Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why I Will Never Be A Founder

I've been doing the startup thing for over 10 years now. For all of that time, I've been in senior roles – leading finance, corporate development, partnering, operations, support, etc. across a handful of great companies. Along the way, people have asked a flattering, yet natural question: when will I found a startup of my own?

The truth is, I have thought about it. Early on, I deliberately exposed myself to areas of my companies that were not my responsibility (even ran development for one scary week when a CEO was away). I was training myself to run a startup. But over time – especially in the last two years, I have come to two conclusions:

1.) I absolutely love what I do and would lose a lot if I was not spending my days advising founders / CEOs and making financial deals happen; and

2.) I believe that founders should be technical.

The 1st point is self explanatory. The 2nd you may or may not agree with it, so lets dig into it.

When you're creating a startup from nothing you need to build a strong foundation. That foundation is a technical one. It is true that in the era of web 2.0 the technical hurdles have come down. We have frameworks, tools and platforms to help us launch faster and the key to success is less about algorithms and more about user experience. Still, you need to be technical. Its just that technical might mean you're a product or UI person on the web vs. a developer more generally.

Now, I do work with some CEOs that are not technical. I'm not saying they can't be successful. And if they come from a marketing background, then they bring another important element to the equation. But, I feel that especially in the early days, if you're not technical enough you have a big, important blind spot.

How do you know what's possible with your technology? Do you know how fast you can launch? How do you fully assess the technical hires you make? Do you base your strategy on commercial moves or on an understanding of your technical platform and just how far it can go?

There are many questions that are best answered from a technical or product foundation that are key to startup success. So, for me anyway, I know I will not be running a startup any time soon. And that's just fine with me.

Mark MacLeod is a Partner at Real Ventures, Canada's largest seed investor. He is also CFO at Shopify and Tungle and advises some of Canada's leading startups.

Thanks to StartUp CFO

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