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.