Pair Up

Last night I attended a meeting/dinner of many leaders in the NYC tech sector with the folks in city hall who work on economic development. We listened to a bunch of reports. One of the most telling was from Larry Lenihan of Firstmark who is managing an early stage venture fund focused on NYC tech companies. Larry explained that many of the best opportunities that come to them don't get funding because of the lack of a technical co-founder.

NYC has a wealth of business people with domain experience in many important sectors. But they seem to be having a hard time of pairing up with technical talent to form great startup teams.

Enter Pair Up. Pair Up NYC is an effort from InSITE, a group of grad students at NYU and Columbia who help startups. They've noticed the same issue and are doing something about it. Pair Up is a matching program between people who want to do startups.

I've tweeted out the link to Pair Up a few times, but I am writing this post to let everyone know that the deadline to apply for the first Pair Up program is tomorrow, March 18th. If you are looking for a cofounder and want some help, here's where you can apply.

#NYC#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. William Mougayar

    What a great idea. As a non-technical founder, I struggled in the first year to find a technical co-founder/founding partner, and this kind of match-up service would have certainly helped.It seems to address the very early part of a start-up’s formation,- like pre-Tech Stars or incubation. So, when you add the Opportunity fund (higher end) to this initiative, you’re now covering the whole spectrum of the VC value chain. Very smart for deal flow.

  2. Francis Hwang

    We’re doing something similar with Tech Founders NYC (our application form is at, and one of the biggest questions we see from the techie side of things is what’s the value-add that the other founders can bring to the table. For a good programmer, their value-add is obvious: They write code, and it works, or it doesn’t. But that can be a nebulous business on the business side of things.This is a lot easier, incidentally, in a b2b concept, because as a non-technical cofounder you can understand a niche market that a techie might not know about, whether that’s fashion retailing or private equity deal-hunting or whatever. But if you’re doing something consumer-oriented? A lot harder.For example, I’ve heard more than one concept that’s game-oriented, but I look at the CVs of the non-techies involved and I think “why are you guys even in this?” Certainly there’s a value in that case of being able to design a good game, but very few people have that under their belt. In fact most programmers I know play plenty of video games and would probably make as good a game designer, or better, than somebody with just general business experience. So if you’re the techie, why not just do it yourself?Anyway, best of luck with Pair Up. It’s a concretely hard problem and it’s holding back NYC in a major way.

    1. RichardF

      One of the things that some non-techies can do which a lot of programmers can’t do is hustle (keeping with yesterday’s theme on AVC).I don’t think anyone should underestimate that ability.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        And, boy, hustling sure can be time-consuming πŸ˜‰

        1. Dave W Baldwin

          Good hustling anyway ;D

      2. andyswan

        Hustlers don’t need match-makers.

        1. RichardF

          no – but maybe some of the programmers do.

          1. Carl Rahn Griffith

            This is the problem – programmers and hustlers tend to mix like oil and water…

          2. RichardF

            I’ve worked with programmers and scientists and neither suffer fools gladly. Not that I’m saying hustlers are fools but some can come across that way.

          3. Carl Rahn Griffith

            Monkey seeks Organ Grinder.;-)

          4. Dave W Baldwin

            True, so it takes time to learn from each other. The programmer thinks hustlers dime a dozen, those hustlers speaking to think programmers dime a dozen…In the end, the programmer learns from the one who has scars and looks at each day as opportunity, realizing the over flashy ones are gone before tomorrow.Put two together, the one who is a ‘real’ programmer with the other that will play the fool in order to see who really has any worth… then a matter of patience.

          5. falicon

            I could be wrong…but I don’t know many (good) programmers who are lacking ideas/projects…or who have trouble finding people that want to do a startup with them (I don’t go to that many events, but whenever I do, within the first couple of minutes of saying I’m a developer I’m getting pitched on helping out someones startup or building their idea).That being said, overall I like the idea of Pair Up because they are doing (mentorship) filtered match making…and so if I was thinking about doing a startup and didn’t have a team in mind already…it makes a ton of sense to go this route.

          6. RichardF

            I’m sure you are right Kevin, particularly at the top end.

      3. Francis Hwang

        Fair enough, and hustle matters. But if it seems that hustling is all you can do, then you shouldn’t be surprised if techies are reluctant to pair up with you.And, sad to say, I do see a lot of people out there like that.

        1. RichardF

          I’d agree that hustling alone isn’t enough. I also think if you are non technical you should try learning to code.

        2. FAKE GRIMLOCK


    2. fredwilson

      I agree with everything you say. This is tricky but worthwhile. I will checkout Techfounders NYC. Thank you for working on this problem

    3. ShanaC

      you make me feel very glad that I briefly did an internship in game design – and actually did finish my first game on paper. It has some kinks in it, but it actually would work if developed……Actually, if you know anyone who wants the game to develop, if I find it, I’d be very happy to give it away (I’m not a game designer at heart πŸ™ ). It is a game aimed at women in their late 20s-30s who are still single to teach about how to manage household finances.

    4. kenberger

      I can vouch that techfoundersnyc, with Francis’ able stewardship, is headed in the right direction.

  3. Carl Rahn Griffith

    Great initiative. This should be mirrored everywhere.

    1. andyswan

      Don’t worry, it will be. Today.

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Cool. Pray tell…. πŸ˜‰

        1. andyswan

          In Louisville, we call it #FIVEsquare. Everyone who likes to win meets at a bar at a set time (typically determined on a whim THAT DAY by one of its members), and gets to know each other while utilizing social lubricants.Backupify, TryItLocal, mytrade, Tallulah and several other wins are represented, supported…and sometimes formed.

          1. Dave W Baldwin

            That is befitting Louisville. I’ll ask my brother if he knows of it.

  4. Guest

    Interesting, I was talking about something similar and called it idea capital. A platform for innovative entrepreneurs to find cofounders and makers.

  5. andyswan

    Matchmaker for startup founders. Please let someone develop a PlentyofFish version of this concept. That will be the ultimate mark of a bubble-top.

    1. JimHirshfield

      I was thinking a ChatRoulette for start-up matchmaking. You in? πŸ˜‰

      1. andyswan

        LOL Perfect.I shudder to think how much traffic that would get from the SXSW crowd.Now….how can we find someone to build this without paying them????

        1. JimHirshfield

          Pair up. See blog post above.

        2. baba12

          How can someone build something without getting paid for it? Same question reversed, how can one get funded for just an idea and no traction etc.:)

        3. Jim

          I could build it. I’d benefit from it because I’m also looking to be “paired up.”If there is a strong need for it and enough support, I’d be happy to pull some strings and get it off the ground.Contact me through my email: [email protected]

    2. fredwilson

      1. Matt A. Myers

        They’re going to wonder what the spike in traffic is from..

  6. JimHirshfield

    Awesome… for start-uppers. I’m struck by the contrast of this initiative – driven by two excellent NYC universities – and the slap down that Columbia & NYU get as not being top engineering schools, or somehow not being good enough…and that we need Stanford to set up shop here. I think we have great edu institutions here. Initiatives like this are great supplements to exceptional engineering & business programs.

    1. fredwilson

      I agree with you jim. I too am dismayed at the ‘slap down’ and I am doingsomething about it

      1. JimHirshfield

        Awesome. LMK how I can help. I have some parchment from one them fine institutions. πŸ˜‰

      2. Ben Sesser

        Thanks, Fred! We (NYU students, InSITE Fellows) love the support and getting the opportunity to work with you!

    2. andyswan

      Jim you strike me as someone worth sharing pappy with.

      1. JimHirshfield

        Happy to raise a glass next time I’m in Louisville (n=0 to-date) or you’re in NYC.

        1. andyswan

          Everyone should be here for derby weekend once.

          1. PhilipSugar

            I think the Kentucky Oaks is much more fun, just was on the phone with Churchill this morning.

          2. andyswan

            Agree but the entire weekend is a win

    3. baba12

      Columbia and NYU are not top engineering schools, and I am doubtful they will be top engineering schools.They are not the same as the Engineering schools of the Big Ten conference or of the same caliber as some in the UC system like Berkeley.That is not their focus.

  7. Douglas Crets

    This is great stuff.

  8. Anne Libby

    “Complementary skill sets” are just a starting point for a successful business partnership. Partnerships can blow up because of mismatches in personal values, risk tolerance, and even investment time horizon. (To name a few.)How will Pair Up’s program help people to find matches addressing these and other “softer” attributes?

    1. fredwilson

      They won’t guarantee success. Its a bit like a marriage. It takes hard workand a lot of them fail

      1. Mrinal

        Couldn’t agree more Fred – 2 early failed “dating” attempts with projects and now on “take 3” and focused on playing the role of a casting director. On first two attempts, it was all about production. I would actually say it is more than marriage – you will see your co-founder far more than your wife πŸ™‚

  9. Katie

    Pair up is a positive approach to the same problem that spawned Whartonite Seeks Code Monkey. Glad to see it! Hope the Pair Up concept makes it to Paris.

  10. J.R. Sedivy

    This is a great idea. I recall this was one of my biggest challenges early on, finding other entrepreneurial individuals with a shared vision and complementary skills.

  11. kirklove

    This is a great idea. Best to them and all that apply.

  12. Avi Deitcher

    I don’t think NY lacks tech talent or tech education. I went to Columbia for EE – many years ago – and we had some damn smart people doing some really interesting stuff. I have *never* met anyone as smart as the valedictorian of my graduating class. When the rest of us did non-technical electives, he took Advanced Quantum Physics. Seriously.I also spent a decade in Wall Street IT. Some of the best innovations in development and tech management came out of there. Want to know how to run a mission-critical system 24x7x365? Ask someone who managed it at a trading house where 1 min downtime = -$1MM in profits. In my day, the absolute smartest worked at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, and they deserved the titles and the pay that came with it.I think 2 factors are at play here:1) While startups are more fun than even Wall Street (or the hedge funds), it is hard to pull someone from a job where s/he has a $50MM budget, a salary in the many hundreds of $K, flies business-class everywhere, and gets gold-plated benefits.2) NYC encourages a “dealmaker as king” culture (Gordon Gekko?), while Silicon Valley encourages a “tech as king” culture. I have seen too many NYC startups where the execution of tech is, “just a detail, we can hire some people in India/China/Ukraine to do it.”We need to make the appeal of startups stronger, but we also need to change the mindset. Or just hammer it into every founding team that if you only have finance skills but no tech, your founding team is empty.

    1. baba12

      I totally agree with your comment. I did a EE in undergrad, and did Applied Math in grad school. All of my classmates went to work for Wall Street firms with the goal of getting out in 5 years after making some cash, but you get sucked into the lifestyle that comes with the high salaries and the many perks they get. Also the ability to have the mindset of a startup also evaporates once you have tasted the lifestyle that comes with working in the Wall street environment.Everything is deemed as a commodity that has a price to get done and so technology is a line item that can be gotten for a certain price.Most of the quants on Wall Street don’t bring in the big pay checks, the biggest checks go to fixed income group traders then the equities traders. Bankers take a big paycheck as well. Quants take a paycheck that they can’t match in any other line of work.What you state is accurate and in the last paragraph you state ” to appeal of startups stronger” is an uphill task and I am not sure you can convince people the value of creating new businesses etc.There are very few people who are driven by a desire to create value in society that is not measured by how much wealth they create financially. I would say that USV and Mr.Wilson included are in this line of business not for the altruistic reasons, if USV and Mr.Wilson don’t deliver a certain amount of wealth on a yearly basis they would shut down and move onto something else.Everything else you have stated is accurate.

      1. ShanaC

        Why is that, that quants aren’t paid as much

        1. baba12

          They are a commodity to the guys who go raise the capital ( for hedge funds) and traders have to sell the product for the banks to make the monies. Quants may be good at creating the product but sellers are necessary to make the money and thats how it goes.Steve Jobs is a great marketer not the brains behind the engineering that goes into making the various products Apple makes yet he gets a large stock option as he has his value in selling.No quant has ever been the CEO of any of the Wall Street firms till date, it has been either fixed income group boys ( yes boys, no women leads any of the firms main revenue generating departments) or investment bankers.

          1. Renee

            The modern “quant” is a relatively new beast, so it’s not surprising that none have made CEO at one of the big banks yet. There’s still a lot of residual old-boys’-club types at the top levels of management there.At hedge funds and quantitative trading funds, however, quants are highly respected and compensated accordingly.

          2. baba12

            Again quants working at hedge funds are a different breed and operate with a different set of rules and values as well. They are not governed by many of the rules that apply to a Goldman Sachs or a JP Morgan Chase.Also to your point it just makes it that much more difficult to say to a guy with a CS/EE/Math/Physics background to go startup a new company and bring to market great ideas that are percolating in the head. Most of my colleagues who did a EE are not doing anything in the field of EE including myself as for one we don’t get appreciated even when working in a engineering firm.Think about it Intel, HP, IBM all big engineering firms have all got non engineers as heads of their organizations and that tradition that was true at Intel or HP has been lost to the marketing/sales folks, right or wrong thats the way it is.Mr.Wilson himself a Mech Engg grad did not go work for a Caterpillar etc he like most I know did a MBA and went to work in finance. In the end it comes down to where the money is, it happens to be in being able to not create the derivatives but to be able to sell them.

          3. sigmaalgebra

            “No quant has ever been the CEO of any of the Wall Street firms till date”Contradiction: Jim Simons

          4. baba12

            Fair enough. I overlook him. But he is the CEO of a Hedge Fund not a publicly traded financial services company of the likes of a Goldman or Bear Stearns etc.

          5. sigmaalgebra

            Baba12,Not the likes of “Bear Stearns”? You got that one right!”Public companies”, huh?Then there is only one possible response: Start a stockholder revolt!Ioannis Karatzas for CEO of CitiMarco Avellaneda for CEO of BoAErhan Γ‡inlar for CEO of Goldman SachsAlbert Shiryaev for CEO of JP Morgan ChaseEugene Dynkin as COB of all of them.Or just let Simons use his 2010 bonus to buy all of them and name the result Kolmogorov Capital Partners!

          6. Avi Deitcher

            For the most part, technical talent should *not* be CEO. CEO is a management+finance+technology+sales+politics job. The reality is, most technical people just do not have those skills. A rare few do end up with those skills, but very few.Technical talent, however, is on par with all those skills. You cannot build a successful tech firm without first-rate tech talent, but the best product will fail without great marketing, sales, finance, etc.

      2. Avi Deitcher

        Nothing wrong with that. The definition of profit (in general) is the creation of additional economic value in society. If an individual wants to do social good but loses money, they have caused economic destruction to society (exactly equal to the losses). They may have done social good, but at a cost/price. I believe the term for that is “charity”. Nothing wrong with that, but that is different.I am sure USV *does* return a positive ROI > hurdle rate to its investors, and is doing good for society by doing so. Well, at least, I hope so, or Fred may go elsewhere, which would make us all sad.

    2. fredwilson

      Yup. Totally true in all respects

    3. gzino

      I think we may go beyond “changing mindset”; companies themselves, especially software based companies, could be disrupted in similar manner that old media layers have been disintermediated. It is a bit of a stretch right now but interesting to think about – from the old heavy startups to today’s two person, fast food budget startups to completely transient orgs. Scratching the surface:

  13. Matthew Crossett

    This is an amazing site for start ups and entrepreneurs, thanks for your insight!

  14. Mike

    I actually met my technical cofounder through a similar event here in Dallas sponsored by our local startup incubator (tech wildcatters).We then went on to raise a small equity round as a result, so the benefits of these events are paid back in spades.

  15. jeffyablon

    Anyone else feeling the overall snarky tone of the comments on this?Fred, it’s a great idea. Let me know if I can help in any way

  16. mike gilfillan

    Fred, can you also encourage StackOverflow and Indeed to create a category for those looking for “start-up jobs”. We did this this at in the last boom and had good results.

    1. Matt A. Myers

      good idea

  17. Martin Thomas

    This is exactly what I’m looking for! But not in NY… Anybody know of another resource like this based out of Chicago, or Nationally?

  18. PB

    Fred, thanks for this post. I am exactly in the quandry described herein, and have just completed the application.

  19. Renee

    I’m curious about what skills non-technical co-founders can bring to the table at an early-stage start-up. How will Pair Up do the matching?

  20. kidmercury

    gonna drop some hate on this post. in one of paul graham’s “blog” posts (“blog” gets quotes because graham is comments off) he notes that ycombo doesn’t like to fund entrepreneurs that come together for the purpose of creating a busienss, but prefers founders who have a prior relationship. the rationale here is that the journey is so tough that a strong personal committment is very much needed. i agree totally with that line of thinking.i also think engineering talent is vastly overpriced due to the bubble in the application layer. non-coder founders who understand how to work closely with open source communities and have enough of a technical understanding to have important conversations with developers can succeed, in my opinion.



    2. Eric Brooke

      Is that not an argument to never get married to!Life is tough, relationships are can be tough, and rewarding (of course). Aren’t the best the ones that you get through thick and thin? My best relationships are not the easiest. I think Ycombo are just being lazy and reducing risk, rather then helping people discovery who they would be good matches to.I agree with your last point, you can build it but people will not necessarily come..

      1. kidmercury

        i don’t think it’s an argument to never get married, although it mightbe an argument to spend some time dating before you get married –because marriages involve so many challenges, the vast majority ofwhich will prove to be entirely unpredictable, and so a deep trust canbe very useful.

        1. Eric Brooke

          and dating is the right way to find any partner, business or romantic πŸ™‚

  21. Keenan

    I could use this in Boulder/Denver RIGHT NOW!!!! Anyone know a killer coder in Boulder/Denver that loves skiing/boarding?I need a co-founder!

    1. johnmccarthy

      Can I code it in excel? If so, I’m in….

      1. Keenan


        1. Timothy Meade

          Hey, I wrote my first gui game in VBA in Excel even using the spreadsheet for the interface before I learned to create forms through automation (and populate them in code because xla’s beat an xls full of widgets)

    2. RichardF

      you need to speak to Brad Feld, he must know someone.

      1. Keenan

        His partner Seth Levine is our advisor.It’s tough right now.

        1. RichardF

          wow it must be frothy over there

    3. Pete

      If you can’t find that skillset i(code + utter love for the pow) in Denver/Boulder – it can’t be found. πŸ˜‰

      1. Keenan

        Let’s talk brother,email me, keenan at

  22. Daniel Morris

    Fred,Hope you get this in time. I just emailed Brian and Shirley over at PairUpNYC but wanted to hear your thoughts as well as it may apply to others looking at this thread. I am looking to apply for the program today but don’t actually live in NYC. I regularly manage projects remotely but was curious if it is an absolute requirement to live in NY in order to participate in the program.Regards,DanielDaniel

    1. Daniel Morris

      *Typo in my signature obviously.

  23. Scott Nixon

    Fred, thank you for putting together PairUp.I’ve been to several of these events looking to join founders. They really never seem to do more than stick a bunch of people in a room and hope it works out. I really dislike the the middle school dance aspect where people huddle around people they know, rather than meeting new people. I did end up meeting a CTO in the bar afterwards by chance.I will be applying.

  24. Ken O'Berry

    I’ve used with some success. It helps entrepreneurs link arms in business/technical co-founder pairs. It also surfaces like-minded folks who might not be founders, but are critical to developing bench strength.



  26. Alex Murphy

    Matchmaking events are tough. In the words of Steve Blank … Get out of the building.Here are some specific things to do if you are struggling to find a co founder …- Go to tech events, read, learn.- Go to meetups, join linkedIn groups and then start having discussions …- Go to odesk, elance, rent a coder, pay someone to write a statement of work, use an open source code base and start building …- Use a SaaS to prove out some ideas.With all of this, you can start to zero in on the real problem and solution you are trying to solve and offer. With a real product, technologists will be more interested in what you have to offer and will help you evolve your product.Moral of the story, Stop Planning and Talking and Go Do Something!

    1. BillSeitz

      Here are two related ideas around this:1. One of the problems that non-techies have getting techies is that the techies don’t know what value the non-techie will deliver other than raising money. (Esp. if, despite being a B-to-B play, the non-techie isn’t a credible sale-closer.) (And, in fact, non-techies often end up hiring more non-techies so they are left with nothing to do but hand-wave.)2. If the non-techie were to follow a LeanStartup/CustomerDevelopment model, and document interviews and maybe wireframes, then the techie (a) would believe in the business idea more, and (b) believe in the non-techie more.I think I just discovered a new use-case for AshMaurya’s nascent LeanCanvas serice…

  27. Eric Brooke

    I am looking for a ninja hacker based In VancouverVancouver occasionally does co-founder events. Sadly the next one is for just Technical and UX people

  28. kenberger

    The tech lead is like a bassist for a rock band. High demand, short supply. Kept to the back part of the stage, unless they can also lead sing. There are very few Paul McCartneys or Geddy Lees throughout history.(speaking as an ex-touring bassist myself).

  29. John

    @Fred: PairUp’s objective seems unclear to me. The contacts, officers and fellows are entirely students at the b-schools and law schools for Columbia and NYU. Is this program looking to pair those schools’ b-students and lawyers (presumably non-techies) with technical talent from outside the university circles? Your post and the listed constituents seem to imply that this program isn’t really meant for non-technical folks outside the NYU/Columbia biz/law student community. Please clarify.

    1. Brian Malkerson

      John – To clarify, the purpose of Pair Up is not to pair b-students (unless they apply like everyone else) with co-founders. We are trying to pair anyone in the current/future NYC community. If you have any further questions drop me a note: [email protected].

  30. Nik Cubrilovic

    I get asked so often by non-tech people about finding a technical co-founder that I wrote a blog post about it:

  31. vruz

    Someone created a list a long time ago for entrepreneur matchmaking.It wasn’t limited to New York, but open internationally, though.They simplified it and put it into a Google Spreadsheet here: think it’s still being updated periodically.

  32. Donna Brewington White

    Not exactly the same, but along the same lines…Thought it interesting that after reading this post, I later went to a VC-related event sponsored by Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management and the Dean announced a program (called 15X Project) that creates teams partnering scientists from the University of Santa Barbara with Pepperdine MBAs to commercialize technologies. The guy who heads the tech side of the program joked about MBAs learning to “speak geek.”On April 1, the initial five teams will present the commercial opportunities discovered — and who knows, there may be the makings of a startup within this group. Pretty exciting stuff, I thought.BTW, the keynote speaker for the event was Kate Mitchell of Scale Ventures (and for those who don’t know also Chair of the National Venture Capital Association). She’s amazing! Great to find another VC in the “entrepreneurs are the real heroes” club.

  33. Jim Kitt

    Great initiative. I am finding the same issue of finding a technical cofounder. It’s a little bit harder to find one in Wilmington, NC. Any ideas on how to find one in a city that isn’t the most “tech savvy?”

      1. Jim from

        I appreciate the help Bryon. I’ve already made connections with many of them at events like BizTech.I think the startup culture lacks a good matching system for technical founders, sales, vc’s, etc.. I’m considering making a large effort to changing this. At worst case, I could meet great people and help others find their “match.” I’ve got a list that is two pages long of ideas for it. Ironically enough, I brought this up to my pops and he had made a strong proposition for one of the Large Banks in the U.S. to start one. We all know the replay: “We aren’t in that business. We handle money.”

  34. sigmaalgebra

    deitcher:Summary. You have bought into an “old saw”, and your logic is flawed and your conclusion, wrong: Net, there’s nothing wrong having ‘technical’ talent, knowledge, etc. Quite the opposite: for a CEO also to be technical is a great advantage.Details.You wrote:”CEO is a management + finance + technology + sales + politics job.” Right. And we can throw in visionary, motivation, leadership, disciplinarian, teacher, negotiator, peacemaker, deal maker, etc. Need to do well in the course People 101 and the graduate version People 501. Right. So far you are on track.You wrote:”The reality is, most technical people just do not have those skills. A rare few do end up with those skills, but very few.” Here you are correct, 100% correct.Moreover your statement is a special case of the more general result:The reality is, most people just do not have those skills. A rare few do end up with those skills, but very few.which is also true.So, you have noticed that few technical people are qualified to be a good CEO which is also true for people in general. What you wanted to conclude is that being technical makes one less well qualified, but you didn’t support this conclusion. Your logic is flawed.Moreover, by example, with your news, the market should rush to short any companies led by Jobs, Page, Brin, Ellison, etc.! I mean, how the heck did Gates and Jobs beat Akers and Gerstner?That is, you have not provided any evidence that being ‘technical’ hurts for being CEO. Apparently you are going along with the old saw that being technical actually conflicts with being a good CEO, and on average, which is what we have to be talking about here, that’s not true. That is, of the people who really want to be a CEO, the evidence — Gates, Jobs, Ellison, Viterbi, Grove, Page, Brin, Schmidt — is that being technical helps.Beyond just empirical observations, sure, there are some complicated ‘causal’ effects in being technical or, indeed, not being technical. E.g., some really ‘technical’ people don’t want to be CEO because, instead, they want to devote 100% of their time to ‘technical’ work or a technical ‘career’; they have that option while nontechnical people do not.Yes, here is a point you may wish to argue for: Some people, early in their careers, facing the same struggles with People 101 that nearly everyone faces (early on women are much better in this course than men) and who do have technical talent use that talent as a way to get ahead in life while neglecting People 101. So such a person can be a ‘nerd’ who laughs too loud;y, pays too little attention to how others feel, think, and will react, learns another programming language or proves another theorem instead of learning Negotiation 101, etc. Sure. But there is nothing fundamental or even very important in support of your claim here because a technical person who wants to be CEO can also learn People 101, Negotiation 101, understand how others think and feel, etc. Knowing the Hahn decomposition or the monotone locking protocol does not keep one from understanding E. Fromm.Moreover, being ‘technical’ has some huge advantages in being CEO, huge:(1) In technical fields, compared with nearly all the other fields, it’s much easier to tell when a person is bright, hard working, disciplined, etc. because it’s much easier to tell when the results are good! E.g., we can check the proof of a theorem, see if the software runs, the glue holds, the car is stable in corners with 1 G lateral acceleration, etc., and such tests are much better than if we have a ‘good’ interpretation (i.e., guess) at what some ‘belle lettre’ author meant, etc.(2) For about 100 years now, the more ‘technical’ approaches to information and knowledge have been blowing away everything else in nearly all fields as fast as people can make the applications. E.g., the ‘social sciences’ became highly ‘engaged’ devotees of multivariate statistics, factor analysis (listen up social graph people), experimental design (listen up Web page A/B testers!), and nonparametric statistics (listen up people in system monitoring). You may find that some of the best people in marketing are using such math from the social sciences. Physicians know well that good results in the FDA trials mean more than bedside manner, and that for major progress on the major diseases clinical efforts are nearly hopeless and fundamental research into causes is crucial. In finance, the Markowitz, Sharpe, and Black-Scholes math, along with the central limit theorem, Brownian motion, potential theory, stochastic integration, more uses of covariance, digital filtering, etc., got taken seriously.(3) The time we are living in and its business are being dominated by technical efforts. Now for the highest expected ROI, there are exactly two broad fields, (1) information technology (IT) and (2) biomedical technology. Everything else is way back in the pack. Of course, (1) IT is driven heavily by Moore’s law, the progress in disk storage and video displays, the Internet, software platforms, etc. With irony, here on we are considering essentially only (1) IT.Since one of the duties of a CEO is to handle the ‘vision thing’, for an IT CEO clearly it’s a big help to understand IT! Not a big surprise!Commonly the paradigm of a successful business is to pick a good problem, find a good solution, and market and deliver the solution. It can be an advantage to have a solution that via technology (A) delivers better results for the customers than anything else and (B) is advanced enough to be difficult to duplicate or equal and, thus, provides a barrier to entry. That is, it can help if the solution has some especially good technical ‘secret sauce’; that’s part of why we have the USPTO, NDAs, and trade secret laws and in the military classify technical information.If a company wants such technical ‘secret sauce’, and cases of new and better secret sauce going forward, to be a major part of its ‘vision’ and success, then the CEO better be technical and, indeed, lead that effort.Just why is it that in managing some technical work it’s better not to understand it?Yes, currently CEOs who are leading crucial technical work in their companies are nearly as rare as hen’s teeth. But this does not mean that this situation is the right one now or will remain.Things can change: At one time, people relied heavily on superstition and ‘divine powers’. About 150 years ago, physicians saw no good reason to wash their hands. Now in the more advanced countries, these situations have totally changed. Still, the first people who proposed the changes were mostly ignored.Yes, if the CEO is to be mostly just a old media facing figurehead, handshaker, and backslapper, maybe they don’t have to know much of anything, technical or not. That goes back to J. Galbraith’s parody of Howie B. Small, CEO of UGE.Maybe if a company is big enough, the CEO wouldn’t have time to lead technical work anyway. So, in the mad rush to the CEOs office, maybe the technical people stay in their relatively secure technical positions and the rest charge on. Of those who charge for CEO in a Fortune 50 company, few make it, and those that do have mean time as CEO quite short. This is all old, big organization stuff and part of why most growth is in small companies and why IT startups have such a good chance.So, if a startup gets to the Fortune 50, maybe it can have a stuffed suit ‘generalist’ as CEO, but that does not mean that technical knowledge would hurt and certainly does not mean that the startup should have such a CEO! Or, that a Fortune 50 CEO rides in a chauffeured stretch limo doesn’t mean that a startup CEO who wants his company in the Fortune 50 should spend his Series A funding on a limo!Besides, the really big bucks are for the founder who builds a Fortune 50 company, not some hired stuffed suit who eventually runs it.Here I’ve given some solid reasons to support that in IT it’s a big advantage to have powerful ‘secret sauce’ and for the CEO to lead that effort, and still I will be mostly ignored.I’ve long since concluded that the only way to convince people I’m correct is to get a yacht over 100 feet long and in the meanwhile, that no one believes me, has a flip side that is strongly to my advantage! This point can be seen as a special case of the general situation that something less than 1% of the people can build a big company so that this work cannot be done following just what nearly everyone else believes!With irony, I’m free to explain because it’s clear nearly no one will believe me!

  35. paramendra

    Good idea.

  36. Peru

    i think the majority of angels are techies. so good luck getting seed funding if you’re a non-tech founder. they’re a bit biased in that department. if you find a tech partner, he will likely to outlast you in your own company. ideas don’t fly nowadays. you have to code.

  37. giffc

    The market for top CS talent has indeed gotten fierce, and expensive.I am curious to see how well this works. Why is it tough? If you are a really good programmer and decided not to take the money google and facebook waved at you, one likely reason is because you want to work on your own thing, not someone else’s (at least in this environ where starting your own company seems more cool than scary … we shall see how long that lasts). Further, you are probably leery (and understandably so) about pairing up with a business person who knows little about product design and development. Lastly there are ideas out there that seem like quite good ideas from a business perspective, but not that interesting from a technical perspective, and that makes it even harder to hire a top dog when they can be so very choosy right now.

  38. fredwilson

    Uh oh

  39. Alex Murphy

    If I recall, Bugs wins, don’t worry.