Your Programmers Will Kill Your Start-Up

Damien Knox​
July 4, 2023

In an era where the chorus of digitization permeates every industry, the adage, "Every company is a tech company" holds unquestionable relevance. As entrepreneurs spearhead their tech start-ups, the most inevitable necessity turns out to be a crew of consistently caffeinated, pizza-fueled programmers. It's critical, however, to realize this hard truth: sometimes, the programmers, despite their unmatched brilliance, could be the very culprits driving your start-up off a cliff.

Have you ever wondered why that is? The answer lies in understanding that programmers, for the large part, are more engrossed in 'doing what they love' (translation: programming and other IT stuff) than taking a keen interest in the business elements such as delivering required features to customers or aligning coding decisions with financial constraints.

Two conspicuous phenomena lend credence to this claim: burning out money and wrong market fit. According to a CB Insights study, these determinants are among the top reasons behind startup failures, accounting for 29% and 42% respectively. Now, how do these tie back to our theorized culprits - the programmers?

Here's the skinny: programmers have a predilection for perfecting their code. While that's laudable, it could mean spending more time (and therefore money) in ironing out non-critical intricacies instead of finding quick and cost-efficient solutions. Furthermore, driven by the desire to hone every architectural detail, programmers may inadvertently make quick pivots practically impossible, meaning wrong market fit.

An illustrative real-life scenario can rapidly bring this concept to life. Recently, one of our clients, a precocious entrepreneur, was on the brink of having his dream extinguished. He had made a significant investment in developing a mobile application. Upon examination, we encountered a paradoxical scene - the code was immaculate, the architecture supremely well-thought, and there was an impressive full unit-test coverage.

Yet, a critical piece was missing - billing. Not typically an exhilarating element from a programming standpoint, it was underfunded and overlooked. Thus, a project bathed in technical excellence almost cost this entrepreneur his start-up because his programmers chose to prioritize their areas of interest over an essential business feature.

So, where does that leave start-ups and their relationship with programmers?

The take-home message is that while developers are paramount for coding your dream into reality, your start-up equally requires a seasoned high-level IT professional steering the ship. This navigator has a dual function: to direct the technical talent without stifling their creativity but also to uphold the unwavering focus on business goals rather than pursuing exciting technological rabbit holes.

Remember that the art of harmonizing technical execution and business acumen can be elusive, but it is the key to ensuring that your start-up thrives rather than subsides. Often, the most valuable asset your start-up can possess is not just a team of exceptional programmers, but a clear-headed technical leader who can maintain the balance between the symphony of code and sobering reality of the business world.