Startups: it’s not all coding and design

Giff Constable startups

I’m starting a band. I can’t really play any instrument or sing, so I’m looking for a few musical co-founders.
Tweet by @Greenberg

A ton of people retweeted the above note. It’s a great zinger aimed at folks who can’t build digital products trying to start digital products companies.

After the initial chuckle, I couldn’t help but examine it literally.

Let’s look at music for a second. It takes a lot more than music to be a successful band in this era of waning distributor power. Take a look at Amanda Palmer. Her current Kickstarter success (> $1M) is only the latest in years of online innovation from her. She is a master at leveraging content and social media to engage, grow, and monetize her community. A huge amount of what Amanda does to drive her success is not actually writing or playing music.

So goes a startup. There is a mountain of work to be done beyond coding and design. Sales, marketing, and bizdev (each startup has their own mix) become critically important quite quickly. You don’t need an MBA to handle the business side of things, but you do want someone who enjoys it, thrives doing it, gets respect for it (because externally they’ll be facing a ton of rejection), and will relentlessly make it happen.

The barb behind the joke has merit because yes, when startups are in the “cool” phase as they are now, you get a lot of clueless people jumping into the pool, usually over-inflating what they are bringing to the table.

But while I got a good laugh from the tweet, I do wonder if things have gone too far, especially when I see comments like this from Naval Ravikant, “It’s hard to integrate non-engineers – they aren’t valued.

There are three pillars to a successful digital startup: engineering, design and business. Those roles can be split amongst people or shared amongst multi-disciplinary individuals, but above all build a culture where each feels valued, where trust and collaboration can thrive, and where everyone feels motivated to excel.

Related post: Ben Horowitz, Is Now The Time To Hire MBAs?