Reds, Blues, Golds

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

-George Bernard Shaw

I moved my personal blog to substack.

Let’s divide a company up into three different teams — Reds, Blues, and Golds.

Reds are the strike team. Reds make a startup a startup. On the developer side, they build a product that doesn’t exist yet. On the business side, they sell a product that doesn’t exist yet.

Blues create stability. Blues finish the last 10% and add incremental improvements. On the developer side, Blues make the product reliable and scale-able. On the business side, these are the salespeople who sell a finished product. They already have the one pagers, the pricing info, and the scripts created by the Reds. The Blues iterate and improve upon these materials and processes from experiences in the field.

Golds maintain. Golds keep the trains running on time. On the developer side, Golds are the IT team. They know the product and can fix little bugs. On the business side, Golds are implementation specialists who walk the prospect through a very well defined process. The Blues have already solved every edge-case. The Golds walk them through it.

There’s a dense forest, and we need to forge a path. Reds cut through creating a path, Blues clear out the shrubbery and lay asphalt, Golds salt the road in Winter and fix the potholes.

Through this lens, hiring people who are better than you takes on new meaning. You hire people who are better than you at their given job. Maybe you’d be an amazing Red/Blue/Gold for a month, but then you’d quit. So you need to hire the best person who is capable of doing the job for the foreseeable future.

This lens helps in hiring people for each role. Reds break through walls, but some walls were put there for a reason. Drastically altering a product or trying new sales techniques on legacy clients, may do more harm than good. It’s risky to have Reds run mature parts of an organization.

When a PE firm purchases a company, they attempt to put Blues in executive positions and Golds everywhere else. When the Reds leave, a company loses its mojo. Innovation ceases.

Large tech companies have different ways of attracting/retaining Reds, e.g. Google has ATAP where independent small teams each work on a unique project for 2 years then it either goes into Google or gets spun out as a subsidiary. Amazon and Apple have small, elite teams, who work with near unlimited resources, free from the outer bureaucracy.

The cons to this structure are that after the Red developers transition to a new project, they’re no longer responsible for their own code. Similarly, salespeople aren’t responsible for their original contacts. The transition may slow the team or weaken the business relationship. The pro is that this makes the company more resilient. The handoff from Reds to Blues creates process. Knowledge lives in multiple places.

When you’re solely relying on the top down, innovation can falter. When visionaries leave, innovation tends to fade. Reds become bored when they’re surrounded by Blues and Golds and will leave to do something new. There needs to be delineation between groups, and a mutual appreciation for the value they add to the organization.

Build to empower Reds, Blues, and Golds to do what they do best.

I moved my personal blog to substack. Check it out here.



Investor, advisor, filmmaker turned Austin startup entrepreneur. Co-founder at Ender.

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Jon Lonsdale

Investor, advisor, filmmaker turned Austin startup entrepreneur. Co-founder at Ender.