A Bias Towards Action: Why VCs prefer "technical" founders

Hi, I’m Kwin, co-founder of Daily.co and two previous startups. This post is part of a series about startups, tech, and startup founder skills. I’m always happy to be helpful to startup founders and people trying to break into tech, if I can be. Feel free to schedule a Daily.co video call with me, here.

Successful tech startup teams all look the same from 10,000 feet. They have a bias towards action. They just keep getting things done. They check items off the to-do list. They route quickly around roadblocks. They are happy to implement partial solutions to complex problems.

That sounds (too) simple. It’s valid to object that “getting stuff done is easy, getting the right stuff done is what’s hard.” Or, “you need better metrics than just checking things off your to-do list.” Or perhaps, “you have to make the right decisions and focus on things that matter.

All that is true. But it turns out that just getting things done is the first, critical element of getting the right things done. The more stuff you get done, the more opportunities you create to test your assumptions, to learn from both your successes and your mistakes, and to little-by-little improve everything your company does.

Delaying is a decision to not act

Also, it turns out that getting things done, every single day, actually isn’t easy.

At an early stage startup, you are always stretched in too many different directions. There are never enough people, dollars, or hours in the day. Every decision you make is made with too little information. You’re always guessing. Very often it feels like you’re betting the company when you make a decision.

As a result, it’s really, really common for startup founders facing a tough decision to delay making a choice, because they’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. Or to delay getting started on a big task because it’s unclear what the final outcome needs to look like. Or to wait to do something hoping that another event (like raising a funding round) will make doing the thing easier.

But it turns out that delaying a hard decision is making a decision. Delaying a decision is the same as deciding to do nothing. Which is the opposite of getting things done.

I find it incredibly helpful to have coffee with other startup founders and talk about what’s on both our plates. I always learn lots of specific things. But much more generally, I always get re-inspired to just get stuff done.

Shipping product and investors

By the way, I’m convinced that pattern matching on a bias towards action is a major (but usually unconscious) reason most early stage tech investors prefer to invest in founders that are engineers.

Early on in a company’s life cycle, everything depends on figuring out how to get to product/market fit. There’s no magic bullet — no playbook you can execute to get to initial product/market fit. But you absolutely have to iterate quickly on product. Most engineers (and most designers) will default to working on product, which is often the right thing, and never a bad thing. On the other hand, sometimes people with a sales, marketing, or consulting background won’t default to working on product.

If you ask a venture capitalist, “why do you prefer to back ‘technical founders’,” most of them will say a founding team that can build a product themselves is much more capital efficient than one that can’t. Or they’ll tell you empirical experience suggests that technical founders tend to do better at climbing up the operations and management learning curve, compared to non-technical founders climbing up the product and engineering learning curve.

But my experience is that a default focus of working on product is the component of early stage success. And it’s also something that’s completely under your control, as a founder.

As with many kinds of conventional wisdom, I’m convinced that the pervasive investor bias towards “technical founders” creates a market imbalance. I love meeting hungry, thoughtful founders with a strong sales background, for example, because I know personally how challenging it is to learn to manage and scale a sales organization. Assuming that the “sales founder” does a great job focusing on product early on, she’ll run the table once her company hits initial traction!

There are many roads to startup success. But making a product that people want to use is the common theme to pretty much all of them.

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