The Difference Between Technical-Founder/CEO vs Professional CEO

In tech, we talk about difference between technical-founder/CEO (product/eng background) vs professional CEO (sales/marketing background).

Our general theory is: It’s easier to teach product innovator how to manage, than it is to teach sales/marketing operator how to innovate. There are many exceptions in both directions, of course. The mountain is hard to climb either way. There’s lots of work/learning/adaptation required.

I propose another lens on the dynamic: The difference between knowing What and Who, vs knowing How, Where, and When. Bear with me… Great tech founder/CEOs tend to focus on What and Who: What product to build, and Who to hire/train/retain/motivate to build it. Great pro CEOs tend to focus on How, Where, & When: How = processes; Where = geographic expansion; When = optimizing business across time.

To succeed at scale, each needs to learn the other skills and hire people who have them: Founder/CEO -> How/Where/When; Pro CEO -> What/Who. The challenge: It’s usually easier to hire skilled business professionals who know How/Where/When than What/Who. This is fishing from unbalanced pool. The trap: Only nailing What/Who can carry startup a long way, but only nailing How/Where/When = slow road to zombieland and company death. Ultimately = team-building for both paths. But dynamic different and differently challenging in each direction; requires open discussion.

Addendum: The Why = the mission, ideally beyond just “the company’s success.” This is increasingly important for all paths.

Addendum: The truly great tech CEOs have mastered all of these: What, Who, How, Where, and When… and Why.

Source: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

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6 Reasons Not to Crap on The Hard Work and Efforts of Founders and Startup Teams

I really don’t get people who go out of their way to crap on the hard work and efforts of founders and startup teams. The simple form of such crapping is pure sour grapes. The advanced version is “Silicon Valley is not trying to solve big problems”.

In honor of today’s outstanding YC demo day, I’ll reprise some thoughts from my July 7 tweetstorm on this cynical and pointless canard. There are six logical problems with the false choice of “make trivial apps for 20-something SF hipsters” vs “do things that matter”.

  1. “Make trivial apps” vs “do things that matter” are not actually in conflict-there’s plenty of room and plenty of money to do both.
  2. It’s often hard to tell which is which up front. Almost all big world-changers were dismissed by critics as trivial at first.
  3. Observer bias: Only read consumer tech blogs, only go to consumer tech conferences, think SV only works on consumer tech.
  4. Battling cynical critiques: Founders who articulate the big vision for changing the world get called arrogant and vainglorious. Both criticisms are leveled with no cognitive dissonance: Founders are either not pursuing big ideas, or are out of control egomaniacs if they are.
  5. Subtext often that communication tech/apps in particular somehow aren’t important or don’t matter, vs energy, education, etc. Why? Communication is the foundation of collaborative work, which is how all the important problems gets solved. People working together.
  6. Anyone who thinks SV can be doing more/better/different, come join us and participate in building new things, products, companies.

The central truth of Silicon Valley is that there’s always more to do, and there are always new opportunities to build and contribute. I couldn’t be more proud of today’s YC amazing demo day crop, spanning more problem domains than ever. Silicon Valley spirit is thriving.

Sources: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13

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Lyft Line Launch

We @a16z are very excited about the launch of Lyft Line, and I want to explain why!

Lyft and Lyft Line are an archetypal example of how Silicon Valley is going straight at the hard problems, in this case transportation. A growing number of people know about the amazing consumer utility and convenience created by “a ride on demand whenever you want”. And in parallel, services like Lyft make it possible for people who may otherwise not be able to make car payments to keep their cars.

In many cities, this results in a triple win: Consumer convenience, driver economic benefits, and improved business/tourism environment. But beyond that, as Lyft and its peers grow, ride sharing becomes increasingly convenient and affordable as *alternative* to owning a car. This leads to environmental benefits: Fewer cars needed -> less natural resource utilization; Network efficiency -> fewer miles driven.

Online supply/demand matching eliminates the need for cars-for-hire to drive around & look for riders. Network optimization in bits not atoms. Lyft Line is especially environmentally friendly: Facilitates multiple people riding together on the same route, still with high convenience! Everyone in world wants equivalent to upper-middle-class American lifestyle. Services like Lyft make it possible without destroying planet.

Few new techs deliver so much to so many: riders, drivers, car owners, cities, environment. And to think it just looks like an app :-). Closing note: Lyft Line is the classic “peace dividend of smartphone wars” — not possible pre universal smartphones.

Source: Tweets – 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

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Ten + One Ways to Grievously Damage Your High-Growth Tech Startup and Silicon Valley in the Process

Ten + one ways to grievously damage your high-growth tech startup, and Silicon Valley in the process:

  1. Only hire, and only train/motivate/incent your managers to hire — don’t optimize efficiency, don’t do performance management, don’t fire.
  2. Founders, sell too much of your own personal stock too quickly, alienating your employees and questioning your long-term commitment.
  3. Let private stock sales by employees get out of hand: create hit-and-run culture and take on burdens of being public before going public.
  4. Dilute the s*** out of cap table: be sloppy and undisciplined w/stock grants to early employees, plant morale land mine for later employees.
  5. Maximize absolute valuation of each growth round: make later rounds harder and harder to achieve, until you trigger a disastrous down round.
  6. Let non-SV investors suck you into terrible structural terms on growth rounds: guarantee massive trauma if anything goes slightly wrong.
  7. Go public too soon, before you’re a fortress, before you can withstand all the assaults: ending in stock price death spiral and train wreck.
  8. Pour huge money into overly glorious new headquarters, signaling to employees “we’ve made it, we’re amazing”, then repeat two years later.
  9. Confuse conference circuit and party scene with actual work. Encourage alcohol and drugs, party culture in company, value ballers over nerds.
  10. Refuse to take HR seriously: allow terrible internal manager and employee behavior to catalyze into catastrophic ethical and legal crisis.
  11. And the one that will actually kill you: Assume more cash is always available at higher and higher valuations, forever.

Source: Tweets – 0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11

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photo credit: PeterThoeny - cc

An Answer to Critics Who Say that Silicon Valley Isn’t Building/Funding the Right Things

One persistent canard from would-be SV critics is “Silicon Valley isn’t building/funding the right things, aka solutions to big problems.” There are six logical problems with the false choice of “make trivial apps for 20-something SF hipsters” vs “do things that matter”.

First, “make trivial apps” vs “do things that matter” are not actually in conflict; there’s plenty of room and plenty of money to do both.

Second, it’s often hard to tell which is which up front. Almost all big world-changers were dismissed by critics as trivial at first.

Third, observer bias: Only read consumer tech blogs, only go to consumer tech conferences, think SV only works on consumer tech. Founders of non-consumer-tech startups routinely find same pundits mounting criticism have little interest in hearing about other domains. This is exacerbated by the SF-centric consumer tech party scene–other domains in SV don’t have the same party culture, just nerds at work. New arrivals to SV get sucked into SF party scene, and never make it to the South Bay industrial parks where everything else is happening.

Fourth, battling cynical critiques: Founders who articulate the big vision for changing the world get called arrogant and vainglorious. Both criticisms are leveled with no cognitive dissonance: Founders are either not pursuing big ideas, or are out of control egomaniacs if they are.

Fifth, subtext often that communication tech/apps in particular somehow aren’t important or don’t matter, vs energy, education, etc. I think this is 100% incorrect: Communication tech/apps including the Internet are the foundation for everything else we’ll do for 100 years. Why? Communication is the foundation of collaborative work, which is how all the important problems get solved. People working together.

Sixth: Anyone who thinks SV can be doing more/better/different, come join us and participate in building new things, products, companies! Jump in, the water’s warm! SV draws talent from all over the world and all walks of life; nothing preventing any critic from contributing. As my old boss Jim Barksdale used to say, “We have plenty of uniforms your size.” Many opportunities to contribute and make a difference! And, of course, tech startup ecosystem now expanding worldwide. Opportunities to contribute from anywhere abound, linked via Internet.

Source: Tweets – 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17

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