We live in a technological world. We see new tech start-ups every day. Software services and tech products pervade and invade every aspect of our waking lives. Every laptop doubles as a window into the production line that turn ideas into services, and code becomes the website or app on which business is transacted.
Accordingly, I have seen many investor panels / discussions and listened to many backers of start-ups say outrageous things like: “I won’t ever back a start-up if the founder isn’t technical”, or “A start up team that doesn’t have a technical person on board from the start is doomed to failure”. It seems to be a mantra repeated all over the globe. Frankly, its complete bullshit.
I’ve never cut a line of code. Worst still, I started my career as a lawyer. Yet I managed to build, scale and sell a successful software company. In fact, the more I have researched, the more I have found many many founders of technology and software companies are not technical and have never cut a line of code.
What is really at play here?
To put it into most simplistic terms, I think there are 2 types of entrepreneurs: technical entrepreneurs and sales entrepreneurs.
One of the questions I get asked a lot is: Who would you rather back, a sales entrepreneur or a technical entrepreneur?
Well, in business there is an old-school saying that goes a little something like this: Nothing happens until something is sold. There is a hell of a lot of truth in that statement. Yet, in modern day business, sometimes you can’t sell anything until you have built the underlying tech, so perhaps this saying is now a misnomer. Or is it?
Let’s dig a little deeper.
When a business starts, a founder (or founding team) usually has an idea and they decide to build a business around this. At this stage, let’s not consider the issue of start-up capital or funds available. The next step is build the product, and this is where the sales and technical entrepreneurs paths start to diverge. The technical entrepreneur sits down at his or her laptop and starts to cut-code, the sales entrepreneur hires someone to build code, or outsources the function completely.
Here’s where things get a little interesting.
Sometimes, the technical entrepreneur tries to create a great MVP, most times the technical entrepreneur does what he or she does best, and keeps cutting code to try and build a comprehensive, outstanding, software solution. They live and breathe the code.
The sales entrepreneur is not bogged down in code at this, or at any, stage. They are focussing on taking their idea to market and finding clients. They are finding where the money is at a lot earlier on in the start-up journey than the technical entrepreneur.
Importantly too, the sales entrepreneur is actively engaging with the market. They are asking questions or “real” clients such as:
– Do you already have a service like this?
– What features do you need?
– What features will you pay a premium for?
– What systems do we need to integrate with?
– When are you running your next tender?
– How much will you pay for this?
The sales entrepreneur is actively engaged in product / market fit discussions and understanding both the competitive landscape and the pricing and feature matrix all at a very early stage. The tech entrepreneur is still cutting code and the product has no clients.
The sales entrepreneur cannot and does not code, but they are paying money (which a start-up needs to watch every cent) for this code. It’s a drawback. However, they are now able to feedback “client” requirements into the development process, key features about what clients need and these form part of the MVP / software product. As they get closer to launch, their product has relevance and an understanding of their target market.
Beta vs VHS
Many of you will remember the video format wars. Technology products / format wars happen all the time and quite often centre around a better technical solution vs a cheaper or more customer focussed option. Who wins?
In my view, you can build the greatest technology or software known to all of man, but if a customer won’t buy it, doesn’t need it, doesn’t know about it, then it will sit on the shelf.
Many brilliant products have never seen the light of day and many brilliant software solutions never find a market. Yet, there is so much underwhelming nonsense out there making the founders a decent wage / fortune and yielding a decent upside for investors.
Ultimately, it comes down to a founder’s desire, resilience and guile and not their technical background that will make a start-up successful. But, given a technical founder sitting in a room coding all day or a sales founder meeting with clients trying to do a deal, find a fit and make a buck, I’ll take the latter every day of the week.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on whether you share a similar view. Let me know.
Founder and CEO
Mktplace Ventures – www.mktplaceventures.com