I decided to start a company after graduating from business school at MIT Sloan. After taking courses with industry leaders like Jack Welch and learning the fundamentals of solid management practices, I was ready to run my new company as CEO.
What I did not know is that I would enter the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem just as it would begin to implode.
As sources of funding suddenly become more scarce, I had to quickly adapt to my new circumstances and do whatever needed to be done to move the company forward, and that meant coding.
MBA Skills Not A Priority
At one time I was a hot shot developer, with a computer science degree from Harvard. After some experience as an individual contributer, I began to lead teams and manage large engagements in San Francisco and London. I enjoyed the leadership responsibilities and decided to go back to business school to prepare myself to run my own company.
Through my MBA and work experience, I developed expertise in finance, marketing, and business strategy. These are fantastic skills for constructing a business plan and pitching to investors, which I spent much of the spring and summer of 2008 focusing my energies on.
However, when it became clear that venture and angel money was drying up, I quickly realized that the priority needed to be on building our product, not on being a CEO.
Building A Product With A Small Team
My team has built a fantastic web product – His Catalog. What few people know is that I did nearly all of the web design, functional development and SEO. My lead engineer built an amazingly scalable back-end and my lead stylist wrote a ton of content for the site. But building a big product with a small team is hard. We didn’t have the resources to hire SEO experts, designers, or testers. We did it all on a shoestring budget.
When push came to shove, my skills as coder were more valuable than my skills as CEO.
Recommendations to New Entrepreneurs
If you’re in business school now and thinking about launching your company, I want you to ask yourself: Will you be ready to get down and dirty in the code if no one else can? Will you enjoy working long hours tweaking your SEO strategy if you can’t hire someone to do it for you? Will you be psyched to attend technical webinars about new services for the cloud?
And do you have the technical background to make a difference?
If the answer to any of these is no, then I highly recommend you focus on a path to funding rather than a path to profitability (topic for another blog post). Because the market can turn and you, the founder, need to be ready to adapt.
[ photo by dierken ]