Fostering Apple’s culture of accountability – the DRI

steve jobs

I came across the acronym DRI in Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs. Which is fitting, as it seems that Jobs invented the simple concept of the Directly Responsible Individual.

The need for the DRI  came out of the need to foster a culture of accountability within teams. Product managers have a lot of responsibility, but little authority. And I should know, I started my career in the technology industry as Product Manager for VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet, invented by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston. And it wasn’t too long before I was replacing myself and hiring product managers for Software Arts other products, such as TK!Solver a tool to solve simultaneous equations. At least when I was managing Product Managers it was very clear who the DRI was!

Steve had a habit of making sure someone was responsible for each item on any meeting agenda, so everybody knew who is responsible.

“Any effective meeting at Apple will have an action list,” says a former employee. “Next to each action item will be the DRI.” A common phrase heard around Apple when someone is trying to learn the right contact on a project: “Who’s the DRI on that?”

The DRI has responsibility for a particular task until its completion.

Here’s examples of how a DRI works from Matthew Mamet’s Medium post, Directly Responsible Individuals;

  1. DRIs are very careful when sending email in the use of the To: vs. CC:fields  DRIs are on the To: list. Everyone else is CC’d.
  2. When receiving email DRIs tend to ask themselves if they are the DRI or is someone else responsible?
  3. When working on a new or particularly complex problem where the DRI is not yet known, we seek to establish the DRI early in the discussion.
  4. When we gather in meetings, we always leave with action items or next steps. (If we don’t — we need to run better meetings!) Like Steve Jobs, we seek ensure a named DRI for each task.

DRIs avoid the dependencies on manager to tell the team what to do, which increases the reliance on the team to self-organize around the DRI and know how to proceed.

The answer to the Quora question How Well Does Apple’s Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) Model Work In Practice? provides more insight into the need for and the role of the DRI in engineering companies. Read the full article for the text that fleshes out each bullet point.

  • When solving a complex, cross-functional engineering issue, you want a DRI who is responsible for driving the team’s sleuthing until the issue is solved.
  • When it’s unclear who’s got the ball and what should be happening, everyone trusts that the DRI is driving.
  • When everyone knows that something is important, but no one feels like it’s their responsibility to see it all the way through.

DRIs are efficient because you don’t have multiple people all worried about the same things. The writer, Gloria Lin, a product manager at Flipboard, is a big fan of the DRI model:

It’s one of the most valuable, practical things I learned at Apple, and it’s a tool we use at Flipboard when it seems helpful.

… it helps to have a single DRI to call out an important piece of the big-picture we’re missing, to drive something to completion, and to be responsible for strategic decisions along with our CEO.

I’ve yet to meet an MIT VMS or Sandbox team that knows what the term DRI means. If that’s all they learn from their mentoring session with me then I’ve done my job for that day.


Why startups win or the “masses of asses problem”


big scienceThere was a period back last century that Microsoft was attempting to work with IBM. But I vividly recall a frustrated Bill Gates’ angry statement to the effect that “The problem with IBM is that they throw masses of asses at a problem, which just makes things worse.” This statement, along with the truism that small is better, have stuck with me and helps explain why small, lean startups so often beat out large incumbent companies.

I’ve seen the masses of asses problem firsthand myself: at Software Arts, meetings with DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) then the largest and most powerful computer company in the world after IBM, would involve two or three of us and a dozen DEC people. At Course Technology I saw the same problem. Ernst and Young, a top five accounting firm, was a partner and they would bring in a dozen people to meet with two or three of us.

In mentoring startups I often remind them to focus on their customer and not worry about the giant corporations that may be the market leaders in the startups target market.

Today, the article in The New York Times,Can Big Science Be Too Big? A new study finds that small teams of researchers do more innovative work than large teams do sub-titled: Psychologists have found that people generate more ideas when working alone or in smaller groups provides hard evidence that small teams are more innovative than large ones. 

In the largest analysis of the issue thus far, investigators have found that the smaller the research team working on a problem, the more likely it was to generate innovative solutions. Large consortiums are still important drivers of progress, but they are best suited to confirming or consolidating novel findings, rather than generating them.

I  highly recommend founders read this article in full. It’s conclusions help explain that no matter how hard large companies try to be innovative they often fail: smaller groups were more likely to produce novel findings than larger ones.

And be careful of brainstorming sessions!

“We find that the product of three individuals working separately is greater than if those three people collaborate as a group,” Dr. Rajaram said. “When brainstorming, people produce fewer ideas when working in groups than when working alone.”

This came as a surprise to me as in my half dozen startups we often brainstormed about such things as a product name or new features to be added to a product.

This article, which is strictly about the effectiveness of small teams in science, ends with a quote about venture capitalists:

“Think of it like venture capitalists do,” said James A. Evans, a sociologist at the University of Chicago. “They expect a 5 percent success rate, and they try to minimize the correlation between the business they fund. They have a portfolio, one that gives them a higher risk-tolerance level, and also higher payoffs.”

And another sign that this article is highly relevant to startups is the use of the word disruption not once but three times!

Dr. Evans and his team rated papers and projects on a measure of “disruption.” Nobel Prize-winning papers tended to cluster at the top of this disruption scale;
So how do fast growing companies avoid falling into the “masses of asses” problem as they add dozens of new hires? Do what Bill Gates did at Microsoft, when a group got too large he would break it up into two smaller teams.  Thus while Microsoft grew to a very large size, comparable to the long time incumbents in the PC industry, they still were able to produce innovative, disruptive products.
One final quote:
Psychologists have found that people working in larger groups tend to generate fewer ideasthan when they work in smaller groups, or when working alone, and become less receptive to ideas from outside.
As with meeting attendees, keep your teams as small as possible, but no smaller. That will help you maintain your competitive advantage over well established, very large companies.

If you want to build a company it will take a team


Business Insider has a typical teaser headline: The best advice billionaire AOL cofounder and investor Steve Case gives entrepreneurs is a truth about long-term success. I don’t  believe in teaser headlines but I do recommend the article. .

In an episode of Business Insider’s podcast “This Is Success,” Case said the best advice he can give to entrepreneurs is that building a productive team of people with complementary skill sets is of utmost importance.

It’s got some pithy quotes from Mr. Case, including: the common saying, “If you want to go quickly, you can go alone. If you want to go far, you must go together,” This sums up the cost – need for shared decision making, and the benefit – more brainpower and experience – of partnerships.

Case considers the best advice he gives as, “It ultimately comes down to people and teams, that entrepreneurship is a team sport, it’s not about any one person.” He warns against the ego boost that can come from external expectations of the founder. “The founding CEO tends to get most of the attention, but it really is a team effort,” he said.

CEOs remind me of quarterbacks in football. When the team wins they get all the credit; when the team loses they get all the blame. Well there are 22 players in modern football, 11 on offense and 11 on defense, no to speak of another 11 on special teams, so it’s way off the mark to give the quarterback so much credit or so much blame. And of course pro football teams have squad of about about 53 players plus another dozen on the practice squad. And companies range from dozens, to hundreds to thousands of employees. Here’s another great quote from Case on teams:

If you get the people right, almost anything is possible,” he said. “If you don’t get the people right, I’d argue nothing is possible.

These quotes all come from the This is Success podcast.

I virtually never see a full management team at my mentoring sessions because most of my mentees are at the zero stage and it’s usually just one or two founders. But what I also don’t see is a hiring plan to bring on the balance of the management team and even director level and individual level staff below that. I started my first company with a detailed spreadsheet listing position, hiring date, and projected salary for the first dozen or so hires beyond the management team, so I’m amazed that most of the founders I see have barely thought beyond hiring another engineer!

There are multiple reasons to have a team:

  • Startups are a lot of work. Spreading work amongst a group means the company is not totally dependent on a single individual, which is very risky.
  • No single person will have the engineering, marketing, sales, and support skills and experience to fill all those roles.
  • All founders have strengths and weaknesses. I was taught long ago by successful entrepreneur Bill Warner not to try to strengthen my weaknesses but rather to hire staff with complementary skills to mine and to leverage my strengths.
  • All teams needs a variety of perspective, which only comes from a diversity of teams. Research has shown that diverse teams – men and women, whites and people of color – make better decisions than homogenous teams.
  • You can’t be two places at once! Successful companies are usually national in scope if not international. No matter how smart you are you can’t be negotiating deals in New York, Austin, Beijing, and Silicon Valley simultaneously.
  • Managers only have so much reach, meaning they can only direct so many staffers before they hit overreach. That number varies with the individual, but all individuals no matter how talented and experienced have a limit. The buspeak term is “span of control.” Even if it’s as high as 20, that’s a drop in the bucket in a company of 1,000.

Personally, lacking any individual skills aside from being good at recruiting talent, I love working in a small team. The best ideas always get better, the bad ideas get killed off. And it’s much more fun. That’s a term rarely used in the startup world, but if you aren’t having fun you will burn out. Have some, it’s free.

Unfortunately Steve Case does not go on to provide advice on how to build a team. However, I have a post based on an interview with Julie Larson-Green of Microsoft. There you will find some actionable tips on how to build a team. Another post I can recommend to you is Talent Tracking, which you need to start now, if you haven’t already.

If  you want to build a product you can do that by yourself or with another engineer or two. But if you want to build a company that will take a team. This requires you to know thyself, the absolutely necessary first step for any would-be founder.

The cybernetic startup & why delegation is a key skill of successful leaders


I started my professional career in the sound reinforcement business as an individual contributor working first for Bill Hanley, of Woodstock fame, and later for his brother Terry, who was doing the sound for Aerosmith at the time I started working for him. Before that I’d been helping my friend Nancy Talbott of the Boston Area Friends of Bluegrass and Old-time Country Music by recording the concerts she put on and eventually doing the sound reinforcement for music greats like Bill Monroe and Doc Watson. Through my connection with Nancy I ended up working as the chief sound reinforcement engineer at The Performance Center in Cambridge. But there I was thrown into management without any idea of what I was getting into, as The Performance Center had two music rooms, each running seven days a week. There was no way I could handle that myself so I hired two friends of mine to fill out the schedule. But my management responsibilities consisted of simply scheduling everyone and ensuring we had backup in case one of us got sick. I hardly thought of myself as a manager and frankly no one else did either! The word “delegate” wasn’t even in my vocabulary.

I still thought of myself as an individual contributor when I changed careers after getting my M.S. in Library and Information Science. However, my first and only manager as a community librarian/media specialist was a great leader – Sigrid Reddy knew how to get more done with less resources, the mark of a successful entrepreneur, despite being an employee of the Town of Watertown. So thanks to her I ended up managing several professionals we were able to hire through government grants: two photographers, a graphic designer, and a filmmaker. As their manager I saw my role as simply getting them the resources they needed to do their jobs and collaborating with them on the direction of their projects. The word “delegate” stayed dormant in my vocabulary.

I had to learn how to delegate and  learn fast when I was thrown into the deep waters of a successful software startup. Although the leaders of Software Arts – the inventors of VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet – recruited me as a product manager, I soon was tasked with growing and managing virtually every function in the company save software engineering. It was delegate or die as my staff grew from one – me – to about 75 marketing and sales people, QA engineers, documentation writers, product managers, accountants, and even facilities management, as we had our own building. Learning to delegate became an incredibly valuable skills in my four venture-backed startups.

I developed a rule of thumb for delegation: delegate everything someone else could do better than I. That was the key to gaining leverage as my management responsibilities grew. Not having any individual skills – I wasn’t trained in engineering, sales, marketing, finance or administration – made delegation a lot easier. I was never tempted to try to do anyone else’s job myself. But I did see other managers who had never learned how to delegate and I watched them reach burnout as they vainly tried to do more and more themselves rather than delegating to their staffs.

Thus the Inc. article 5 Reasons That Entrepreneurs Fail to Delegate–and Fail to Succeed caught my eye, especially the very wise subtitle: Success in a new venture isn’t about how much you can do yourself.

Let’s take a look at each of the five reasons and as usual I’ll annotate them from my own experience.

1. Thinking only you can implement your dream idea

Most founders I mentor are bonded to their startup idea. And very few even think about building an organization, let alone delegating. I learned from VCs that they were investing in the team, not the idea, and building a team was job one for founders. Thus every business plan I ever did, starting with the very first one for Course Technology in 1989, carefully mapped out our hiring plan for the next three years. In knowledge businesses the vast majority – as much as 75% or more – of the operating budget goes to personnel, recruiting costs, salaries, benefits, and overhead. Yet it continually surprises me that founding teams have a DIY ethos. I can understand why founders who come up with a great idea are frankly afraid to delegate, thinking only they can implement their idea. But they are missing out on, and what I learned early on, is if you hire only people  who are better than you are they will not only implement your idea but do a better job than you ever could. I was taught by the VCs that “A “players hire “A “players, but “B” players hire “C” players – out of fear of losing control and being shown up by their “subordinates.” Delegation means letting go. And counter intuitively, only by letting go can you transform your idea into a business that scales.

2. Being unwilling to take the time to explain and delegate needs

Unfortunately many founders operate on the old saw “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” They  are unable to trust their staff. Not only do they lose out on the incredible leverage that hiring great people gives you as a founder, by micro-managing they demoralize their team and can end up not only losing great people but by never actualizing their business idea. I found the best way to develop trust was to assign a small task that could be done fairly quickly with minimal resources , starting with job candidates. Great people rose to the challenge and were hired, others didn’t and were not. But the pattern was set: as their manager I would help them set goals, would get them the resources they needed, and would provide feedback and guidance when asked, but basically they were on their own to achieve their goals. And thus they owned the job, they weren’t just renting it from me. If employees act like owners your venture will succeed! The time you invest in setting goals, providing resources and offering feedback will be paid back 10X by teams that see you as their leader, not their boss.

3. Not trusting key team members to get required results

When we hired Howard Diamond as our VP of Marketing and Sales at Course Technology he built his organization around peer-to-peer management. Each sales territory had an inside sales person, a field sales person, and a customer support rep. The teams were compensated based on the results the team achieved. There were no individual goals. He used peer pressure to deliver great results. In the rare occasions when he hired someone who wasn’t pulling their weight the team let him know immediately, because they knew that hiding that fact would hurt them in their pocketbooks. Giving his regional sales teams autonomy delivered amazing results, but of course required delegating traditional sales management to his teams. They knew the results they had to deliver, but it was up to them to figure out how best to do so.

4. Having a lack of your own clarity about what it takes to succeed

Most of the founders I mentor are engineers. They like to build stuff. They know how to build stuff themselves. What doesn’t come naturally is helping others to build stuff. I find engineers often need a lot of coaching to learn how to provide their teams with the “what” and “why” of their goals, leaving the “how” to the teams. This requires focusing on results, not activities. Too many inexperienced managers focus too much on process and not enough on results and on the metrics they need to help their teams become self-managing.

5. Being afraid that delegating means losing control

Like any green manager I had this fear myself, but because it I was endanger of drowing in work if I didn’t delegate I was forced to give up control. Through my initial experience managing media professionals I learned that while I needed to hold my staff accountable it was up to them, not me, to get the job  done. The real trick is NOT to set goals for your teams but to help your teams set their goals in the context of the venture’s goals. Collaborating on goal setting is far more effective than dictating goals as teams will buy-in to goals they set with you.  Delegation requires trust and giving up control, but you will find that if you hire “A” players their drive and ambition will deliver results beyond what you ever imagined. Your management role may well become pulling your team back from setting unrealistic goals, not pushing them to achieve stretch goals you have set for them. Pull works far better than push when it comes to managing your staff and in selling to customers.

Delegation all boils down to leverage. You can get much more done through others than you can by yourself, which can be thought of as the defintion of management. Startups are expected to scale and grow rapidly. To do so you need to focus on what you and only you can do and delegate everything else. It’s scary, so start small with very short term projects to build trust and autonomy. Don’t expect that you can just hand your team their year-end goals and walk away. Create short term projects with accompanying feedback – I call this cybernetic management – courtesy of Norbert Weiner. I’ve taken his term  beyond communications and control in the enterprise to encompass communications, creativity, and collaboration. The cybernetic organization appears to manage itself, with a minimum of friction. Management thus can be “management by exception” leaving founders free to set strategy, manage their Boards, and otherwise focus externally.


Startup companies are archaic!


One of the major issues I’ve seen in mentoring over the past decade is the discomfort, pain and even confusion great engineers go through when they enter the dreaded “time to start a company” phase. As a serial entrepreneur, my product sweet spot was building the company. I enjoyed the entire process, from idea to idea validation, to forming a business entity with a partner, to recruiting. The thing I didn’t like and wasn’t good at was finance and I always had a CFO to handle that. But engineers are just the opposite. Engineers like building things, but things don’t include companies. It’s amazing to me how many teams form and never have a founder’s agreement, only to run into problems when they actually have to create a business entity. So how do engineers get their products to market without going through the pain, hassle, and major distraction of not just forming a company, but then running it?

Scott Kirsner, The Boston Globe correspondent who writes the Innovation Economy column weekly, has an excellent article entitled This former venture capitalist is reinventing the way a company works that focuses in on one former founder’s response to this problem.

Phil Libin, founder of Evernote and a former venture capitalist thinks he has the answer.

“The whole venture capital model is stupid,” Libin says. But “the stupidest thing,” he continues, “is the idea of a company. Companies are increasingly archaic, as a unit of organization in the world. What is it about companies that makes the most sense?”

People who are smart and skilled at creating products, Libin says, shouldn’t have to “raise money, have human resources drama, and run a small little fragile company.” Instead, they should “use their superpower to build a great product,” while having ownership in what it becomes

Libin has founded an alternative to creating companies for entrepreneurs. All Turtles. (All Turtles? Yet more proof that all the good names are taken!) I found the AI generated painting on their home page rather disturbing – not a great way to attract people to your venture. But don’t let that stop you!

I’m have a passing familiarity with two Boston-based attempts at solving this problem:
Paul English’s Blade Network and Joe Chung’s Redstar. I’ve met both founders and they are super smart, very experienced entrepreneurs. I wonder if Libdin has talked with them. I also worked in one of the region’s first incubators, HyperVest.  All Turtles is not an incubator nor an accelerator. The former incubates startups, the latter accelerates the progress as a company. The product of All Turtles is products, not companies.

What differentiates All Turtles from other attempts at taking ideas to market without the hassle of creating a company as the vehicle is that AI is the foundational technology. I can’t remember if this is an original idea or I read it some place, but I believe that AI will be like electricity – it will be everywhere, in everything, but rarely visible to consumers.  The competition for great AI developers is intense – they are more options than just about any other tech niche.

But Libdin is really aggressive.

Startup creation and venture capital funding, in Libin’s view, are too focused on “the 50 miles around Stanford University,” in the heart of Silicon Valley. All Turtles has already set up operations in San Francisco, Tokyo, and Paris. Libin says Mexico City is next, and his goal is to be active in 20 of the top 50 cities worldwide in the firm’s first decade. That is largely a strategy to tap markets where there is technology, design, and product development talent that are less competitive than Boston, New York, or the Bay Area.

While Libin seems to disdain VC money he’s accepted a $20 million investment from General Catalyst (a great name, by the way).

“Phil has a brilliant mind and has been able to attract incredible talent from all over the world,” says Niko Bonatsos, a managing director at General Catalyst. And Libin is “spot-on to notice that not every amazing product thinker loves or cares enough to do the company-building part of the equation.”

Depending on the value-added and T’s and C’s of working with All Turtles it may well attract great engineers and scientists, but I’m not optimistic, as it’s just one in a series of series of attempts to create a Ford-like assembly line for technology concepts that could turn into the next big thing.

My best guess is that All Turtles will go the way of the Blade Network and end up creating a company or two and putting all their resources there. But time will tell. In the meantime there’s at least one viable alternative for creators of great products who want to avoid the hassle of creating a company, while participating in the wealth a truly great product can generate. Check it out if you aren’t afraid of see the disturbing image on the home page.

Hierarchical vs. networked management models

eileenfisher.jpgReading two very different articles about business in two different publications the other day got me thinking about models of management. Management Today by Chander Chawla on is an overview of what he sees as the models of management.

The military was problem the first attempt to gather a diverse group of people organized to work together towards a common goal. hat structure gave us a few principles:

  1. Hierarchy

  2. Command and control

  3. Incentives for achieving the goals

  4. Division of responsibility based on function

  5. Centralized decision making

My experience working for a very large company, then called Thomson, now Thomson Reuters, with about a $7 billion dollars in yearly revenue down to a two-person startup jibes with the traditional model. And every startup I mentor at MIT has a CEO, CTO, and often a COO. Startups all have boards of directors, CEOs and a hierarchical management structure. Nothing has changed in my five decades of working life.

But Eileen Fisher, founder of her namesake clothing company, managed to build a company that for three decades has gone without a CEO.

The unconventional leadership structure reflects Ms. Fisher’s belief that consensus is more important than urgency and that collaboration is more effective than hierarchy.

She’s driven her company to annual sales of $500 million and it’s still growing. The interview with her in The New York Times Corner Office column by  David Gelles provides fascinating insight into a company with decentralized decision making and no boss.

I’ve written previously about how companies need to be built on a foundation of values and Eileen Fisher clothing is built upon the values of timeless designs, sustainability, and simplicity.

Her employees now own much of the company and she believes that really works:

It engages people and their sense of ownership, and they’ll tell you things. They’ll say in a meeting, “Don’t spend my money on that.” People aren’t happy when they see people wasting money here or there or being extravagant on something.

Nothing could be more counter business cultural than Eileen Fisher’s “leadership through listening.”

At that point you had a real business going. What was it like to become a boss?

I still struggle with that. I don’t think being a boss is my strength. I think of myself as leading through the idea, trying to help people understand what I’m trying to do, or what the project is about, and engaging them. I always think about leading through listening. I was a designer, so I didn’t have preconceived ideas of how this business works. And I was kind of lucky to not know.

I encourage you to read the rest of the article for more details on this founder who has refused to  become a boss and has succeeded not despite that,  but because of it. Those of you with the time and patience can also read the full Management Today article where the author posits four types of management:


Frankly I can buy into both domain management and organizational management. You will have to decide for yourself about Perception management and Feelings management – neither resonated with me. While perception is important in any business and of course we all have feelings, that doesn’t mean they are domains of management. Mr. Chandra himself admits that However, the four management categories do not carry equal weight. A lot depends on your level in the hierarchy, the maturity of the organization, and your function. 

Before you just follow your friends and classmates by building your startup on the military command and control model at least take the time to understand where that model came from and that there are alternatives. And whatever you build, build it on a strong foundation of values.

Being a rather anti-authoritarian myself, the choice of models is easy, the one built upon the values of the networked model where colleagues collaborate, create, communicate and arrive at consensus.




How to find a technical co-founder


As a business person with zero education or experience with software engineering if I was to start YASU (Yet Another Start Up) tomorrow I would be in need of a technical
co-founder. So I read the article 3 strategies to find your next technical co-founder without looking like an idiot by By Daniel Wu and Stephen Turban on Hackernoon with interest.   The sub-title tells you the takeaway: Develop expertise, traction, and technical proficiency. There’s no “business side” — you do what it takes to build a viable business now.

Brian Chesky of AirBnB, Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn, and Ben Silberman of Pinterest are all examples of highly successful non-technical co-founders. The authors conducted an informal research project spanning 50+ technical and non-technical co-founders. Their conclusion was that the old model of dividing responsibilities between co-founders as “the tech side” and “the bus side” is obsolete. Companies need to meld expertise, traction and technical skills. 

Tech co-founders are a very small group in inversely high demand. You will be competing with other business co-founders, startups with plenty of traction, big tech, and even their own startup ideas. So the lesson is don’t start out looking for a technical co-founder. Get started building the business – now.

If you are a non-technical co-founder here’s what you need to do to find a tech co-founder:

  1. Expertise — Show that (only) you can grow and sell the idea;
  2. Traction for your idea — Prove that your idea is valuable and has traction; and
  3. Technical proficiency — Develop the technical skills you need.

Here’s a great quote from the article: To attract a technical co-founder, you should show that you are the connecting glue between them and the problem.

The best way to do that is to have an idea that already has traction. Sound familiar? That’s exactly what investors are looking for as well. As I’ve written previously, startups are scientific experiments; you need to test your hypothesis, track the results and use clear metrics for the data your experiment delivers, and most important translate that data into at least a small set of customers. Here’s a chart that shows how you can go from a “low-fidelity” to “high-fidelity” proto-business.


As a business type you need to climb the tech ladder. The best place to start is the front-end, the UI/UX. Ben Silberman is a designer, so he had a real head start there.  And that’s how I started Throughline, Inc. – I designed a prototype which I had a friend code for me. And a prototype is worth a thousand pitch decks when it comes to gathering that necessary and sufficient set of customers. The authors also recommend learning some back end tech as well, though I disagree. Better to have deeper expertise in the front end – which sorry, engineers, but many of you lack design skills – and no back end skills than be “a mile wide and an inch deep” by trying to learn back end as well.

According to the authors’ survey, what founders agreed upon was that having technical skills is about developing empathy and credibility. Developing products involves trade-offs and the  more technical you are the better qualified you are and the more value you bring to the table when you and your technical founder sit down to make those trade-offs.When you propose a strategic move – and you will – your co-founder knows that you’re coming from a place of understanding. Credibility builds trust – and invaluable ingredient in a startup.

The bottom line: if you have an idea, and better yet a solution to a real problem, start building your tech chops and get user traction immediately. Tech co-founders, like investors, are looking for value add. The more tech expertise you can add to your customer traction the better your chances of landing that technical founder to help you make the leap from a prototype to a real product.