This story starts over a decade ago. There was a high level executive at a large enterprise software firm. The guy was one of the best enterprise sales people in North America and highly valued by the organization. In reading about the trend of software moving online he realized that the industry he was in, selling large scale enterprise solutions to Fortune 500 companies, was eventually going to be replaced by software delivered online.
He attempted to get his organization to shift into investing in online web services, but they saw it as a threat to their traditional business model. He quit work and then went to find technical people who could implement the visitation. He ended up recruiting a group of 8-10 developers, all sold on the vision. He wrote up a quick vision for the company and raised a few million dollars on the back of it.
He leased out cheap and nasty office space down in the suburbs outside of San Jose. He spent two weeks writing a software specification for a new enterprise product that would be entirely web based. The spec was a couple of dozen pages long. He also wrote a marketing brief on how the product would be sold. He handed the spec over to the developers and then went on vacation in Hawaii for a few months while they built the initial version of the product.
A few months later and with a first version he went out to the media and announced 'the end of software' and introduced a new web services model for the enterprise: salesforce.com. Over 10 years later and the company has a $20 billion market cap, defined an entirely new industry and threatened the business of his old employer (Oracle) to the extend that they setup a clone competitor.
If the original developers who joined Marc Benioff had read this blog post, they would have questioned 'his contribution', especially the part where he took off on holiday. Product and business people are entirely undervalued. Benioff could have found the eight developers he required from any thousands of other developers to implement what he had in mind, but there was only one person who had the vision, perseverance and balls to do what he did.
One way to look at things is to say that great businesspeople are undervalued. Another viewpoint is that the valuation of businesspeople carries with it a much higher risk multiplier. Or that the valuation has far fewer knowable variables.
The article makes a variety of very unfair, broad, and naive generalizations about the role of a great business, marketing, or product person. It seems to conflate all business people into one bucket -- lumping the fly-by-night hucksters and phonies in with the true visionaries. And its point about how a business founder is 'only as good as his contact list' is a bit ridiculous. But unfortunately, that contact list is often the business person's best calling card. It's one of very few, knowable variables that he brings to the table. (A track record on paper is great, but can be unreliable, because anyone can spin a resume. Conversely, a list of impressive people who can vouch for someone, or even go to bat for him, is much more actionable).
and, perhaps, a similar story could be
told about Steve Jobs
And if you think you can find a Steve Wozniak that can design a usable computer from a minimal number of chips, with a design that's extensible, with colored graphics, that can also write the software for it and that you can convince to quit his job for you ... good luck with that ;)
The reason I bring this up is that I am often reminded of the 96 WWDC where Jobs is lambasted by somebody for getting rid of their precious Java development tool of the day. At the time it was a horrible decision. Now the tools they were clinging to would be considered obsolete and horrendous by any measure. It is important to keep perspective no matter what you are working on. At the core it is always about your product.
This coming from a person with two degrees in Computer Science and many years of software development experience.
No matter what that is. Selling is also execution, Raising money is also execution and Coding is also execution.
But the word 'Business person' generally invokes the image of a middle level manager in a corporate whose only expertise seems to forwarding emails, filling up online forms and politics.
That is why most hackers think a 'Business person' is useless. While the fact is everybody has a role to play.
At the core it is always about your product
What difference does it make? Jobs didn't
make his name as an engineer
To be able to come up with ideas, to be able to have a vision, to be able to have taste, to be able to drive a product, you do have to have an educated mind in that domain, you do need to know what is possible, you do need to be able to do the job yourself if you need to, even if you're not that good as an engineer.
How can you come up with ideas otherwise? And the proof is simple really. Every great idea that revolutionized our world, from electricity, to personal computers, to the Internet, to search engines, to the smartphone you're carrying, everything has come from minds of individuals that know their basics.
Ideas and vision don't come out of thin air. It is often said that a university's purpose shouldn't be to prepare you for real life jobs, but rather to expand your horizons on what's possible and I believe so too.
This is why I consider people with MBAs, but with no technical education, to be basically worthless in startups (and I'm not talking about degrees here, self-taught is good enough). So you have an idea, great for you, however you have to prove that either you know what you're talking about, or have a proven track record of successful implementations of your ideas that worked. This attitude is just meritocracy in action.
Also, I see a lot of resentment here, with people getting offended by this attitude of programmers towards business-types. But we aren't the ones that started it, it was the business types that wanted to turn us into stupid and replaceable assembly lines. Ask the developers in the games industry how they get treated. Well you get what you sow.
This is just very, very wrong. All things being equal I would certainly bet on the person with some domain experience in engineering if engineering is a major component of the product. But I would much rather partner with somebody who can go out and make sales, define products, and hustle than somebody who knows how to code. Knowing how to code is a blip in time. It is not something that is necessary to build a successful business. Getting paying customers is and always will be. You can sit behind a computer screen drinking Mountain Dew all day and build the greatest software product in the world. Nobody will care if you don't know how to establish sales. Skilled coders are valuable for creating code, and that shouldn't be dismissed- it's a valuable skill. It's just a fairly common skill. That is, if you have the money you can always find a skilled coder. It is MUCH harder to find a person who can recognize customer needs, get a product created, and get sales, and sales are the lifeblood of a business. We've all seen the "idea" guys who say "wouldn't it be cool if you had a site that did blah blah blah?" Could you build that? Of course those guys are worthless. I'm talking about the guys (or gals) who have that idea and go out and actually get the product built and sold. Those are the rare people you want to partner with.
> Also, I see a lot of resentment here, with people getting offended by this attitude of programmers towards business-types. But we aren't the ones that started it, it was the business types that wanted to turn us into stupid and replaceable assembly lines. Ask the developers in the games industry how they get treated. Well you get what you sow.
I actually see the reverse. I think a lot of programmers don't want to admit that people without any coding experience can create valuable software products just by assembling the right team but GASP not actually doing the coding themselves. Again, this is coming from a programmer.
>it's very tough to evaluate the credibility of
>a "business" co-founder until he's achieved success.
> Another viewpoint is that the valuation of
>businesspeople carries with it a much higher risk multiplier.
This is a fair point, but it's orthogonal to mine. When I spoke about the "risk multiplier," I was speaking about the risk of unknown/unknowable information. To use the MBA parlance, businesspeople are experience goods moreso than technical people are. My thesis is that you can ferret out a bad technical person more quickly and more easily than you can ferret out a bullshit businessperson -- thus making businesspeople, as a set, more risky because you often have to "buy before you try."
There's no question that a bad technical worker can deal as much damage as a bad business person. But that wasn't my point.
Now, perhaps you also take issue with my thesis itself: that businesspeople are tougher to evaluate up front than technical people are. In my experience, this is often the case. If your experience tells you otherwise, so be it. I would consider this a fundamental difference of opinions, probably based on different experiences.
> businesspeople are experience goods
Also, "experience good" seems a particularly confusing analogy here since it would seem to support my point as well as yours (me: business 'people'; you: business 'person').
> My thesis is that you can ferret out a bad technical person more
> quickly and more easily than you can ferret out a
> bullshit businessperson
OTOH, I have seen plenty of bullshit technical people who've snowed the business people in their companies (I can think of one client who's been through 3 in 9 months).
> I would consider this a fundamental difference of opinions
> probably based on different experiences
The risk is technical.
Hackers are not valuable as cofounders for any other reason. It just so happens that that reason is really, really important.
Nitpick: by definition, great businesspeople have lots of money (value).
You should say that business people with an unknown track record are possibly undervalued.
Which is really not saying anything at all, other than it's hard to tell the future.
The nitpick offers an interesting perspective, and it's well received, but I think it's orthogonal to my point.
In general, I think there's a common misunderstanding between these two camps, especially w/r/t their intersection in the software industry. Just as it's not fair for a businessperson to assume that all technical co-founders are interchangeable ("He's just a skill set"), it's not fair for technical co-founders to assume all business co-founders are worthless ("He's just a rolodex").
There are lots of good "business people" who have spent much of their careers as employees rather than owners. They did their job, they got paid, but even if they were stellar, they probably weren't paid an order of magnitude more than their peers. (As there are many fantastic engineers without patents and/or high profile products.) This may be why they're trying to do a startup rather than switch to a new job.
Try working a few times for some not-so-great business people and you'll learn that the good ones are often undervalued.
The pitch would have been, Hi I am a successful Sales exec with millions of dollars of yearly sales under my belt, I've hired 6 guys and am looking for a 7th to develop this new software I have an idea for, I have got x million in VC already and by the way once you are settled and running through the VC cash, I'm going to Cancun to recharge my batteries before coming back and selling the heck out of what you guys build.
Hell, I would be very happy to get on the ground floor of that one.
"The guy was one of the best enterprise sales people in North America and highly valued by the organization."
I get your point and Benioff was not the ordinary "business" person. If someone with that level of success wanted to talk with me about their project, actually had some kind of written plan for it (even just a dozen pages) and could actually rent out space on top of that, they'd at least get me interested.
I think most developers end being approached by a mid-level manager (often freshly laid off) who has an idea outside of their area of expertise, not so much as one page for a spec, no money and only has unwritten promises of equity for pay. I know I've been approached by a few over the last decade. If I bet on them, I'd have to try and understand what they want built, build it on my own time and hope that they honor their promises of pay in the future. Maybe there have been successes in that case, but it seems like such a long shot, especially when almost anything else offers a better reward-to-risk ratio, that it's never worth pursuing.
I think that the repeated offers that developers often get from non-technical founders start to sound like the offers writers get to develop a novel based on an idea non-writer has. Very often, the developer has more than enough drive and imagination to develop their own idea, just an an author can develop stories on their own.
Most VCs think the same thing. Realize though that this indicates a lack of skill on your part, not a lack of skill on the side of the founder.
I've experienced the "irreplaceable" business person as well, though not on that scale. I was at a startup where a guy was almost singlehandedly bringing in a few million in revenue, which was crucial to our survival.
Before joining Oracle, Benioff worked as an assembly language programmer at the Macintosh Division of Apple Computer, where he was inspired by the company and its co-founder, Steve Jobs.
High school entrepreneur, Apple Macintosh assembly hacker, standout Oracle executive... this guy is the real deal, the true exceptional case that you take a risk on, not the money-less 'business' (and I do put that in quotes) guy most people run across day to day.
One thing that always comes up in these posts is:
> If we fail fast you have lost almost nothing whereas I have lost months of intense work.
I don't get that...? Presumably, the guy you jump in a boat with will also have invested 6 months of his life in to this, and presuposing he, even the abstract random business guy he in this post, can't contribute anything of value seems inflammatory at best?
Finally, I think that we should recognize that this is a fantastic problem to have. If you're approached weekly about new business ventures, you've probably made a good name and good game for yourself. Which is fantastic.
Well observed. The problem with good developers these days is that they have too high opportunity costs: a good developer earns as contracter easily between 130K und 180K USD, even more. Compared to a non-techie this is remarkable because there are many high priced offers in this range and developers don't need to present such a polished CV like their business counterparts (they can have white spots, breaks, stayed just few months somewhere, etc. and still get easily high paid dev jobs because of the shortage). And business people usually cannot do contracting work that easily.
This paired with a generally more risk-averse attitude leads to statements like "If we fail fast you have lost almost nothing whereas I have lost months of intense work".
I remember those days when I had a high salary plus a full packages of perks—I was lethargic and haven't followed great biz opportunities because I thought they are too small and will never reach my current income. And comparing opportunities as a founder with your current income as contractor or employee is fundamentally wrong. Even the best brands like Google, free fruit and 180K+ salaries will never give you the same feeling and confidence as when you build own thing. But the most will never make this experience, they even won't realize that they are wearing golden handcuffs all the time.
Take day rates for average/good Java, Ruby on Rails are at around 700+ EUR in Europe and in the US around 900 USD => 900 day rate x 20 days a month x 11 months (one month off for vacation etc) = 198 K
and demand for good Java and Ruby devs is endless ...
700 EURS for RoR devs? I get recruiters sending me very impressive CVs of developers looking for £250 - £300 a day.
When do you work on your sales pipeline?
The developers we have onsite with the customer (Department of Defense with Top Secret clearances) are paid roughly $40-50K/yr USD.
If there were companies that actually paid the salaries you're quoting there would be a line of people at the front door every morning wanting to get hired.
> A comprehensive earnings survey of security-cleared professionals, with 11,436 respondents from November 2011 to January 2012
> Key Findings: Earnings for professionals with an active federal security clearance increased over two percent since the 2011 ClearanceJobs Compensation Report, with an average total compensation of $90,865.
Based on this empirical evidence, it is clear you are a bullshitter who doesn't know what he is talking about as your stated numbers are not even remotely close enough to the real numbers to have the least bit of credibility. Or perhaps you would care to provide a citation to your own 11,436 person survey of those with clearances.
The survey cited here includes low skill stuff like IT support. Breaking out actual developers in one of the report's table we have the following total compensations:
IT - Engineering (Software or System) $113,098
IT - Software (Programming or Web Dev) $101,809
If companies actually paid those amounts listed there'd be a line of applicants at the front door every single morning wanted the job.
P.S. My Google intern salary would beat that if it were scaled up to full-time levels (and in actuality full-time is much higher).
Maybe they're in their first year, or something, but I wasn't on site and I didn't even have clearance and I was paid significantly more than 50k. In Arizona. (I was doing support work.)
When I said $$$ to BigCo in Silicon valley, they didn't blink, and I don't have the big names on my resume either.
The rates that I've seen has actually gone down, Back in 2001 a developer with a TS/SCI/FSP would get around $45K with about 5 years experience (company is in the top 10). Today that same developer gets $40K with the same clearances (company within the top 50).
I think you're claiming it's because of the peculiar type of job (DoD or DoD + clearance). This is not the explanation. I know several people who are doing DoD contract work for software development (cleared and not), in various places across the US, and their rates are perhaps 2x higher than what you're quoting.
And I'm astonished to read your claim elsewhere on this thread that you or people in your organization are not being reimbursed for travel for work. I've never heard of such a policy -- it may not even be lawful.
Sure, they will try to chip away at the edges (Was that cab ride necessary, given that you have a rental car? and, Your breakfast was included in the registration fee). But that's all second-order stuff.
I'm not sure what in particular you are saying, but that is a terrible rate of pay that only the worst (or most naive) developers must stomach. Six figures is not at all uncommon.
But weirdly this discussion had absolutely nothing to do with being a DoD contractor. I don't know, or honestly care, what a DoD contractor makes. The numbers you have indicated, however, are very low in the general market. That you are oddly holding them as exceptional is extraordinary given that they are exceptionally low.
Isn't this part of the problem though - from "their" point of view coding is easy and can just be churned out. From "our" point of view business management, marketing etc is easy and anyone can do it. Its simply not true in both cases. As such, I completely agree with your statement, I don't understand either. If the co-partner wasn't going to be as completely committed, and perhaps more importantly, you trust them to be that committed, then there shouldn't be any partnership - they should be employing you.
I don't think that's really true. I'm approached any time I am at an event with a business spin of any sort when people find out that I write code for a living. I am not saying I'm a bad programmer, but I will say that those who have heard of anything I have done are in the dramatic minority. And the number of people who can connect me to all of the projects I've worked on is less than 5.
This includes a recent social event for skillshare. There are zero boundaries. It's completely reasonable to get frustrated.
Engineers think they rule the world. But in reality, product people rule the world.
It doesn't matter if your other "non-technical" co-founder sits on his ass all day and you work your ass off...because you have to understand that one angle of perception--one simple spark of an idea--can create just as much value as your sweat work.
"Point of View is worth 80 IQ points"
When you wrote "Your are easily replaceable"...you are 100% wrong.
YOU are easily replaceable. You're just the coder who builds the thing. Once MVP is launched and the company raises funding, you could easily be replaced because I guarantee you there are thousands of engineers just as good as you.
The product guy, on the other hand, is the DNA of the company. He forms the vision, culture, management. You can't replace that.
If your "coders" are replaceable cogs, I dispute that your product is worth a shit. A lot of what defines a "good" developer is their ability to grok a business idea and bring meaningful contribution to the product as it is developed. With every keystroke, a developer has the option to make the product better or worse.
> The product guy, on the other hand, is the DNA of the company. He forms the vision, culture, management. You can't replace that.
You're right. Good product guys have a vision of the product that steers the ship. You can't build a great product on iteration alone. You need an overall vision. This, however, does not automatically make every other person in the organization meaningless drones.
The best products result when the visionary understands how to communicate their ideas to the development team, who internalizes these ideas and uses them to guide their efforts at every moment. The happiest moments in my day (as a product guy) come when a developer pushes a commit/feature that fits exactly with my vision, but isn't an explicit result of some directive I gave. These super-developers can infer good ideas from my product direction.
I imagine that in your view, developers are just there to do your bidding, but this marginalizes the developer, forcing them to perform the equivalent of ditch digging. Programming isn't easy. Those that can do it are generally smart people. Do you think the best developers want to work for someone who wishes to marginalize them in this way?
Because I share my vision with developers and empower them to guide the product, I cannot simply discard them. They need me, I need them, and the product is better as a result.
EDIT: This struck close enough to home I decided to blog about it http://www.bradlanders.com/2012/05/10/the-product-guys-shame...
It's not one sided. As you point out, "Point of View is worth 80IQ points". The more productive point of view is external to both the product people and the engineer.
IMHO, I think it's wrong to think one guy "the product guy" (or the engineer) forms the vision, culture, management. A well run, modern start-up is an all-in collaboration with equal participation from all involved. Everyone contributes to these things in one form or another (each in their own sphere of influence).
Top down management is going the way of the dinosaur. Sure, someone has to be CEO, but I think things work best when they view their role guiding the organization and providing a productive environment for their fellow employees. The CEO should be "working" for the other employees as much as they are "working" for him/her.
If your view is "You, engineer, work for me, product guy", I can understand exactly why it may be hard for you to find a technical co-founder.
I bet you went to a meetup with your rackety ass idea for an instagram clone and nobody there even acknowledged you existed
Tell me if you are not easily replaceable then how come every time I ask for hackers I only get about 5 emails but if I ask for business founders or idea guys my inbox goes DDoS?
The "company DNA" is just another bullshit buzzword, as are "vision" and "culture" the fact you used this as your only point in your entire rant gives me a clear idea of what a douche you are.
And "management"? management ruined some of the best companies in America, why don't you try and defend CDOs too?
Good luck getting any hackers to join your imaginary startup.
I don't know where you are asking for hackers, but any time I've posted an ad for developers, my inbox is filled within an hour.
"is just another bullshit buzzword, as are "vision" and "culture""
Not really. Without vision, most hackers will never make it past the initial stages of development. I'm a developer (and I run a few startups).
I can't tell you how many technical people I've tried to partner with that either: can't see my vision, get bogged down in the details (IE: only want to work on the cool things), or just don't have the follow-through (give up after X amount of months for whatever reason).
Actually, culture and management are just as likely to come from the engineering side.
As to product vision, if you really think that it's always solely from the "product guy"....
For example I've seen many places where the company culture has come as much, if not more, from the technical than the idea side. I've seen investors remove the "idea guy" from a company because the organisation has has grown up around product development team - and he's become isolated from that.
Good developer folk need to understand the product vision - otherwise they can't build the product vision. Good idea folk need to understand the development side - otherwise they can't get a grip on the team dynamics as product development goes forward.
Great partnerships are well... partnerships. If either side thinks the other is a useless tool who isn't pulling their weight it's not going to go well :-)
This is what people calling Instagram a $1B Django App don't get (and of course, it's Django + IOS)
If you add nothing but technical skills, your pink slip is a matter of time. Unless of course, your technical skills are really up there (like: scalability, cryptography, special algorithms, etc)
The difference is, without a product the investors don't come easy. A hacker can make something, get it in front of users, maybe even get a sale all by themselves. So they have a natural inclination to see the other half as 'hire some marketing once I have something to show'.
Is it your boring as hell slide deck?
That overly optimistic spreadsheet?
That oh-so-inspiring blog post about stuff not related to the product itself?
Or maybe is the app the technical founder made?
Investors? If that's your goal, I guess you have to buy into the whole slap-happy salesguy smilefest. Tell that to Mr. Persson (minecraft).
Sure one example doesn't prove a point. I refer instead to the ideal web product that goes viral. It's self-funding and low-maintenance, and the topic of lots of discussion on this site. And it doesn't necessarily need any marketing staff. Sure SEO etc are often done by Marketing, but consider the more statistics-driven and testing-centered, the easier it is for an Engineer to grok the task.
Investors want a return on their fucking investment. To get that you need all the parts of your startup working together, and nobody wanking on about being valuable and stupidly and pointlessly generalising the work of others.
Well done on listing a bunch of straw men.
Is it your patchy account session controller?
Is it your user View which specifies Arial before Helvetica in the stylesheet?
etc etc etc.
Vision and execution together give the value, not one or the other. That's why YCombinator and PG focus so much on the team: you need complementary skills.
While I can't fully agree to "ideas worth nothing, execution is 100%", the fact is people come up with your idea independently. The value of it will be show by the ones who execute it.
This "you are easily replaceable" thinking is probably the worst way to think of getting into a startup or any kind of business partnership.
To not make this any longer: startups are like a marriage. Is your wife (/husband) easily replaceable?
But several execution details come from the idea guy
Technical people can, of course, come up with execution details (this is not use RoR instead of node.js kind of details)
It's one thing to have an "idea" like "Sell cat food on the internet". That's a dime a dozen
The real idea that investors are looking for is all the nitty-gritty details on how selling cat food on the internet can be a good idea (is it customer acquisition? sales structure? pricing?)
But the team is the DNA, vision, and culture. And any leader, regardless of background, can guide the team to aim even higher.
As I pointed out, the "product guy" doesn't necessarily form the culture or management. And, he isn't the sole source of the initial product vision.
However, the core of the argument is "YOU are easily replaceable. You're just the coder who builds the thing. Once MVP is launched and the company raises funding, you could easily be replaced because I guarantee you there are thousands of engineers just as good as you."
The same can be said of the "product guy". Yes, folks bought into the MVP, but that doesn't imply that the "product guy" is the only person who can do the follow-ons.
Though of course in the long term without the innovators the company loses relevance (Flickr, Delicious, MySpace etc.).
I used to think like this.
Then I interned at Doublerecall.
Seeing those business guys do their jobs ... I was figuratively blown away. I mean wow. They worked harder on business development than I have ever seen a hacker work on even their most favorite projects.
Fact of the matter is, business work involves a lot of ... stuff. Everything is hands on, very little of it can be automated, you're dealing with people all the time and, to be perfectly honest, there probably isn't a hacker out there who could really work as a business guy. We're just too lazy.
Nothing about taking tens upon tens of meetings a week says "replaceable" to me.
The fact that we have a "startup industry" is slightly unnerving, and "players" in that industry even moreso. I suspect that both 'developers' and 'business monkeys' who try to get involved in this 'industry' and hang with the 'players' too much aren't the sort of people you want as part of your team.
So, yeah, in one sense you're right to criticize the capabilities of 'business guys' attending 'startup conferences', but the same criticism might be levelled at non-business people at those same conferences. The truly capable - those executing in their chosen fields - probably won't be at too many of those events on a regular basis.
Only thing you have is your network. As a “business guy” in startup I expect you to have Barack Obama as 2. level LinkedIn connection and Zuckys number on speed dial. Well, anyway much wider network than I have. If you don’t – I probably don’t need you."
This comment belies a stunning lack of understanding and respect for what actually goes into the business side of typical tech startups - the sales, marketing, user acquisition, hiring/team building, negotiations and every other thing that business co-founders actually do.
A very irritating blight on an article that otherwise had some good points.
The few truly interesting, reliable startup idea's I've seen are from real businessmen. Men with the network, contacts, funding, good ideas and commitment. Those kind of businessmen, the kind you are talking about if I understand correctly, are indispensable in a startup. Unfortunately, they seem to be somewhat more rare than the "idea people".
For anyone with the experience of working 20 hour days on the business side of a tech startup, this kind of statement is somewhat infuriating.
Likewise, yes, many developers are also replaceable, though few like to think they are.
I think that the problem is the idea that "a network" is the only value that a business guy provides to a company...
Could I have built a system that checked off all of the features of ours without him? Sure. But it would have sat there unused because it wouldn't have been informed by his experience and opinions, the customers and feedback he's brought in, the partnerships he's formed, etc…
The days of 'if you build it, they will come' are over and there is a huge amount of work to be done for non-programmers. I think this is actually becoming more true over time… especially in the early days of a startup. You dont even really need a programmer to build an MVP anymore.
I've met plenty of the people the original article is complaining about, and there is the caveat that there are exceptions to the rule, but there are plenty of naive, wanna-be developers as well. Non-technical founders live on a spectrum of capability just like developers. You should think long and hard about what will make you say 'yes I will be your technical cofounder' and more importantly: 'I need to do X to convince a biz-dev guy whom I respect to work with me.'
I remember reading somewhere on HN once that if you can get a business co-founder who enables you to spend almost all of your time focusing on development, that's extremely rare. As you pointed out, there is a metric ton of non-coding work that goes into establishing any kind of viable business.
Back to the article, what really ruffled my feathers about the article was how it applied a set of awful behaviours and mindsets uniformly to all business co-founders.
Whats most concerning, is if you adapt those mindsets in talking with potential partners/co-founders, you will simply confuse the naive ones, and drive away all the good ones - including the person that would have made a perfect partner for you.
Product guys can only ever be product guys. Engineers can only be engineers. Business men can only be business men.
If you work at a startup, you better be prepared to be all three and more. If you aren't smart enough to be all three, then you can't be my cofounder.
That said it goes both ways, I've been a serial entrepreneur and a big corporate type. And it's clear that on the business side people work hard too if they are going to be successful and they too have a TVM problem.
The biggest failure I see tech people make is not properly communicating the real level of effort a project takes. In a room full of techs if we talk about a problem we all have a reasonable understanding of how hard it is. We might be off a bit in our estimates but in general we understand the difference in effort of various proposals.
When in a room of business people with no domain expertise we assume they understand what it's like to spend 100's if not 1,000's of hours working on a technical project. They don't understand it any more then most techs understand how hard it is to setup a company, get the business registered, shareholder agreements written, contracts developed, taxes handled etc.
That issue however is a failure on both parties part, techs have to learn to own their half of the "assumption" problem. They need to clearly articulate how much work something is going to take and convert that effort into real dollars and timelines.
True story a very famous musician friend of mine and I were talking one day and I asked him "How long did it take you to write that song XXX" (very famous song) and he said "Hmm a couple days here and there then in the studio.." we both agreed it must have been maybe a 60 hour commitment. Then he asked me about a project I had just finished with a major car manufacturer and I said "Oh that was 6 man years of effort". He asked me "What is a man year?" and of course I tried to explain in lay terms what it's like to have someone at a keyboard for 2,000 hours and do that with six people. He was blown away at the effort he literally would bring it up in future conversations for years when we would chat on various topics.
In tech we take for granted that we work on labor scales that are massive and our failure to explain that to other people only makes the "startup conundrum" worse.
I know you wrote this article thinking, man, it is time to get some HN karma action. They will eat this stuff up! And indeed, there are a lot of people who upvoted you. Congratulations!
And yet, this has to be one of the more egotistical, narcissistic, self-serving rants I've seen on HN. There are a lot of lately. They generally starts with the line, "Why I..." At least you didn't post one of those. Small favors I suppose.
I'm sorry you're so in demand that people won't stop hounding you to join them and that it is just takes too much time for you to politely tell them no! How awful that must be for you.
Engineers are not the center of the universe. The good ones are difficult to find, but good people of all disciplines are hard to find. I would chew my own arm off for a top tier sales guy who could build sales plans and execute them deftly. An bizdev guy who can maintain a large network and work them effectively and isn't a schmuck is worth their weight in gold. A product guy who actually talks to, understands and truly empathizes with customers? Far more rare than you are.
At some point in your career, I hope soon, you will come to realize that non-engineers have value too.
Yesterday I had someone who claims to be a tech entrepreneur tell me that they "don't care about that sh*t" and that "this is why you're an engineer and I'm not" while I was using the webkit inspector in chrome. You can see this attitude a lot and it has lack of dedication/passion an entitlement written all over. I'm sorry, but I know tons of non-techies that are able to understand, pick up and use this feature within minutes.
Adults seem to have an unnatural aversion to learning. Kids are okay with not being able to walk, walk, do math, read, write etc and will spend years developing important skills. It baffles me why so many twenty-somethings already feel pigeonholed into the non-techie role and don't want to learn anything new, even if it allegedly is their greatest passion. If you spend only six months on it you'll be able to implement most webapps or mobile apps mvp. Sure, it'll suck, but you'll have an easier time finding a co-founder and the collaboration will be better.
I have never owned a car. If I wanted to make a car company, my first step would be to learn everything about cars. I certainly wouldn't fo from garage to garage trying to convince random mechanics to quit their jobs to be my co-founder with 30% equity and no salary just because I have a car-related idea. The same goes for hollywood. I wouldn't show up to a film-related event and tell everyone my great movie idea (after all, I HAVE seen many movies) and ask for one director, one screenwriter, some actors, a bunch of other dudes and a ton of money.
Disclaimer: I majored in Math AND went to business school. I also have a CS degree that I got mostly on the side, because I was interested in the high leverage of software businesses.
And these were supposed to be guys with experience FFS, one even had "computer science" on his resume, turns out he put that because his highschool had an above-average computer program.
I had physics in highschool, does that makes me a physicist? of course not.
There are biz-dev founders who really know their shit, can't even code a "hello world" but know a lot about how to get around problems, so they are a valuable asset. I talked to one during a meetup: he could answer any question you could possibly have about financing and banking.
If I were building a payments service I would give that guy a call RFN and ask him to join.
But lets face it: this gold rush has attracted a lot of me-too wantrepreneurs who can't even jailbreak an iPhone or make a Wordpress install, yet have no respect for IT and believe hackers are just the "kids" you convince to work for free and then give a fraction of a fraction of the pie...
It also seems to have a huge air of superiority, which seems somewhat unsubstantiated when looking at your resume.
Do you know how many great products backed by an amazing development team fail because they lack the skills in sales/marketing/design and/or strategy?
If programming was the only thing that mattered, then why aren't all competent programmers millionaires?
I think this sums up a lot of business types and why technical people are somewhat hostile towards them: http://s3.amazonaws.com/theoatmeal-img/comics/websites_stop/...
What I see is:
* Tons of business people, not enough talented business people
* Tons of developers, not enough talented developers
... the thing is that it's hard for talented developers to spot talented business folk among the throng. It's also hard for talented business folk to spot talented developers.
I understand rants like this. I meet a lot of folk who don't have much of a clue about how much effort is involved on the development side.
The thing is - if you go talk to the business folk - they have just as many horror stories of developers letting them down, not putting the work in, producing shoddy work, etc. Developers that come to them with what they think is a wonderful product - with no idea about their market or channels. The folk who think "sales" are just idiots who cold call people. Etc.
Just a couple of months ago I was helping with a group who had spent £50k with what, to them, looked like a reputable development agency - and they essentially just threw that money away.
Also: it's important that all co-founders can present themselves as humble and self-aware. Using terms like "business monkeys" and saying "you played around with excel spreadsheets" made me wince.
Oh, common. Get of your high horse already. Good business people are even scarcer and they are not talking to you. And in an off-chance that one of them approaches you, you might not realize it, because your horse gets in the way.
Now that I have made this mistake I will probably never go into business again without knowing the person like the back of my hand. And they will almost certainly have to be at least as technical as me or be a domain expert of some sort.
I'm sure some see the author as biased or scorned but for the most part he is right. "idea people" are a dime a dozen, but your idea with no execution = 0
If someone wants me to be their "technical" co-founder, I will want market-rate salary compensation and equity equal to the other founders and they better be well connected to sales & marketing and additional funding opportunities. They need me, not me them.
Now show me one "product guy" who's coded and launched a million-dollar site/app.
Both sides view the other as replaceable, only one is right.
Oh, no, wait, your argument is flat out wrong.
The question rephrased: Show me a guy who has gone from being a success in management/finance to having a startup idea and then writing code for it (I think this is a fair equivalent of coder with no business experience founding a company and then continuing to run it when it becomes very profitable)
"Management/finance" doesn't mean anything, other than excluding Systrom as a specific example which disproves your theory.
You're asking to see someone who was successful in a non-technical role who had an idea for a startup and learnt to code to build it. Let me surprise you: very few people learn to code just to learn to code. Most people learn to code to scratch an itch. How many news stories have we seen in the last few years about people who learned to code simple addictive games for iPhone?
In that sense, I'd argue that almost everyone learns to code because they have an idea they want to see happen. A lot of them go on to become full time software engineers. A lot of them don't.
1) Age discrimination
I am 40. You wouldn't believe how many "in urgent need of a tech co-founder" entrepreneurs recoil when they learn the fact.
You won't fit in. You won't understand us. Blah blah blah...
Umm...I assure you, if I can deal with half a dozen programming languages in my sleep, if I can run a family, if I am strong enough to run 30+ miles a week (on top of weight training), if I can complete my day job without swearing or sweating, I CAN UNDERSTAND YOU and I WOULD NEVER JUDGE YOU based on your age alone.
I only care about what you got under your skull cap.
2) Do you know this? Do you know that? Can you solve that tricky trick we found on the Web this morning?
I don't care.
If you have a problem, I will research it. Before you have 2 problems, I will have picked all the knowledge I need to give you 1 solution.
It could be something I already know. It could be something I never heard about. I am a human being. Adapting is in my DNA and I adapt all the time.
3) We got this great idea/solution, will you help us build it?
I'm sorry, what is the GREAT problem (the GREAT problem someone will pay good money to address) you wish to solve?
Honestly, guys, ideas are a dime a dozen, particularly ideas in the consumer space where a business model seems to be optional.
What you need is knowledge about a tremendous pain/problem a lot of people want to spend money on solving.
4) Success is a conjunction of talents.
I have great respect for business people, sales people, consultants, customer service people, patent lawyers, finance gurus, etc.
They all do things that are essential to growing a sound business. Things I should not do.
Everyone must bring something to the table and everyone must know and appreciate what everyone else brings to the table. Freeloaders sooner or later sink the ship.
Evenly represented on the HN home page every few months are:
1) You don't need a programmer, you need a technical co-founder (aka. you can't pay someone to do this job because you can't possibly afford it)
2) I am sick of people asking me to be their technical co-founder
The engineering side of tech have spend a good few years recycling each other's kool aid and we're starting to believe it. Hell we're saying the same bullshit over and over so much that even the non-tech side is starting to believe it.
The problems that 90% of companies solve are not difficult. There are literally millions of people crawling the planet that can solve these problems and yet our inability to work together has created an entire generation of primadonna's like the OP that swan around like the bell of the ball.
While the author makes some grand generalized statements that he probably doesn't really mean, I think they are born of frustration. There are just too many people who try to skip straight to being the "business person" without any experience to back it up. The typical person who just needs "a technical person" to build their vision... ugh. They ask to meet you for coffee, but then want you to sign their NDA. It's because they think their idea alone is their contribution of 50% of the business (or more), because frankly they have no idea what it takes. But they can't match my own skills and experience on the business side of a startup (and I'm the tech guy).
The story of Marc Benioff in the top comment, that's the story of a credible co-founder. A successful person with years of knowledge and experience in a lucrative market... I salivate over that prospect. For me that's a no-brainer.
So to you would-be biz-folk (talking to the n00bs here), just don't forget to pay your dues. Get a job at a startup and learn what it's like. Take some courses in programming and give it a shot. Learn all that you can about lean startups and customer development. Validate your product with a concierge MVP. Hire some college kid or cheap company in India to build your prototype. Show me that you have some traction and something to offer and can find ways to move forward even without the "tech guy". Then we can talk.
My dad said something awesome that day. He said: "Mark, if everyone in the world thought like that-there would be no love letters."
...I can't help but feel that if everyone in the world thought like this guy-there would be no startups.
It sounds more like he's talking about the idea tourist. The guy who truly believes that the secret to start-up success is:
1. Have an idea.
2. . . .
3. Make money.
I think we can all agree that the idea tourist is annoying. If all you bring to the table is something as ephemeral as an idea, just keep walking. I've got no time for you.
I don't even know where to begin... Such a gross misunderstanding of what a competent business development person can bring to the table. I know a couple of guys that I would gladly sign up with for equity, knowing they can take a product and bring in millions of revenue.
I feel it's good to keep an open mind, but I do insist on an equal commitment from all parties involved. One way for the business person to do that is to raise the capital that pays our living expenses and operating costs for the initial development. If I'm on board, I'll tell them to use my name to show that we have a tech team in place. But if they can't raise any money then I don't usually see a point in beginning the development phase. This sometimes is a wake-up call to the person pitching. But even if the idea takes off, they will be spending a lot of their time raising money. So if they can't do it now, it's unlikely they'll be able to do it later when we need to grow the company.
Of course like the OP I have to be at least interested in the industry or idea as well.
You are only in it for the money: If you can make 60k in 6 months consulting, than do that. I can't pay that much, I can't even pay myself that much. And if your only contribution to the next FB is only worth 60k you aren't good enough.
You undervalue me / overvalue yourself: 50 % of equity aren't enough? I invest the same amount of time (which, by the way, also means money to me. Without a start-up I would make 90k a year as a employee...). A start is like a child, you know? 50-50 if it wasn't in-vitro.
I don't know you: Who are you? Well, we just met...
You are replaceable: Since you don't know the industry I want to develop a new product for I can take about just any developer. As an employee you may fit but not as aco-founder.
I haven't proven myself: That's why I want to do a start-up. Proving yourself in business in a big corp means becoming a middle pointy haired manager. I'm not going to be one, hence my missing entrepreneur track record.
You aren't passionate about it: I am, you not. Well, it is all about passion so we may just not match in this particular endeavour.
Disclaimer: I don't even belief half of what I just wrote. Whoever finds irony can keep it :-)!
Seriously, If you approach a future partner-in-crime like that nobody can help you anymore. Everything is to late and you REALLY are bad in business. But if you put any non-technical guy (general question: do you consider mech. engineers as non-technical, too? If yes, I don't like you anymore ;-)) in that category you aren't much better. And if you are that good that you don't need the a idea / business guy why don#t you just go ahead yourself?
I already wrote things like that before, I'll repeat it now: You are looking for a person you will spend more time during the next couple of years than you own wife. Be carefull about who you pick, it is hard. Every party is risking the same, time, money, career. Youare in this together, so respect youself. And damn it, value your collegues! Respect them, as a professional AND a person. That's one of the reasons lot of peopla start start-ups, a lack of respect as an employee. And respect goes both ways.
Mind that, if you don't the only thing you will be is cocky first and business or tech second.
EDIT: In y erlier post (http://martingryner.com/how-i-screwed-up-my-first-business-m...) he wrote that: "Technology wont solve all your problems", I think he is right about that.
I've been networking like a lady-of-loose-morals trying to find one, and it's just as hard as finding a good engineer. (Fortunately as to the latter case, I already are one.) As a result I've been doing the business development, customer seduction - sorry, acquisition - and networking required to get this done myself.
It's really hard.
Yes, there's a lot of idiots with business degrees and the first socio-loco-mobo-deals app idea that popped into their heads. There's also a few business minded geniuses hiding out there too. Don't dismiss them out of hand because of the oversupply of the others.
The problem starts when every Joe at the end of the street thinks merely having an idea merits him to become a millionaire and guys who work that to happen are fundamentally easily replaceable slaves. This works the other way around too, if you are a bad programmer and you think selling is easy, and sales guy is unable to sell you bad product then your wrong.
Execution is a art, no matter what is getting executed. Great execution is difficult in any walk of life.
Just like how good hackers are a scare resource, so are good business people. In general good people are difficult to get.
I understand the problems and points you have raised however, this post is probably not a very good idea if you value your reputation.
When people google your name they might interpret this post as coming from someone rather arrogant.
Just sayin' :)
I can understand having an idea and not knowing how to implement on it, but I can't understand trying to make a business out of that. I have many good ideas I'm not qualified to have. I either take the time to become qualified (how I learned programming in the first place), or just shelve them.
I think that's the same reasoning which caused YC to do the no-idea thing. Ideas are cheap, the team is what's important. I guarantee someone had the idea of Twitter before Twitter.
It's not black and white (the cat, or the matter in hand here).
As a community, we all nurture fragile ideas. Some of them are big, bold ideas (like beating Google at search), but almost all of them are very fragile. People shouldn't labour on in delusion, but if you say the wrong thing to the wrong dispirited guy who has been thinking about a brilliant idea for three months, then you're going to harm rather than help. And you can help without investing your asshole consulting time.
Nobody needs more assholes reflecting on their status within the startup landscape ("I'm a scarce resource") and denigrating people who presumably are coming to you to share ideas they're excited about ("available markers" – whatever that means – "and business monkeys"), whilst simultaneously insinuating that the work engineers do is somehow more vital or worthy ("I have [to] make an investment and [do] actual work while you played [sic] around with excel spreadsheets and send [sic] out a few press releases?").
Engineering is vitally important. But that alone does not encompass execution. An MVP (or a P) is the sum total of the amount of sheer thought that has gone into it from everyone who has worked on it or cares about it. Your asshole consulting code doesn't mean anything if it's a feature which nobody needs. A great software engineer contributes code and creative ideas which push a project on. A non-technical co-founder should protect their engineering team and contribute creative ideas which push a project on, whilst doing the grunt work required to push the project on (pay your taxes. Find an office. Do an angel raise. All the crappy ephemeral stuff that goes with a new startup). But most importantly they are there to care and nurture fragile ideas.
The thing which I sincerely loved about this article was the last paragraph. And it's probably a charge which could be leveraged at this comment, but you should have reconsidered your entire post around the final paragraph. Instead of making it a polemic against curious people with ideas who want to share them with you, and telling them just why you're not interested in working with anyone ever, you should have helped people be more persuasive with those ideas in talking to highly technically literate individuals.
Yes, there are countless people who believe they have ideas which can change the world. Yes, there are fewer engineers who can help them get there. What these ideas people need is someone who is prepared to help them realise they are at step 1 of 1.5m, and the most critical thing to do right now is get to step 2. That takes five seconds. It takes a pertinent question. It takes making them stop and think for a second. It doesn't take a list of vaguely offensive barbs and generalisations.
Context: I am a semi-technically literate cofounder (HTML/CSS/JS, competent PHP).
I'm not saying I love their tactics but the "Build it and they will come" really is a field of dreams and young engineers are all dreamers thinking Sales and Marketing is a waste of people and money.
PS: But, here is the thing. Your probably not Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, or Mark Zuckerburg, but if you can't write code I know your not in their league because they could code. They may not have been great developers but they know enough to understand what's going on which is necessarily in a co-founder even if their not 'technical' they should learn enough to understand what's happening. Getting a start-up off the ground is 100 times harder than learning the basic of software development so yes I use it as a filter when evaluating non technical people.
I've been through half a dozen startups. They each go through several Sales teams before they're done - try some guys, sorry not working, get some more. What does that tell you?
In the same way as a layman hiring a technical guy might not know what to look out for ("This guy knows ActionScript and says that's what we should build our web app in! He's a great developer!"), a layman hiring sales or marketing people is going to get shafted.
Good sales people are at least as scarce as good engineers. The best ones can sell anything, so why would they bother selling subscriptions to your web app for a $20 commission when they can sell oil refinery equipment for a $200k commission? They aren't interested in challenges or doing new and innovative things like engineers are. They're economically driven.
Sales people have the greatest jobs really! They either perform or they don't.. Its easy to measure and easier to take action.
What if the person had a compensation package which paid really well for selling a product which could be sold by over promising? Their W2 would look awesome but the company would be screwed. I would be most cautious of business people leaving a job with a strong w2. Also it is important to see relative performance. What if they are making 100k and their coworkers are bringing home 500k? Are they still good then?
I've talked to several professional devs in the process. The best ask thought provoking questions about my technology choices and business plan, even if they're not available -- one even took an afternoon to work on a prototype Android client with me. I appreciate the frustration that motivates the original post, but a polite no is usually enough to deflect inquiries that aren't serious or well thought out, and an angry blog about "business guys" risks turning off quality people.
But I'd wager there are lots more indignant engineers complaining about how much in demand they are than there are engineers who are actually building great companies.
Stop publicly complaining and go do something successful.
"I am considering making separate business cards for people who want me to be their technical co-founder. They will only have a QR code on them – to this article."
I don't know if I'd still be interested in a technical cofounder who used a QR code to tell me why I was mistaken.
And that would be fine,if you were not deluding yourself that you are some type of a hot shot master of the universe.
Also: You forgot a space after the comma every time you use one.
So what where you saying about his article mistakes again? :)
"No I won't Be Your Business Co-Founder"
NO, I WON’T BE YOUR TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER
Hackers are becoming more and more like VCs, they often have to say "no". Last summer, just before the 500 demo day I attended an event which required me to fill in “company” on name tag. As I was there just to help out Zerply for less than 2 months I didn’t feel adequate enough use their name. I didn’t bother to write my consulting companies either as obviously it wouldn’t have said anything. I decided to go for “Hacker”. I don’t think I would have been forced to listen to as many pitches had I chosen “writing checks”.
Every week I get approached by someone with a “game changing” idea. All they need is someone to execute it. “Hey, I’ve heard you are good at IT stuff, let’s start up!”. Well, no.
I don’t know you.
Startups and babies have one thing in common; you don’t do them with someone you just met. We will have to work together for years, sometimes 24 hours a day. Chances are we just met and you just handed me your card or at least I don’t know you well. How could I trust you with part of my business?
There are thousands of issues that can ruin the relationship between startup founders, many of which can be foreseen. It might not even directly be your fault. Perhaps you have an over-controlling spouse that wants you home by 6 every day? If that’s the case, forgot about startups in general.
I’m not passionate about the subject.
Passion is the fuel that powers startups, it helps get through tough times and get things done. My passion is games. It isn't a hard and fast rule, but unless your idea has something to do with games I probably won’t be interested. People often approach me with a random idea they had, but without the spark in their eyes. That’s a sure sign of approaching failure and I’m not going to buy first class ticket on the Titanic.
You expect me to invest at least 60 000€
It’s reasonable to for MVP to take 6 months. We could release an earlier version, just to be ashamed of it, but 6 months is probable. If we consider just 8 hour work days 5 days a week it totals about 120 000€ by my normal consulting rate.
Time is money; why should I invest mine in your idea? And if I do, why should I accept only 50% or even less of the equity? After all, I have made an investment of actual work while you played around with excel spreadsheets and sent out a few press releases? Sarcasm aside, during first few months of startup development, hackers are doing all the work and taking all the risk. If we fail fast you have lost almost nothing whereas I have lost months of intense work.
Your are easily replaceable.
Let’s face it – good hackers are scarce resource. That’s why you are talking to me. However conferences, meetups and other places where startup industry players gathers to escape the daylight are filled with available marketers and business monkeys.
Only thing you have is your network. As a “business guy” in a startup I expect you to have Barack Obama as a 2nd level LinkedIn connection and Zuckys number on speed dial. Well, anyway much wider network than I have. If you don’t – I probably don’t need you.
There are exceptions of course, people who have already proved themselves, but that’s an entirely different ballgame. Experience in other fields does not matter – even if they come from tech industry, startups are nothing like your average business plan.
“I don’t know the IT stuff”
I don’t know anything about construction, medicine or farming. Common denominator here is, I’m not planning to do business in any of these fields. If you say outright that you know nothing about IT, it means you won’t respect nor understand my work, will set unreasonable goals and probably won’t be pleasant to work with. At least get some basic knowledge of the technical side if you want any hacker to take you seriously. And lose the darn tie.
How to make me consider it.
I can think of two cases where I have seriously considered taking the role and might actually do it at some point.
One of them was a guy approaching me with an idea for a piece of software he desperately needed himself. Not desperately, but enough to invest money into it. He was straightforward from the beginning – he knew the industry, knew the problem and could provide the first clients and testers. Later on he hoped to sell it to some bigger player – not change the world/cure AIDS or eliminate hunger. It was barely a startup as he wasn’t hunting millions, just a quick cash and to scratch his own itch.
Second case was a team of 2 developers asking me to be the third. They had a better business model and market research than most MBAs that have asked me to join. They also acknowledged that the task was so big they would benefit from having another set of hands. I can respect that.
What did these two cases have that others haven't? First of all, I knew the people for some time, one of them for about 10 years. Secondly they had well defined goals and business models. You are not Steve Jobs, you do not have a reality disorientation field. Vision is not enough. I want to see numbers and research before I decide to make the investment of my time and effort.
I am considering making separate business cards for people who want me to be their technical co-founder. They will only have a QR code on them – to this article.
Sometimes I'm a little too much of a grammar snob for my own good.