If Steve Jobs were starting out today he would struggle to get funding - he's a marketeer not an engineer

If Steve Jobs were starting out today he would struggle to get funding - he's a marketeer not an engineer

Summary: We need more people like Steve Jobs is a popular refrain but Silicon Valley VCs wouldn't fund them -- they want engineers and they disdain marketeers.

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TOPICS: Apple
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(From the PBS documentary, "Steve Jobs: One last thing.")

I watched the PBS documentary on Steve Jobs last night,"One last thing" and it was well done, mixing a fair bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly about the life of the man.

And there was a lot of praise for the "marketing genius" of Steve Jobs.

Then it struck me: If Steve Jobs were starting out today in Silicon Valley, he would have trouble getting funding because he's a marketeer — not an engineer. VCs generally won't fund startups without a tech lead.

For example, Mark Suster, a popular VC blogger, writes on "Both Sides of the Table" that his ideal type of startup has mostly engineers, five out of six, and "dominance of tech personnel relative to others."

Technology is not a product

Yet technology is not a product, as I like to remind people. Here's Matthew Ingram, writing on GigaOM, Steve Jobs and why technology doesn’t matter:

Gates says he liked Jobs, but that the Apple CEO “never really understood much about technology.” The Microsoft billionaire no doubt saw that as a put-down, but looked at another way, it was one of Jobs’ biggest strengths.

...

But while Gates saying that Jobs “never really understood much about technology” was probably intended as a criticism, the truth is that in most cases the technology is the least important thing about Apple’s products, and probably wouldn’t appear anywhere on the list of the main reasons why devices like the iPod or the iPhone or the iPad are so appealing.

Someone like Gates, who spent his youth programming and was involved in much of the code behind things like Windows, would like to believe that superior technology wins — but for most users of both software and hardware, design is what wins.

Much has been said about the rarity of Steve jobs and how much Silicon Valley needs more people like him. But the fact remains, that if Steve Jobs were starting out today and were looking for funding -- he'd have a very tough time because he is not an engineer.

Since when are apps startups?

A few of months ago I asked my friend, Paul Mooney, how a tech conference in New York turned out, and he said it was OK but added, "Since when are apps startups?"

This struck and stuck in my mind ever since because he was right. Since when does an app become a business? Surely a business is formed that creates and sells an app rather than the other way around?

Why should a couple or three engineers that have created an app now have to build a business? These are engineers not business builders. They know how to code apps. If they wanted to be business executives, surely they would have chosen that career?

Wouldn't it be better to create a business formed by professionals, including an engineering component, but not make the engineers run the company? A Steve Jobs master marketeer as leader, with a couple of other experienced business professionals, and a couple or three engineers should make for a killer startup.

Not if you are in Silicon Valley. Engineers rule over all else -- even reason it seems, that's how strong the cult of the engineer is here.

Lord Sugar disdains engineers

Lord Alan Sugar is one of Europe's leading entrepreneurs. He also stars in the UK version of The Apprentice. Earlier this year he had to choose between two apprentices, he chose to fire the one that was an engineer, saying, "I have never come across an engineer that can turn his hand to business."

It was a cold comment, coming from a man who knows engineers very well. He was on the receiving end of a lot of criticism, and rightly so, because there are many examples of engineers founding great companies, Silicon Valley is full of them.

But that doesn't mean that only engineers should lead companies.

Silicon Valley's Achilles' Heel

The cult of the engineer is a potential weakness for Silicon Valley. Why try to teach engineers about marketing, business strategies, PR, business alliances, etc, to retrain them for jobs for which there are plenty of experienced hands around?

But that's what happens. Incubators such as the excellent Dave McClure's 500 Startups, are essentially crash-course workshops that try to teach engineers about the business of being a startup, they are trying to turn engineers into marketeers in 60 days or less.

Why not let engineers stay engineers? They'd rather be coding than promoting on social media channels, figuring out design, and evaluating marketing strategies. Let the professionals, the Steve Jobs of this world, who are good at marketing lead the startups.

Surely that's a better formula for success?

Silicon Valley startups have massive failure rates, less than 1 in 20 make it beyond a few years. Maybe it's because they are invariably engineer-led.

We need more people like Steve Jobs but the irony is that even if we had them, Silicon Valley wouldn't know what to do with them, and most VCs would ignore them.


Topic: Apple

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48 comments
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  • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

    Steve Jobs had Wozniak. He did not create and grow in isolation. To look at Steve as the singular "guy" that created Apple and grew it is a mistake. Without all those amazing engineers (Wozniak being there at the start) Steve would have nothing to sell.
    Ididar
    • Agree; Jobs always said it is team effort and that without Wozniak Apple ..

      @Ididar: ... would not be possible.<br><br>However, Steven Jobs was engineer, he had over 330 patented inventions, many of which were engineering ones (mechanical engineering and software engineering, among others). He was also very much electronics guy since being kid -- long before meeting Wozniak.<br><br>Jobs could fix a TV by himself, and Jobs was making frequency counter, called Mr.Hewlett to get missing parts. Then he worked shortly at HP, and then at Atari as engineer -- he was qualified enough that Atari sent him alone to Europe to fix problems with the machines.<br><br><b>So Tom Foremski's headline about "marketeer" is a trolling.</b> Marketeers do not reinvent hospital equipment while being on the deathbed as Jobs did.

      Jobs was true inventor. Marketeer is Steven Ballmer -- as Jobs said, "saleman" -- remember his Windows 1.0 advertisement from 1985? "But there is more!!! There is calculator and clock!"
      DDERSSS
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        You obviously don't know how the patent system work if you think Jobs was the inventor of all those patents. He tended to take credit for what others invented and since he didn't write code or design circuit boards, his inventions were probably limited to design and user interface.
        Joseph B
      • well said

        @DeRSSS
        marketeers alone are only about hot air and buzz words....all hat no catle!
        LlNUX Geek
      • @Joseph B: So? What is your point?

        So he did not lay out circuits on PCBs or actually write code. Do you really think that every single hardware engineer lays out circuits and every single software engineer writes code? Do you really think software engineering is simply sitting at a keyboard and hacking out code?
        Bruizer
      • You obviously do not read to what you reply, do you?

        @Joseph B: As I wrote, among these patents were many with mechanical and software engineering, and others with some devices principles working. This is not PCB-type of work, that is more technical and does not usually requires patenting -- so Jobs was not interested in that (but, as I said, he could do electronics since childhood -- so if he had to, he would be able to do circuits).
        DDERSSS
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        @DeRSSS after years of staring at monochrome interfaces I found it a true delight to have a calculator and clock :-)
        As if Steve Jobs never tried to make the silliest things look like magic (maybe you should watch some videos on the presentation of the Apple II)
        belli_bettens@...
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        @Joseph B You should probably read up on your Apple history.
        DavidFTurner
      • Sometimes, Coffee sells better with sugar

        @DeRSSS - I believe that Marketeers are simply expert manipulators. They know what to say how to say and when to say it, in order to persuade the thoughts of others. For this engineers desperately need the marketeers. But it might also be understood that engineers are manipulators too. They manipulate things in order to persuade an idea to come to life.

        In the end marketeers and inventors are both experts and manipulators. I think their survival are dependent on each other's expertise.

        As for Steve Jobs, he simply did a good job and had good people underneath him to support him.
        databaseben
    • Good point

      Yes! Thank you. Everyone seems to ignore Woz. He was the foundation!
      ScottSmith100
  • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

    While Steve Jobs was a genius marketer, you have it backwards still. Bill Gates was far more of a businessman than anyone else in the industry. He saw opportunities and knew how to deal business. That's how he secured the contract from IBM and started Microsoft. Steve Jobs was a poor businessman in comparison. To think that Engineers need need "business people" in a startup to be successful is totally false. A quick look at who the CEO's of the most successful companies in tech today will tell you that Engineers easily make very good businessmen, but not the other way around. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, etc were all founded by engineers.
    pika_chu
  • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

    Jobs had Woz do all the work for him. He wouldn't make it alone even then.
    Scrabbler
    • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

      @Scrabbler Woz may have been the engineer genius, but Jobs was able to see the big picture.
      themarty
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        @themarty
        Noone argues with that. I am just saying that Apple startup *did* have a tech lead.
        Scrabbler
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        @themarty: Like what "big picture"? Can you tell me a single feature, an invention or a major product attribute that can be definitively and provably attributed to Steve Jobs, and to him alone? I can't.
        ff2
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        @ff2 Steve Jobs has 313 patents to his name.
        themarty
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        @ff2 Woz wanted to give away the plans for the Apple1 motherboard. Jobs convinced him to box it with a keyboard, make it usable, and sell it. That's the big picture.
        themarty
      • @ff2: If you want to bake an Apple pie from scratch...

        @themarty

        You would have to first invent the universe. Show me any invention that is the sole responsibility of a single mind with no outside influence. Just one.

        Then re-read what you wrote and understand how odd it sounds.
        Bruizer
      • RE: If Steve Jobs were starting out today Silicon Valley VCs would reject him

        @themarty the iPad shows small pictures only. I want 27" monitor... err?

        :D
        TheFilipinoFlash
  • No suit for you

    It could be worse. The VCs could want lawyers to lead the startups.
    Robert Hahn