What does it take to be a non-technical founder of a technological startup worth billions?
You don’t have to be technical to be a founder of a billion+ tech commpany. But you do need to have the ability to recruit a world-class technical team to build a billion+ company. Even in the earliest days.
That sounds simplistic, but it isn’t. You can’t hire a billion+ team off Angellist, not in my experience at least. You have to somehow recruit the best of the best to come join you and build your vision.
- Marc Benioff did it at Salesforce.
- Aaron Levie did it at Box.
- Stewart Butterfield did it at Slack.
- Mikkel did it at Zendesk.
There are definitely advantages to being an engineer-turned CEO. See, e.g., Twilio, Okta, Atlassian, AppDynamics, New Relic, and more. All things being equal, I’d rather invest in these. They also tend to be more capital efficient.
At the end of the day, a founder CEO needs to be a product visionary and needs to know how to deliver against that vision, i.e. ship product and code. A founder CEO needs to be a “product person”. But she can recruit the team to write the code. If. She has the skills to recruit that team.
Note that Benioff-Butterfield-Svane all were experienced in building & shipping software products. Even if their “technical” contributions were token-to-zero.
Most don’t. Most can only recruit a mediocre dev team.
That doesn’t work, at least, not in B2B/SaaS.