Will The Start-Up World Be Ruled By Techies or Business People?

There was a lively discussion on my post, Can Non-Engineers Run Software Companies? The usually insightful and usually verbose Paul Graham remarks today on his blog/website:

There’s also a social trend that will last: the startup world will increasingly be ruled by technical people rather than business people. As in so many other areas, Google is the pattern for the future. The hackers dominate Google, and that’s why Google wins. A lot of the most characteristically lame startups of the Bubble were that way because they were started by business guys, who then went looking for hackers to implement their ideas. That model may have worked in 1960, but it didn’t work so well in 1998, and it gets more obsolete every year. I think the future belongs to the hackers. Technology is an ever larger component of business, so of course power is shifting to the people who are experts in that, rather than management or finance.

I agree know-how in technology will be more and more essential. But I think we must stop bifurcating “business” and “technology” people. The most essential human beings will be people who bring interesting perspectives and diverse skill sets across a range of disciplines — technology and business are just two. Interdisciplinary, my friends, will be the buzzword of the “business” world over the next 20 years.

3 comments on “Will The Start-Up World Be Ruled By Techies or Business People?
  • Successful startups are started by techies. Successful businesses are run by business people.

    The debate should really be whether it’s possible to start a successful business skipping the successful startup phase. i.e., is it a prerequisite today for a business to have a worthwhile product? If yes, then it’s not possible to skip the successful startup phase.

  • Every day, I talk with young founders who are starting companies (or who have even raised substantial amounts of money) who feel like they don’t understand marketing or sales.

    For better or worse, marketing and sales are fairly mature disciplines, with established ways of doing things.

    If you want to market a new cereal, you have to do a certain set of non-obvious things to be successful. The same applies to enterprise software, and just about everything else other than Internet services (and I would argue that even those have best practices).

    You could reinvent the wheel on your own, but I think a far better approach is to find business people who actually “get it” and approach sales and marketing with a humble and helpful attitude.

    The startup I met with today had met with a top PR firm. The 42-year-old marketing VP there couldn’t understand what the startup did, which mean that most of the meeting proceeded as follows:

    Startup explains what they’re doing to the 20something PR staffers.

    The 20something PR staffers translate for the 42-year-old VP.

    The 42-year-old VP gives his opinion to the 20something PR staffers.

    The 20something PR staffers translate for the startup.

    The answer is obvious–hire the people who can speak both languages.

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