Entrepreneur = DO

Building things well is hard and generally requires iteration and integrity as well as design, engineering, science, math and a bunch of other stuff from 3d printing to carpentry…and even if you are not moving atoms around and are building with bits, you need much more resources to build decent stuff than anyone imagines.

Often people approach us with no builders in their teams. Imagine someone comes to you and says, “I am opening a gourmet restaurant on the high street. I have a fabulous front of house, an amazing business manager, a sommelier to die for and a marketing and PR genius who is certain to fill every seat!”. Sounds great right? You ask them who their chef is, and they tell you that they are “going to outsource all the cooking to the McDonald’s down the street who they have a very special relationship with…”

The above example sounds crazy, and yet time and again we get approached by teams saying essentially the same thing: “We are going to outsource the building part of our business”. Whether that is software, hardware, design, or all three, it cannot make sense for us to invest in companies that do not have doers and builders on the founding team. All our greatest startups have teams of doers and builders, and that is regardless of the field they are in.

This is particularly true of software companies where the product might have to be heavily refined on a daily basis to match market demand, and what company today is not a software company in some respect? When I was 12 and I wrote a program in my computer at home, it was kind of handicapped in what it could do, because any program I wrote could not reach out and touch very much in the real world. Now we have 7 and 8-year-old kids in CoderDojo who can cut code that can reach out and touch almost any field of human endeavor.

The building of great code can underpin a business in any field, and yet building great code is hard. Getting it to exactly fit the market is even harder. So when a software team comes and applies to join one of our programs and they do not have any coders, they get an automatic no, and yet often they are super surprised at this. Why? Because for most people there is no sense at all of the difficulty making things actually entails. Young kids at CoderDojo learn super quickly and even they take two or three years of effort to become good programmers. The older you are, the harder the skill is to acquire, and so the answer to many is “outsource that stuff”.

Instead you need to acquire doers on your team, and you need to respect the fact that building things is the most important part of the doing. And further, it’s nearly always the hardest part — so treat your doers with the respect they deserve. Make sure that they are front and center when you are seeking investors or seeking to join an accelerator, because we know how hard it is to build stuff, and we know what a real entrepreneur looks like…

Bill Liao is Managing Director at RebelBio and General Partner at SOSV.

Originally published at sosv.com on December 7, 2016.

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