comment what all skills should a start up must need but unlike the strong opinions expressed by others in their sense of direction for successful startups, i firmly believe that there cannot be just ONE stereotype way.
I really enjoyed this article! I'm surprised by the amount of debate it's caused.
I couldn't agree more, myself. We're a young web startup with 3 founders, and luckily we have this exact setup.
I also agree with the fact that developers can be great leaders and business people. There's a real convergence there.
I think a sales team member is pretty important. And yes, you need someone who is actually on the phone, visiting prospects, doing demos, and closing sales - not someone who is just talking about it. Sales really is a tough gigg. I'd rather be one of the other members!
Definitely agree with the developer being the most important for software startups during the early stages. Let's look at the companies which were founded or co-founded by developers:
..and the list goes on.
It would be ideal of course if the developer also has a good understanding of product development and market trends.