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The Startup Marriage

Topic: Entrepreneur Evangelist | Comments (2)

Posted on February 5, 2010 by admin

One of my favorite startup blog authors, Martin Zwilling, has a great article this week about why someone who is an inventor needs to partner with someone who is an entrepreneur in order to turn his invention into an actual business.

This is always a fascinating topic for me, because in my tech universe, I see this all the time. The geeky geniuses who build cool things are rarely the ones who have the business and people skills to get it to market, build an organization around it, and monetize it enough so that everyone can live off of it.

Conversely, oh-so-many entrepreneurs don’t have the stomach for low level details of how a product works, or the nitty gritty trouble-shooting required to get over the hump when you hit a roadblock. These are two groups who need each other in order to get things done. But there is a lot of advice about how, if you’re going to build a tech startup, you better be able to code yourself. I think this is a problem for this precise reason.

Yes, certain things are easier if you can just bang them out yourself. I’ve spent more than a decade as tech project manager, and I can’t count the number of times I wish I had the ability to just jump in and do something myself because I was frustrated with other people’s progress. But part of managing is leading other people through that process, not cutting them off at the pass by doing it yourself.

In all of my time at startups over the past 14 years, I have worked with several hundred developers, of all levels of quality, commitment and disposition. In that time, I’ve only met a small handful who have any entrepreneurial inclinations whatsoever. Like most other parts of the employment world, most of them do not have the appetite for risk, the drive or the compulsion to tackle building a venture.

Of the half dozen or so that I’ve met who have the stomach for entrepreneurship, I’d say that maybe two or three actually have enough business and people savvy to make a real go of it. Developers (and scientists) are often introverts. There is nothing surprising about this, since these professions require the qualities that tend to come very naturally to introverted people: the ability to work alone for long stretches of time, the ability to concentrate enough to shut out the rest of the world and focus, thinking through complex obstacles in depth before slapping things together.

Yet successful entrepreneurs are typically extroverts. Again, this makes sense. Network building, relationship development, sales, partnership cultivation and generally being the public face and voice of a business are part of the job. Those are often the types of things that can often make a staunch introvert queasy.

Martin’s point is correct: these two groups need each other in order to be successful.

So, to those who say that a successful entrepreneur building a tech startup needs to be able to write his own code, I can only say this: yes, in a perfect world, that would be possible. But a passionate entrepreneur with a viable idea to take to market should never give up his dream, just because he’s not a developer.

It may take longer to get there without being able to do it yourself, but a race car driver has a mechanic for a reason. They are different skill sets, different dispositions and different roles designed to fill different needs. It’s therefore not unreasonable to expect that it should simply be a different person.

Alora Chistiakoff is an entrepreneur, blogger, content strategist and project manager who has been developing online business and technology for startups for more than a decade. She co-owns The Indigo Heron Group, Inc., a content strategy firm in Austin, Texas.

  • http://www.hyzertech.com Craig Daniels

    I think the article is dead on. I’m a developer and run a web consulting company. I would group myself as a developer who also has the entrepreneurial spirit. I categorize myself as an intrapreneur. I enjoy the creative risk/reward working with entrepreneurs and start-up companies. I have business sense and better social skills than most developers, but I am not an extrovert to be the public face of the company. I know where my skills are best suited, providing the best technology. I need the entrepreneur as much as they need me.

  • Alora Chistiakoff

    Thanks, Craig. I think it’s often hard to remember that there are both hard skills and soft skills to both roles. I think too many people focus just on the hard skills; they assume that the soft skills — relationships, communication, networking, speaking, etc. — are something that anyone can do. I constantly meet developers who build great apps, only to discover that turning those apps into an actual business is much harder than they ever imagined. Even worse, it often requires doing things that they truly hate doing (speaking in public is often a biggie!). And while I have met many developers who are quick to dismiss the value of soft skills of entrepreneurship (especially networking and relationship-building that are part of the sales process), once they find that they are truly necessary to building a business, they often realize they are in hot water, because that is not what they are good at. Getting people to understand the value of soft skills is often hard until they find themselves needing what they don’t have in the moment. Too bad that, by then, they are often handicapped by what they are lacking. Thanks for the response! — Alora