Monday, January 14, 2008

Startup Stereotypes

The last couple of days I've been giving a friend some advice as he tries to flesh out a startup. Having spent a decade or so playing in that arena with some good successes (and even more valuable failures) to my credit, I'm doing what I can to make his transition into the ranks of the entrepreneur less volatile than mine. From time to time, I use this place to spew thoughts that seemed to be helpful to him and might be useful for others.

In the technology workspace there are a couple stereotypes that have evolved. The first is the Developer. The technical guy who solves engineering problems, makes the impossible a reality, and knows way more details about how things work than most of us will ever care to acknowledge. The best ones are often very temperamental, strong-willed, and emotionally volatile. Their opinions and decisiveness, an un-erring determination of their own correctness or failings, and unflagging curiosity are their hallmarks. These traits are what spur them to the feats of creative genius and startling leaps of intuition which are why they are tolerated. As a sweeping generalization, the more valuable and miraculous they become the harder they are to manage.

The other major stereotype is the Manager. The general purpose resource who can direct activities, plans details and contributions, and makes the decisions. The best ones align themselves with contributors and seamless funnel opportunities and remove roadblocks in their relentless pursuit of specific outcomes. They are cheerleaders and priests, mothers and big brothers. They protect their people when necessary but make the hard choices on who to throw under the bus when necessary. Being social and flexible, easy to speak and quick to learn are key traits. As a sweeping generalization, great Managers sell themselves and their people, and act as information insulators.

In the startup world today you need both types of people. If you are somehow able to find both in the same person, hire them immediately. If for some reason you can't hire them, send them my way and I will.

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