The commonly accepted structure for startup teams is one business founder and one technical founder. Theoretically it makes sense: one guy builds the product and the other sells it. But it’s not that simple.
Some time ago I wrote that founders can’t live in silos. If the business guy doesn’t get the tech side and vice versa, it can lead to a host of problems. Having spent the last few months talking to entrepreneurs, I’m going to take my concerns one step further and say that the business founder is dead.
We’re seeing more and more startups built by two technical co-founders. That doesn’t mean they can sit by themselves in the dark and code all day and night. Quite the opposite. But technical people are becoming more and more savvy on how to build their businesses. They’re learning about and actively figuring out things like customer development, viral loops, user acquisition, marketing, etc. They’re taking over the responsibilities of traditional business founders but remaining close to and active with product development and code.
The value of a classic business founder without any technical know-how is dropping significantly. That might change when a company hits product/market fit and is ready to scale, but early on, startups are succeeding without pure business founders.
The “new” business founder is someone that gets technology and can build products. It’s someone that can hack together a WordPress site with landing pages for A/B testing. It’s someone that gets analytics. It’s someone that can be in charge of product management (not “project management!”) Either traditional business founders need to acquire these skills ASAP or get out of the way, because technical founders are moving into these domains aggressively. And they should: technical founders need to understand, embrace and excel at these elements of the business.
When you think about your startup and you’re asking, “Who will speak to customers?” it shouldn’t be an either-or question between two founders. Both founders should be speaking to customers. Both founders should be conducting early customer interviews. And when you’re asking, “Who will be involved in designing the UI, product flows, hacking the MVP?”, the answer is everyone.
The traditional business founder is dead. But that doesn’t mean that startups can focus on technology and ignore business. Quite the opposite. Most risk in startups today is market risk, not technical risk. The key is that the people identifying the market risk, problems to solve, market opportunities, customers, acquisition tactics, pricing, etc. are the same people that should be building the solutions. Everyone in a startup is a business founder. Everyone is a technical founder.