Thursday, November 15, 2007

The key to starting up

I write these monthly letters to my team. I call them PM Notes. In these letters, I outline the state of affairs in the various sub-teams of the product, progress, and finally concerns/issues that I see us facing the near future. Invariably, engineering is the least of my concerns. Why is that?
I believe I have never seen the kind of engineering talent that Google has amassed within its confines. I have a Bachelors and Masters in engineering myself, and am no pushover where it concerns software or hardware. However, the kind of issues that would take a week or more to deal with, is solved within a few hours out here. Truly the prime reason for Google's success is the quality of its engineering. Larry and Sergei were hard core technologists too. Though it is true that they had to build an ecosystem of business savvy people around them to get to where they are now.
Where am I going with this?
My point is that the key to starting up is engineering talent. If you want to start a company, find a great technologists and then wrap them up with business acumen. I have spent the last two months helping a friend kickstart her company, and the biggest challenge we face is to help her find a great engineer. I can figure out the financing, help her write a business model, fine-tune target segments, do what it takes for her business to have a shot at success, but if I cannot code, she can't even get started.
A good engineer can take a company from A to D, a good savvy entrepreneur with business acumen can take it from D to Z. But without the first few steps, everything is useless.
It is actually quite ironic. When I was an engineer, I used to look at people with business sense with awe. Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I look back at my engineering days with a lot more respect and awe.
So, if you are first time entrepreneur struggling to get off the ground, the first person you should be actively looking around for should be a fantastic engineer. That will ensure that you get from A to D. Don't bother about ideas, ideas come when smart people get together. Find that engineer.


Eric said...

Great post, Punit.

Prashant Sachdev said...

very true....I liked your explanation that you need smart engineers to go from A to D and then smart business people to go from D to Z.

I strongly believe that you need smart people to start business and not smart ideas. Ideas can always follow but not people!

Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

Thanks Eric!
Absolutely true Prashant. Smart people have great ideas. All you need is the former to get to the latter.

Anonymous said...

i agree with your post completely.
an engineer can learn the business any day..but a business guy can never learn to write code. its impossible.

Neal Mueller said...

Another great post Punit.

A friend of mine just quit his job after creating a facebook app. Your post is especially true where funding and operations don't matter as much as coding.

But in most businesses that are not facebook or google the coding is not the central part of the execution.

Marketing is still where the majority of value-add comes from in this world.

Shobhit Chugh said...

"Marketing is still where the majority of value-add comes from in this world" - a statement I just don't agree with. An year in pre - sales has shown me that having an awesome product makes selling (and success) much easier. Marketing? Of course it helps - a LOT - but just not enough to compensate for the product itself. Without the quality product, marketing is like the icing without the cake. Still can be pretty good to some, but for most will just not suffice

Punit Soni's Adventures in VCland said...

Marketing is absolutely important. However, I do believe that unless you have a product there is nothing to add value to.
Marketing is what can monetize a great product but without a product, you have nothing to play with, except fluff!
Build a good product, then market it well, and you are gold!

Richard said...

Hi P & readers,

Great posts here. I'm the entrepreneur with the great idea and sub-alpha website who struggled for the longest time to raise funding and then realized that I needed a better prototype, but I'd need an engineer to do that.

It's like being re-born again. People come to you when you have the makings of a great team. The feedback I've gotten from my new co-founder was invaluable from the start. I wasn't really failing at my business' promotion, because I had a horrible offer that I was selling.

"Hi, here is my idea, business plan, and my perfectly drafted b-school valuation. What do you mean 'yeah right'? Can't you see the massive opportunity that I'm describing?"

People are visual I think. You just gotta give'em something to see.

I'm a Libra, but I learned to balance most aspects of my life, it wasn't natural, and the same goes for starting a business. Unlike some of the other comments here, I don't think startup success is more marketing, or more development. I think it's always the right balance.

I'll know soon enough.