A CEO with No Problem to Solve

I chatted with an aspiring founder recently. He’s a senior software engineer at a start-up valued at a few billion dollars. He’s been there for several years. He joined when they were a team of one hundred—it’s now one thousand. His equity is fully vested, and he’s excited about leaving to start his own company.

He’s currently in search of the problem he wants to solve. He’s investigated a few problems and done discovery, but none panned out. He’s also looking for someone to join him. Specifically, he’s been looking for someone technical. This stuck out to me, and I asked why. His response was simple: I want to be CEO and need someone to build the product.

As we chatted, I shared my learnings as (1) a nontechnical founder who regretted not having a technical cofounder and (2) an investor who’s talked with countless aspiring nontechnical founders who deeply understand a problem and have an idea of how to solve it but lack the technical skills necessary to build a solution:

  •  The problem is where it all starts. The more painful it is and the more people who experience the pain, the better. If you haven’t found the problem you want to solve, there’s nothing wrong with listening to the problems other aspiring founders want to solve. Nontechnical aspiring founders with deep understanding of a problem (i.e., founder–market fit) are always looking to connect with aspiring technical founders.
  • Building a team best suited to solve a particular problem is the goal. Great team members have complementary, not overlapping, skills. Hiring people to do what you don’t want to do will likely lead to overlapping skills and team gaps (in his situation, great technical abilities but no deep understanding of a problem—or no problem at all).
  • Titles don’t mean much in early-stage companies and often change. Having the CEO title is great for the ego, but it isn’t worth missing out on solving a great problem or working with a strong team.

These points resonated with this aspiring founder. He’d recently realized he was limiting his cofounder prospects by focusing only on people with technical skills and had been thinking about changing his approach. What I said about my experience confirmed some of what he was already thinking. 

This founder is super smart and has the drive to build an amazing business. I can’t wait to see where his entrepreneurial journey takes him!