Startup CEOs: You Are Overestimating Your Tech Talent

I have been struck recently over many conversations with different VC-funded startup CEOs (series A or B money, all at least $5M) at how strong the CTO/tech team rockstar/ninja kool-aid seems to be. “Our tech guys are smarter than everyone else in the world” seems to be a pervasive sentiment. Generally speaking, the CTO/tech team also seems to believe that about themselves, and usually the CEO is personally self-effacing and does not have that kind of personal arrogance.

I know that there are dark days and uncertainty within a startup, and that you do have to “fake it until you make it”, but there’s a real danger in drinking that kool-aid and missing out on the fact that everything reverts to the mean, and not everyone can even be “above average”, let alone the smartest people in the world. The reality is that your startup that’s survived to series A likely has pretty decent tech talent, but it’s unlikely that they’re significantly better than the tech talent at other startups that have survived similarly.

In particular, it is a big mistake to assume that your tech team is going to be able to solve problems that were really hard for other tech teams, unless you’re willing to make solving those problems one of your core competencies (and the other tech teams were not willing to do so).

As a tech co-founder, I am extremely appreciative of the support that I get from my CEO, but I would never want her to (nor does she) assume that I will be able to solve problems that other talented teams have failed to solve for way less money and/or in way less time and/or with way less organizational focus than they have.

So if you’re a tech CEO who believes that your CTO and tech teams are far superior to everyone else out there, I would say: the confidence is good, and probably necessary, but you have to make sure that you spend some of your time sober enough to acknowledge reality.

Founder and Chief Technology Officer @ BuildFax; Contributor to The New Stack

Founder and Chief Technology Officer @ BuildFax; Contributor to The New Stack