I saw a great article today, an interview with Drop.io’s founder Sam Lessin and NYTech Meetup’s Nate Westheimer.
The gist? Non-technical founders will always make “subpar products that fail slowly.” The main thrust of the argument is that non-technical founders have vision, and in translating that vision to the implementors, well, something gets “lost in translation.”
I am an engineer at heart. I consult nowadays, most of the time on technology and business operations, oftentimes also on product strategy. I have an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and am highly conversant in product strategy, But at heart I am engineer. Nothing makes me as happy as building something that works. So, I still build with Lego; I learn whatever the latest infrastructure and software platforms are out there; I contribute to the open-source community whenever I can (https://github.com/deitch for the curious).
Not surprisingly, this engineer has a bias towards an article that says that techies are better at the startup business. But I think Alyson Shontell has a point here, beyond the “lost in translation” problem.
Techies, engineers in general, are people of building new products. They love it, live it, breathe it. And they don’t stop with software or hardware. They want to reengineer everything to be newer and better. Technical people have a great weakness, their blind spot as to how real people will use (or not use) and pay for (or not pay for) their products. But they will always envision new products and services, and ways the world could just be a better place.
Conversely, when I meet a startup founded by marketers or salespeople who have no technology experience, I can almost put the words in their mouths. I *know* they will soon say, “we can just hire the technical talent.” I run far away from those, as fast as I can… and I run regularly.
Every one of the great companies, almost without exception (Jeff Bezos is raised in the comments, but I don’t know if he knew how to code in his DE Shaw days), was founded by a technologist: Bill Gates of Microsoft; Jobs (yes, he even built circuit boards) & Wozniak of Apple; Page and Brin of Google; the list goes on.
I admit my bias, but that doesn’t change the reality. If you want success, make sure technologists are founders, or at the very least equal co-founders.