In my prior article, I wrote about the concept of the business
. This article was pretty well received and I got a lot of
responses from Business Geeks but hadn’t really thought of it that way.
So, as a follow-up to that article, I’d like to now talk about why
it is critical for most startups to have at least one of each (a tech geek and
a business geek), and why it’s so hard for these people to come together.
First, by way of quick context-setting for purposes of this
: Someone with relatively deep
technology experience that understands the inherent tradeoffs and subtleties
inherent in building a working software product. Capable of
single-handedly creating something that works out of nothing (with just the
three Cs: a computer, a compiler and conviction). [Note: Yes,
yes, I know, not all development languages require a compiler anymore, so feel
free to replace with “runtime environment”, if that makes you feel
better]. Key requirement: The ability to actually ship
something to customers within our
lifetime and respond to customer feedback.
: Someone with experience and
talent in all of the non-tech issues that startups have to deal with,
including, but not limited to: capital needs, finance, sales and
marketing, etc. Basically, this is the “everything else”
person in the early-stages of a startup. Done correctly, the biz geek
should be just as busy as the tech geek in the early days. Capable of
single handedly taking a product that sort-of works and figure out how to make
money with it while simultaneously keeping the “machinery” running
(i.e. power and Internet connectivity).
Summary: A tech geek is someone who is fundamentally capable
of building software that customers are willing to pay for. A business
geek is someone who is fundamentally capable of actually getting customers to
pay for it.
Interestingly, but not surprisingly, one of the biggest
causes for startups going sideways is that the above two people cannot come
together. Here’s a quick (and hypothetical) summary of the
: I’m a rock-star programmer
and have a really, really cool idea that’s going to change the world.
For the life of me, I can’t figure out why the idiot investors didn’t
bang down my door offering me money for a piece of the action.
That’s OK, but because I didn’t really need investors anyway,
because I could build my product while living on red beans and rice and put it
out on the web. Now, I’m dealing with the issue that prospects that
fail to see how my product can change their world. I think I know how to
fix it – there are just these three to four more features that the
product needs, that I can crank out in the next version…
[Eventually, said technology geek rock-star runs out of money or interest or
: I’ve identified an
exceptionally compelling market opportunity. It’s large and growing
at a compounded annual rate in the double-digits. Within this market,
I’ve identified a go-to-market strategy that is focused on a discrete
group of customers that have a common need. Now, if I could only find a
tech. geek that can build the friggin’ product, I’d be all set.
Not sure why all of these tech morons are out building yet another social
book-marking or photo-sharing site. If I could only convince one of them
to get a clue and focus on a real
problem that will make real
money, I’d be set. But screw that, I’ll just outsource the
thing to a contracting firm working for $12/hour in India
. I have in my head
exactly what I need, so it shouldn’t be that hard. I can the use
this prototype to attract investor capital and then hire a real (no adult
supervision required) tech geek. [Eventually, said business geek
discovers that he spent about $15-$25k and hast little to show for it].
Clearly, the above are somewhat extreme situations –
but not that extreme. The part that frustrates me is that in most
of these people
would have been much better off if they could simply have come together and
attacked a meaningful opportunity together. Based on my experience, the
business geeks feel the brunt of the frustration, because they generally have a
slightly better appreciation for the situation and have at least made attempts
at attracting technology geeks to their cause.
One of the primary issues is that each side is overly
dismissive and discounts the value of the other. Technology Geeks might think
that biz geeks just wear suits and peddle software once it’s ready. Biz
Geeks might think that technology geeks are now commoditized and products can
just as easily be developed elsewhere. Both would be wrong.
Summary of My Point:
The probability of startup success
goes up dramatically if you have both a technology geek and a business geek in
the founding team. They generally have critically important and complementary
skills. Even “uber-founders” (with both technology and
business skills) are better served by attracting additional co-founders.