What Kind Of Entrepreneur Are You?

June 17, 2003

By Andy Hilliard

You may have heard the old joke - “There are only 2 kinds of people in the world – those who put everything into 2 categories and those who don’t.” Likewise, I think there are two kinds of Entrepreneurs – Technical and Executive. Which are you? Are you a technical guru or a business savvy executive that knows what customers want before they do? Each has his or her own set of challenges in starting a company.

The Technical Entrepreneur is someone who started their career as a programmer. Or they begin in another technical field like Math, Physics or Electrical Engineering.

He or she is the classic entrepreneur, of mythic proportions in Silicon Valley, and elsewhere now that Silicon Valley was put on the map by the dot-com bubble. But successful technical entrepreneurs require more than innovation and midnight oil. It takes a team of engineers to create a successful product and company.

Here are three examples of Technical Entrepreneurs:

Bill Gates

OK, he’s not from Silicon Valley and none of us probably want to be exactly like Bill Gates. It has been a long time since any of Bill’s code has made it into a Microsoft product. Although he may have been a technical innovator in the early days of Basic and DOS, Microsoft did not grow significantly until they mastered the process of creating software products. That takes programmers and process. Now Microsoft has thousands of programmers, allegedly innovating in Redmond at this very moment. For details read ” Accidental Empires ” by Robert X. Cringely

Marc Andreessen

In 1993, as an undergraduate at the University of Illinois in Champaign,Andreessen created the first prototype of the Mosaic browser with a team of students and staff at the University’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Then he joined Jim Clark to start Netscape. Marc is given the credit for creating the Netscape browser and by no means do I want to minimize his accomplishments. However, at both NCSA and Netscape, Marc led a team to create these browser products. Read ” The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story ” by Michael Lewis

Pierre Omidyar

Pierre Omidyar coded up the first version of eBay in a spare bedroom of his condo as a hobby in 1995. By the way, it was not to sell Pez dispensers to collectors as was widely reported in the early days of the company. He later sought venture capital so he could hire a good CEO (Meg Whitman) to grow the company. Again, he did not do it all himself. Two books on eBay – ” The Perfect Store: Inside eBay ” by Adam Cohen and ” Eboys: The First Inside Account of Venture Capitalists at Work ” by Randall E. Stross. “Eboys” also describes other investments made by Benchmark.

But there is a second type of entrepreneur. One that perceives a unique market need, but maybe has never written a line of code.

The non-technical Executive Entrepreneur has just as much a chance for success as the much-heralded Technical Entrepreneur. His or her advantage is not technical know-how but knowing what customers will buy. If you can specify what the customer needs then programmers you hire can build it.

What will customers buy? A software solution to a problem you know they are suffering from. If customers don’t need or want the software product, then it doesn’t matter if you are a Bill Gates or a Marc Andreessen that can code up a prototype over night.

As a rule of thumb, your product must be twice as good as what the customer does now and/or provide a 10x return on investment (ROI). You should provide believable numbers to justify the ROI as a combination of reduced costs and improved productivity. A value proposition like this will usually motivate customers to buy.

Even if you are a Technical Entrepreneur addressing an important market need, the trick is to make a software product, not just technology. That takes a team of people. It is difficult to deal with the technical intricacies of creating software at the same time you are marketing to prospects and dealing with customer issues, demands and desires.

The problem both types of entrepreneurs share is how to build a software development team quickly and cheaply that can deliver the software product to market as quickly as possible. A software product is more than just compiled code. It’s the software, installation instructions, documentation and support. If you just focus on the cool, gee-whiz technology of your new product, it will not be a product at all.

Smart entrepreneurs are effective communicators. They inflame both customers and coworkers with their passion for the product. And they also make sure product details get implemented to bring the product vision to life.

Whether you are a Technical or Executive Entrepreneur, you need to communicate your product vision in enough detail to others so they can build it, support it, get excited about buying it and learn how to use it. Smart entrepreneurs of both stripes use effective communication to leverage themselves, enabling use of additional resources to achieve higher productivity and accelerate success.


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