Disclaimer: This post is going to be a bit different than my usual. Instead of discussing technical or philosophical stuff, I’m going to be doing a bit of ranting.
Before I go any further, I’d like to clear up any misunderstandings: I’m a tech guy. I’m currently the lead programmer at a small technical startup in the telephony industry. I’ve always had technical jobs, and most of my friends are engineers. I have met and known quite a few business and marketing guys in my life, and feel like my opinion as a tech guy is validated by my personal experiences. Furthermore: I’m not saying I’m right–I’m simply arguing my point of view. Feel free to disagree with me!
As most of you know, I’m a pretty big fan of Hacker News. I’ve been extremely interested in the startup and tech community for many years, and the topics discussed there typically hit close to heart. One of my lifelong dreams is to build a successful technical empire, and as I feel I’m finally approaching a level of development in my life that will allow me to start building this empire, I’ve been paying closer and closer attention to relevant discussions online. It seems as if every week the same few questions come up in one form or another online:
Hi guys! I’m a business guy, and I’d like to know how to find a technical co-founder for my company. I’ve got some great ideas, and I’m awesome at selling things, but I’m having lots of trouble meeting technical people who will give me the time of day. What do I need to do?
Hi guys! I’m an engineer. Why do business guys continuously approach me with their ideas, and expect me to spend all my free time building a product for them for no pay?
Or my favorite…
Hi guys! I’m an engineer working on a startup in my free time with another dude who is handling the business side of things. I’ve been writing code for months now, and the product is beginning to look decent, but I feel like my partner isn’t putting in a fair amount of work. He’s been telling me that he’s been “working” on getting customers, but I see nothing being done that I couldn’t automate with a shell script. What do I do?
There have been some awesome discussions online surrounding these questions / situations, with very heated debates on both sides of the table. Since I see the same patterns emerge over and over again, I figured now is as good a time as any to throw my thoughts out there into the mix, so here it goes.
Technical Guys are Fucking SMART
The kind of techies who work at startups, read Hacker News, and build side projects on their free time are SMART. The amount of passion, dedication, discipline, and time required to master technologies is astounding. Building software today requires immense knowledge spread across numerous domains. Even building the “simplest” of web services requires a wide array of technical skills, that are the result of years worth of studying and practice.
The type of technical guys who can build entire products and companies in just a few months (or less!) are the type of people who are extremely dedicated to their craft, and are among the top tiers of professional development. As someone who frequents Hacker News, I find it is often the case that non-technical people assume the sort of technical people described above are abundant. This is simply not true. In small, niche communities like Hacker News, it seems this way only because the overall quality of members and users is extremely high in comparison to that of the “real world”, and thus gives the impression that “most” engineers are amazing.
Furthermore, these awesome software developers aren’t just good at technical stuff–they’re good at everything. The type of person who is continuously learning, questioning, and creating things of value has extremely useful, deeply ingrained character traits:
- They have a desire to understand why and how things work.
- They have a desire to solve problems in an elegant manner.
- They have and exercise critical thinking skills in all aspects of life.
- They think logically.
- They realize what limitations they have, and know how to work around them.
- They know how to create things.
- They know where and how to get information they don’t already have.
These traits are, in and of themselves, possibly the most useful skills of all. People who exhibit those qualities are practically unstoppable. They’re able to identify problems and build solutions to those problems in an elegant manner.
What I’m trying to get at here is this: if these developers are so smart, what is stopping them from simply learning how to incorporate a company, advertise online, and sell stuff? The answer is: “nothing”. These people are more than capable of learning the necessary skills to build successful companies completely solo. In comparison to learning the vast amounts of technical knowledge they’ve already acquired–learning business and marketing concepts are astoundingly simple in comparison.
Business Guys… Not So Much
As a non-technical business guy, your knowledge is at best extremely limited. You’re at a severe disadvantage:
- Engineers can easily learn what you know.
- Good engineers have character traits that make them likely to succeed at a myriad of activities, including business.
- Engineers understand how things work. Instead of making assumptions about problems, engineers know about problems, why they exist, and how to solve them.
- Engineers know the best way to find and build solutions to problems.
- Engineers are more creative: their understanding of how and why things work gives them a large pool of creative ideas which would not be available to non-technical folk.
Regardless of whether you exhibit useful character traits, you are lacking the necessary skills to build solutions to your problems. This means that you are essentially replaceable by technology.
What it comes down to is that technical guys really don’t have any incentives to work with business guys. Let’s say that in a best-case scenario, a business guy:
- Is passionate about the problem.
- Wants to help customers solve this problem by selling them your solution.
- Has a proven track record for selling to customers in this industry.
- Is in contact with a large amount of customers who are willing to give feedback on your potential solution.
- Knows how to advertise this solution.
Ignoring the fact that this is a best-case scenario, the business guy is still not needed by the engineer. Why?
- The engineer must also be passionate about this problem in order to devote time (without pay) to working on it.
- The engineer knows how to find customers to get feedback from. He knows that he can do an hour or two of research and collect this information.
- The engineer is able to adapt his solution to the customers problem without a middleman. This leads to faster development, more precise solutions, and happier customers.
- The engineer can easily advertise his solution in a pragmatic fashion using tech tools to do so: A/B testing, online marketing, buisness analytics tools and programs, etc.
Furthermore, the deal is not appealing to the engineer because the amount of work he has to put into developing the actual solution far outweighs the amount of time that is needed to do equal amounts of marketing and sales by the business guy.
To engineers it is far more profitable and enjoyable to simply build solutions to problems without business guys, as the engineers will have:
- Complete ownership of the solution.
- Deep understanding of the problem, and solution.
- The skills necessary to build a solution, and maintain it over time.
- The smarts to market, grow, and continuously evolve the solution to make it more successful over time.
What to Do
Although this post comes off as extremely hostile towards “business guys”, that is really not my intention. Instead, I hope to give “business guys” some true understanding of business from a “tech guy’s” perspective.
What I’d suggest business guys do, in order to develop the traits discussed in this article, is to become a “tech guy”. Learn to program. Learn how to use Linux. Build a passion for understanding how and why things work. People can change. Even the most non-technical person in the world can use their willpower to “retrain” themselves. While it definitely involves a lot of work and dedication, the benefits are lifelong.
If you’re a “business guy”, instead of trying to find a “tech guy” to work with, consider working on yourself to become a “tech guy”.