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Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing
Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing
Tom Anderson is vice president of Marketing for Breker Verification Systems. He previously served as Product Management Group Director for Advanced Verification Solutions at Cadence, Technical Marketing Director in the Verification Group at Synopsys and Vice President of Applications Engineering at … More »

Let’s Coin a New Phrase: There Is no “I” in “Startup”

 
September 24th, 2013 by Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing

I had planned to write today about the TrekBox module, an essential part of TrekSoC that links the code running in the embedded processors with the I/O pins of an SoC. But, in the course of reviewing my various daily news digests, I read the curiously titled blog post “Tightlipped Unicorns & Monochrome Rainbows” on the Electronic Engineering Times site. It moved my thoughts in other directions entirely, so here is the result.

In the post, Radfan CTO Simon Barker argues that startups should be more honest about the challenges they face in order to obtain help or advice from those who’ve already lived through such adventures. He maintains that company founders who automatically say “Great!” when asked how things are going are missing an opportunity to garner such assistance and are wasting their time at startup events. This position triggered three major lines of thought for me.

The first point is that you have to know your audience before revealing any “weakness” on the part of you or your company. While you need to be honest with customers about product status, if you share with them every little challenge along the way they’re likely to start considering alternatives. Of course, you have to be extremely careful about what you say to your competitors or those who might pass information on to your competitors.

But there many opportunities at startup events, within accountability groups, and through organizations such as the Alliance of Chief Executives to discuss some of the challenges you face and to seek advice. I have had some experience in these types of gatherings and have been surprised how many of the issues startups (and established companies too) encounter that are common across diverse industries. In a room full of fellow executives, there’s almost surely someone whose counsel is worth seeking.

This leads to my second point, about there being no “I” in “startup.” This is a play on the old saw that there is no “I” in “team” and the meaning is basically the same. No matter how great an athlete, in a team sport no individual can succeed without help from other players. Likewise, no CEO or founder can succeed without the rest of the company. As brilliant as Steve Jobs may have been, he was not an engineer and could not have produced the products he envisioned without a big team behind him.

To be fair, you can argue that one person can succeed in an individual sport such as tennis or golf without a formal team providing support. One programmer writing an app or other program personally and publishing it directly would be the business equivalent. But even such individuals typically have an informal team of people who have helped them to get where they are. Certainly, in most technology startups, there is a team of employees at work behind the leaders.

Combining these two threads of thought takes me back to the main point of the original post. Startups that succeed often have a team that includes both formal and informal advisers in addition to direct employees. Mr. Barker argues that founders should use challenges as opportunities to recruit such experts and to leverage their experience. Broadening the idea of “team” to include advisers makes good business sense if done prudently.

One of the reasons that this topic caught my interest is that the history of Breker has very much involved the notion of the extended team. In the early days we relied on part-time consultants to supplement our full-time employees. Our co-founders Adnan and Maheen Hamid decided to relocate the company from Austin to Silicon Valley primarily to get access to a level of startup expertise and advice unrivaled anywhere in the world.

Board member Michel Courtoy has been an invaluable addition to our team, as has our PR expert Nanette Collins. Both work with other companies in addition to Breker but spend enough time with us to make a real difference. We also have a network of experts who have advised us on technical, entrepreneurial, financial, and legal matters. Poet John Donne said “No man is an island”; perhaps we can call “no startup is an island” the Simon Barker Corollary.

To summarize this post in one sentence: it takes a team for a startup to succeed, this team extends beyond employees to formal and informal advisers, and founders should not be shy about seeking out relevant individuals to help. Yes, it sounds obvious, but I’ll bet that every one of us could give examples of startups and founders who did not follow this path. A few may succeed anyway, but most will be history.

Tom A.

The truth is out there … sometimes it’s in a blog.

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