For the last few years, angel and venture capital investors in technology have been biased away from non-technical founders. Entrepreneurs would hear things like: “If you’re not an engineer — find one to be your co-founder” or “If you’re not a developer — become one”.
A talented technical founder has a 4-year Computer Science degree, and in many cases, years of coding and mucking about with technology as a passion. A 3 month code academy is not likely to set you up to compete at that level!
Engineers can be very powerful founders, there is no doubt about that, just go look at ProductHunt to see the volume and variety of software being launched every week.
But it’s a very rare engineer that is a great product builder and also a great business builder.
Sure you can list a few examples — Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk. But it’s a pretty short list out of the number of companies either founded by engineers and still thriving, or thriving companies still run by engineer founders. And that’s not to mention those startups no longer around.
Business building — setting, iterating, communicating and executing the strategy and positioning, making sure the right people are on the bus — especially as the company evolves, setting pricing and appropriate sales targets, mediating healthy tension between sales, marketing and product, and making sure there’s enough money in the bank — is a seriously valuable skill, perhaps the most valuable.
I think the paradigm should be shifted — from telling business people that they need to learn to code, to telling engineers that they need to learn more business skills. Or — “if you don’t have general business experience, partner with someone who does”. Is that going a little too far? I don’t think so. Helping engineer-founders learn more about business would prevent a lot of costly decisions and financial mis-management.
What we need is a Salescademy, or Bizcademy. There are so many resources already out there that purport to teach you how to code, but so few that teach business skills. A Bizcademy would teach, and provide mentorship, for the business building areas discussed earlier.
There is actually a lot of good business content already available; and a group of knowledgable founders and investors that share business wisdom too. The V1 of Bizcademy could be curating these in a single place under a well categorized ‘curriculum’ of sorts, and then inviting people to sign-up and self-direct their learning.
The next iteration could open up signups for small groups with a mentor or teaching assistant, that over a set time-frame, engage with the content through discussion and short exercises. And next the Academy would start creating its own content and workshops, by bringing in thought leaders, functional experts, and successful founders.
We’ve done a very small version of this in Scaleworks, with our Marketing Academy, where we run bi-weekly internal workshops for all the marketers in our portfolio, led by a different expert in a particular marketing topic each month.
Anyone who starts a company should feel a fiduciary responsibility, either to their own bank account or to their investors, to have foundational business skills. While the outcome isn’t going to make a technical founder a business person (just like you can’t make a business person an engineer), that isn’t the goal, the goal is to help reduce self-inflicted wounds by ensuring leaders ‘know enough to be dangerous’.