When you start a business, especially a startup in a technology field, you need the expertise of someone who can build it. Whether it's a software application, or hardware, a technical founder is critical for managing the creation of a product.
Like all of us, technical founders have a set of strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and outlooks. As is the case with all people, our strengths can become weaknesses if they are left unbalanced and unchecked. Successful entrepreneurs balance this dynamic by either having a technical and non-technical co-founder partnership, or by using self-awareness to ensure they are balanced as an individual.
A lack of awareness hurts technical founders. In these cases, their biases and tendencies are unbalanced, leading to mistakes that can harm the business or the partnership with other founders.
Here's a list of four big examples of mistakes technical founders make, and how to mitigate them before they happen.
1. They fall madly in love with their product
When you consider that technical founders spend most of their time focusing on a product, it's easy to see why they might fall in love with it. Yet left unbalanced, a technical founder will think their product is the best just because it's their product.
The risk here is that this belief can feed into a sense of pride or ego, and evolve into an absolute truth in the person's mind. This plays out in sales meetings and investors meetings, when founders state that their product is the best, or that others can't make anything as good as they can. I've heard a founder simply state that they were the smartest engineer and no one can make products as good as they can - without any facts to back it up.
While confidence and belief are necessary, blind belief leaves you vulnerable. The key is to be proud of your product, yet continue investing in it. Don't adopt a fixed mindset and think you're finished. Sustain a growth mindset, keep learning, and stay humble - respecting the market, competitors and customers. Understand that there is always someone smarter, better, richer or more connected than you. Let that power your success, not deter you.
2. They don't understand how to sell
In general, a technical founder may not be as skilled at selling as a founder whose talents lean toward sales, marketing and business strategy. As noted above, focusing too much on product specifications, or believing your product is the best just because it's your product, doesn't actually help sell anything.
A technical founder would do well to partner with, and trust, a co-founder who is good at selling and understands consumer behavior. Sales and business development require a combination of go-to-market strategy and emotional intelligence. You need someone who understands what motivates customers to purchase and understands market dynamics.
I've closed tens of millions in revenue in my career, and my success is due to an ability to communicate how products help solve a customer problem. I've learned how to tell a story that resonates with customers on an emotional level, not just stating specifications and features.
Consumers are trying to solve core emotional needs: avoid pain, feel pleasure, look good in front of others, to name a few. Instead of selling your product, focus on understanding your customers and their needs.
3. They over-value product specifications and features
Too many technical founders over-index on the importance of product specifications and features. They believe that if they have the best features, their product will win. Unfortunately this is not the case.
Many of the most successful companies didn't win because their product was unique, or "the best." They didn't win because they had defensible patents. They won because they became "first to mind." They won because their products help consumers feel an emotion or solve a key problem. They won because their products became daily habits of consumers.
The necessary truth to understand is that most customers don't actually care about specifications. They care about their needs and desires being met. For example, consumers don't care about the technical protocols of Wi-Fi, they just want to quickly connect to the internet to post photos or stream videos. In the same vein, customers don't resonate with technical jargon. Your success relies on your ability to create narratives that connect with customers.
4. They don't understand how markets work
If a technical founder has too myopic of a focus on their product, they can miss the forest from the trees. When their heads are down, markets can shift and the opening for success can close in a heartbeat. By the time you resurface, consumer preference has changed or market dynamics include new competitors or technologies - rendering your tech obsolete.
The key here is to adopt a balanced mindset. It's important to focus on product, yet you must keep your head up to see the market around you. You must keep a pulse on market dynamics, competitors and changing consumer preferences.
The intent of this article is not to put down technical founders and engineers. They are wonderful builders and I wouldn't be typing this article on a smartphone without them. Yet balance is key.
If you're a technical person, take the time to check your biases and tendencies, and strengthen your weakness. If you want a co-founder, seek out a person who has complimentary skills. And when you find that person, trust them. Support them, and be open to being supported by them. Together, you can create success.