“This past week, I was interviewing a candidate for a VP role along with two of our engineering leads. Everyone in the room excluding myself was classically “technical” – they could write code, had experience solving hard software problems and a background in computer science. I wrote my last line of PHP in 2004, and it had to be rewritten by a real programmer within 6 months.”…Rand Fishkin
One of the main points Rand made in this really insightful post is that one can be a successful web entrepreneur without having any real coding background (a thought which I definitely agree with). After reading Rand’s post, I did my normal socialization of what he wrote (because I found Rand’s ideas to be particularly good) and would have likely had the post recede into the back of my consciousness if not for a subsequent event which made me view it in a new light.
Because I have a decent amount of visibility in the search community, I get chosen periodically by people who wish to share with me their new amazing idea for web riches and domination. Now, these aren’t folks like Rand, who has amazing perception and intuition about how the web works and could work in the future (even if he can’t code a lick). Instead, these are folks who have the next hot Web 3.0 (are we there yet?) idea and want to cash it in without even the most basic understanding of even how Web 1.0 works. By the way, these people also want to partner with you in their idea rather than giving you cash for your services (but that’s another post entirely…).
Now, I make it a point to try to hide from people who wish to engage in such conversations, but someone with whom I had a prior relationship was the person who wanted to share an idea, so I felt I owed that person an audience even though I knew with a high degree of certainty how the conversation would go.
As expected, the chat was painful. Now, because I promised, I’m not going to disclose the idea, which, in theory, would be awesome if it could be implemented in the manner wished. However, it boggled my mind that he felt he could shepherd a company that could create, develop, and implement a sophisticated data-driven business process without even the most basic technical understanding of how a search engine worked (which doesn’t even speak to the necessary mastery of much more sophisticated concepts like data modeling, data mining, and data analysis).
Tech entrepreneurs like Rand know the importance of the “elevator pitch” that quickly presents the value proposition of the company to prospective partners/customers. I heard an elevator pitch consisting of words and concepts that my acquaintance not only did not truly understand but actually needed my help in defining. I felt bad because this person has clearly been successful in other non-technical enterprises, and he did correctly realize that technology applied to the knowledge he already had could offer an extreme value-add that could be quite profitable. However, he hadn’t educated himself nearly enough to be able to successfully manage such an enterprise. Even if he could find others who would work with him on his vision (which hadn’t really been defined precisely enough yet), he lacked the technical sophistication required to succeed. In contrast, Rand has been close enough to the technology long enough to develop the necessary judgment to manage and run both his company and his product.
Needless to say, I’m not going to partner in this enterprise, though I do hope to keep the relationship.
There are plenty of people who feel they can read a few blog posts about paid search or other search marketing disciplines and perform it a high level. David Rodnitzky correctly paraphrased Malcolm Gladwell in stating that 10,000 hours are necessary to master these sorts of skills. To run a company responsible for implementing sophisticated data-driven solutions requires far more than 10,000 hours of experience. When my acquaintance couldn’t even definite the terms upon which he wished to build a sophisticated marketing solution, he telegraphed to me in advance how successful his business will ultimately become. Plus, he probably has at least 9,900 hours of education left before he can contemplate “mastering” this new area of expertise.
– Todd Mintz, Senior SEM Manager
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