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Startups Need 3 Types of Visionaries
Every company needs more than a product visionary
Every startup begins with an idea. If you are lucky, that idea works, and a business is born. To bring it to life, you will need a strong product vision and people with the vision of how to bring it to life.
However, the idea alone isn’t enough. The real work comes down to execution. We all know that cliche. That means some of the most critical visionary work is also in the execution.
This article will discuss 3 types of visionaries every company needs.
The Product Visionary
The most important thing at any company is your customers. The only reason the company exists is to help solve their problems. The role of the product visionary is to understand your customers and their problems better than anyone else. Based on that, you can form a business strategy and product direction.
Every company needs a product visionary. In many companies, it is the CEO. You know who I’m talking about: Jobs, Gates, Musk, Zuckerberg.
You don’t have to be technical to be the product visionary of a company. I’m pretty sure Elon Musk is not an expert at rockets, battery technology, self-driving cars, or even blue checkmarks.
What they do have is the vision and tenacity to solve customer problems. Sometimes, it can be totally misguided. Zuckerberg has spent billions of dollars on the metaverse that nobody is interested in.
In all cases, companies need someone who is the product visionary. Someone who will pick a direction and set the course of the entire company in that direction. Without it, many companies are like a ship without a rudder.
The Technical Vision
The best CTOs are also visionaries. They can look past the present and envision the future of the company’s technology and the industry they are working in. The daily status quo is not good enough. They are a driving force for innovation.
Our founder and CEO is the product visionary at the company I currently work for. She has the industry's pulse and profoundly understands our customers' problems. However, she is not a technologist. She doesn’t fully understand how technology can be used to create solutions.
As a CTO, I can work with her to determine how to build products that support the overall business strategy. I can also think of things she would never think of. We work hand in hand on the overall vision of our software services.
If a company doesn’t have a visionary CTO, the company tends to be more reactive and operational. They are missing their innovative edge. This blog is called Visionary CTO because I believe every tech company needs one!
The Execution Vision
They always say the devil is in the details. When it comes to software development, nothing could be more accurate. Even when you have the perfect product idea and know how to build it, that doesn’t mean you get it done quickly and affordably.
It’s straightforward to attend stand-up calls every day and hear what everyone is working on. Everyone sounds busy. It feels like things are being accomplished.
But that doesn’t mean anything is actually being accomplished. It just means people are busy. That brings up the critical question.
Does anyone have the vision to complete the project?
Playing to win
Let’s illustrate this point with the simple game of chess. Anyone can learn how to move the pieces. You keep making moves, and it feels like you are making good choices. You struggle to find a checkmate.
Contrast that to playing like world champion Magnus Carlsen. He can see checkmate 5 moves ahead at all times. His goal is to end this game as fast as possible. He is going for victory and knows how to get there.
Like chess, most developers struggle to see how the pieces come together for the victory of the final product. They might also be like my son. He thinks he wins after every move, but they were all illegal moves.
Tech projects tend to get bogged down. Everyone is busy. Everyone is “making moves.” It often takes someone with vision and tenacity to complete the project. You need someone who can cut through the BS and see what exact 5 moves are needed to deliver victory for the team.
I’ve been working on a project that is in this exact problem for months. Everyone talks about the project every day. It seems like people are making progress. But weeks go by, and the project still isn’t done. The project is on a treadmill. That project is missing someone with the vision of how to get it to completion.
The unsung heroes in tech are the leaders and project managers who are working in the trenches day in and day out that know how to get projects delivered.
The Startup Visionary Triple Crown
The best early-stage startups have founders who can do all 3 types of visionary work we have discussed. They have the product vision and the know-how to architect and build it and can execute on getting it accomplished. Those teams are moving very rapidly and will run circles around their competition.
In contrast, I mentioned the project I have been part of that is stuck on a treadmill. I helped architect what needed to be built and how to make it work. I even prototyped it. But I don’t control the final execution and delivery of the project. All I can do is shake my head and watch. It’s dying in execution.
To be truly successful, companies need people at all levels with a vision and tenacity to get shit done. The what, the how, and the execution of it.