For some time I’ve planned to found my own company some day. It’s one thing to work your way up through other companies and potentially lead a company, but my strong suspicion is it’s an entirely different and rewarding experience to build something from the ground up. Two key things I’ve decided (as it will likely be a somewhat technical company i’ll found):
I want leadership that understands the technology
I want developers that understand the business
Let me explain each of these further…
Leadership often has a solid understanding of the high level value. They understand where the business should be headed, they know at a minimum what customers must pay, and how large the market should be. Once they know these things their next step is to ensure the company can build a product that meets the needs of customers. While all steps are worthwhile, the one I often see bad steps taken are in this execution. It’s not because these people don’t know how to execute, it’s because they don’t understand even at a middle-level how the technology actually works.
I suspect there are many people that can build companies that do grow to be big and successful without having a hands on knowledge, however having the hands on knowledge seems to increase the odds of succeeding quite greatly.
In contrast developers at a lot of places are highly technical, they know the details and they’re happy to talk about them. There’s really two issues with this, neither are reasons development would go badly, but more of underutilized opportunities. If a developer understands the business then they don’t have to really hash over the details of requirements to the T, they have more of a critical mindset of how things relate to a user. This means you may have a more solid product, or can even spend less on a product manager as you have all your developers thinking in that mindset of how your product relates to the users.
The even bigger difference is sales/marketing. When young and a small company you have very limited resources, people are expected to do lots of tasks. Most people at startups know this, but I seldom see people expect engineers at startups to be able to market/sell the product. However when they are you will typically increase your sales force somewhere around 3-4 fold and reach many audiences you left untouched before. Often times these come in the form of developer conferences, where developers from your target market may be, but a marketer would not feel comfortable trying to sell into a developer environment.
While I would never expect any executive, vp, or manager to get incredibly hands on and code, I without a doubt want them to if truly needed be able to.
As for the developers, they definitely be able to succinctly explain the product and its value to a variety of audiences.