Investors think developers are cattle

It’s close, but I think The Social Network beats out Predators as my favorite movie of the year. It may not be an accurate portrayal of the creation of Facebook or the lives of the people involved, but I feel it’s on point as a statement about how business is done in the Web 2.0 bubble.

As portrayed in the movie, Sean Parker (an analogue for your typical Valley biz creature) strolls up and down the aisles of programmers producing code at a rented Palo Alto residence much as a dairy farmer walks among the rows of cows in a barn producing so much milk. And, you should know, this is basically how business types view engineers: as cattle.

Still, these cattle rancher roles are crucial. Sole technical founders should know getting the business in front of right people and convincing them of its merit is perhaps more important than the building of the product itself. Especially if you’re building a business with no actual idea of how to monetize it. The reality distortion field generation skills necessary for this task are completely different from those needed to write code.

Now, when I pitch my mobile advertising start-up I frequently get asked what I know about advertising. Well, not a ton, I suppose. That’s why I’m actively recruiting a business person with a web/mobile advertising background. This usually causes a lot of frowns–business types say I have no place doing an advertising company when I know relatively nothing about the business.

To that I say, how come nobody asks an MBA if he knows how to code Python when he pitches his brilliant tech start-up? It’s just assumed he is going to herd some faceless engineers into a pen, shackle them in front of a bunch of MacBooks, and squeeze the teats until they produce a functional product adhering to said business guy’s grand design.

So–I want to corral a bunch of MBA types into a room with a great big pile of coke and an unlimited Skype account and have them come out with a functional business model adhering to my basic idea. Same difference.

If you take this attitude, you’ll find that you are pitching to many of the same people you are reducing to cattle–MBAs, EIRs, whatever. And they really don’t like it. I’m sure these MIT Sloan types feel the same way I do when I’m speaking to a business dude about his startup and he says “all I need is an engineer”–as if it’s some trivial piece of the puzzle.

Hence, I’m on the lookout for someone to do that part for me–if there are any wandering business types grazing in the fields that have mobile advertising expertise. Drop me a line.

3 thoughts on “Investors think developers are cattle

  1. “So–I want to corral a bunch of MBA types into a room with a great big pile of coke and an unlimited Skype account and have them come out with a functional business model adhering to my basic idea. Same difference.”

    You’ll never get a business model that way. You forgot the expense account and the hookers.

  2. Pingback: 0 Users is Better Than 200,000 « Ralph Barbagallo's Self Indulgent Blog

  3. People always devalue what they don’t understand. Many developers think business people produce nothing of value as well (and this is true in many cases). Not that it’s the same thing exactly, but if you read some descriptions of how various MBTI personality types perceive their opposites, you’ll get a good sense of how little people understand each other.

    The trick as a smart developer is to put yourself in position in a startup where you incur little risk but still get rewarded if things pan out. And all the while, you should be working on your own stuff on the side so you always have something going on to fall back on.

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