Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Biggest Challenge Faced by Technical Founders

When someone technical decides to step off the cliff and become a founder of a startup there are always going to be challenges. Most programmers and developers believe that these will come from areas outside of their comfort zone – sales, marketing, taxes, fund-raising, design and even just networking! This is why the standard co-founders model partners someone technical with someone more ‘businessy’. The reality, however, is very different.

For me the biggest challenge I face as a technical founder is programming. To be more specific: stopping programming. For years I have measured my progress by ticking off features delivered, bugs fixed or user stories completed. It’s a well understood system and it’s easy to track, but that’s not what I should be doing. My job as a founder is to find a repeatable business model that will make money, and the only route to achieving this is via validated learning.

Here’s an example:

Earlier this week I was building some new server functionality for @photoPivot. I found myself working through the options of how and where to host a service and what type of communications medium was going to be the absolute best for this. Eventually I realised “Who cares? It doesn’t matter!”. All I needed to do was test my idea in the quickest way possible. Just stick it in a console app and off we go (sneakernet style!).

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should write bad, unmanageable code. You can still test your ideas in a way that isn’t going to back you into a nasty corner in the future. Just be a little pragmatic. Do enough to get it working, then step away. I know how difficult it is to know that you could make something better – it’s very hard to resist being the perfect craftsman. Once you’ve proven your idea then you can make it elegant; but why waste your time polishing something that you don’t know people want?

For technical founders, programming is chicken soup. On difficult days we find comfort there and, by the evening, we’ve convinced ourselves that, yes, we made good progress today. Don’t be fooled by these false metrics. Test your ideas quickly and build your company.

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Posted by on January 14, 2011 in Lean Startups


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