Business vs Technology Founders: Why Balance is Key

From life experience in general I grow more & more to believe that balance is key. Similarly when it comes to software development a proper balance of business vs technology founders is important. I’d say it’s among the most critical indicators of whether the whole enterprise will be successful or will get derailed eventually. Let’s explore both imbalance extremes to illustrate the point.

Yin and Yang

All hail the Business!

This is the most common trap I see out there in “business vs technology founders” problem space and for good reason. Any commercial project should maintain its balance sheet healthy or it’s dead in the water. And because of this simple truth business typically overpower technology when they step on each other toes.

The second reason is that a business founder is typically more energetic and sociable, more influential and have better negotiation skills than the technical one. Getting good in the field of technology requires readiness to spend a lot of time staring into a computer screen. It naturally attracts people who aren’t doing that great socially.

When the technical founder systematically can’t defend the interests of of the project technology-wise this leads to exactly one primary problem – uncontrolled technical debt. Zero technical debt is an impractical goal but tech debt should be in control. Otherwise the team velocity draws a curve straight into the ground at some point in future. What is worse is that the technical leader is ultimately responsible for that. By their “good” intention to please the business they lead the project into the big ball of mud state.

The worst case scenario: the project becomes broken beyond repair. That usually means it’s more effective to re-create it from scratch hence redo the investment afresh.

Following the Technology purist

While this is a much more rare occasion it’s the other end of “business vs technology founders” problem spectrum. I touched this topic to some extent in an older article. A one possible way to get there is to fire your previous technical founder who wasn’t capable of maintaining the balance (yeah, I saw that). With some commercial success it’s obvious what was the problem, right? Now we have money to bring in an “expert”!

The technology purist should be aggressive in negotiating their agenda. However, a burnt child dreads the fire hence business founder can finally start to show some respect to concerns of technology. But this time these are full of over-engineered approaches and trigger-happy applications of whatever the most over-hyped new framework is out there.

Results? Another reincarnation of tech debt in the form of unnecessarily complex ways to address problems. And obviously the bottom line starts to hurt as budgets & timelines for bringing changes to life skyrocket.

Staying healthy

The way out is to keep healthy respectful and tough conversations on priorities. Investing into keeping the tech debt at a controllable level resulting in minimal impact on team’s velocity. Being not just honest but blunt about the state of the things in the project. Maintaining a particular split of features & tech investments made.

I like the saying: “The quality of your live depends on how many difficult conversations you’re willing to take”. Similarly the quality of software development endeavor depends on how many difficult conversations founders are willing to take. GLHF!