Disclosure: Stream, the API for scalable feeds, has previously sponsored Hacker Noon.
Today, we’re going to catch up with their CEO, Thierry Schellenbach about what advice he shares with other technical founders.
For previous sections of this interview, please visit:
- “How Stream Started Building News Feeds”
- “What to Learn From Facebook’s News Feed Struggles, and Who Will Power the News Feed of the Future?”
- “Market By Building on Your API”
- “Comparing the Amsterdam and Boulder Startup Scenes”
David: Is there any advice that you want to pass on about how you think technical startup founders should approach their business differently, or more of your own philosophy in that area? What are some of the advantages of being a technical founder?
Thierry Schellenbach: If you’re a founder and you’re technical, the biggest advantage you have is that you can build a prototype and use it to gather market feedback. This idea has been talked about in books such as the Lean Startup.
If you’re able to actually build things yourself, gathering relevant feedback on your idea and on your market is much easier. I’d encourage people who are thinking about starting a company to master either the development side or the design side of things. These are very useful skills early on in a startup.
Are there any common mistakes you see technical founders make?
The biggest one is probably marketing. Many technical founders don’t realize that the marketing aspect of a business is often a bigger challenge than the underlying tech. Even if you’re building something complex like a new database or piece of cloud infrastructure, finding a cost-effective way to reach potential customers is difficult. As a technical founder, it is important to develop a basic understanding of marketing. For Stream, our approach to creative developer marketing worked very well. Another great read is Traction, which discusses the basics of marketing — we keep a copy of that one in our office.
That’s a good point. Marketing can be difficult to get right. Where there any other resources you used to improve your skills as a founder?
I studied business in school and started programming as a teenager. Most of the things you learn while getting a business degree are actually aimed at larger companies rather than startups. One amazing resource I found regarding fundraising was Brad Feld’s Venture Deals. It’s a great book for learning about how fundraising terms are structured.
Over the past few years, the resources available online for learning about startups have also greatly improved. YC’s Startup Class is a great for startup tips for founders. I also enjoy reading Paul Graham’s essays and Alex Iskolds’ blog.
Yeah, Alex’s blog is a great resource. What about areas that you struggled with? At your first startup, you were the CTO — any areas that you found difficult to learn in your role as a CEO of Stream?
Honestly, I’m not great at taking sales calls. I did the first 200–300 sales calls myself and it was quite a challenge — but I did get better over time. While it was difficult, I believe it is very important for early stage founders to be able to develop those sales skills. Those sales calls were, and continue to be, essential for product and pricing feedback. For other founders, I would advise continuing to take part in sales calls, instead of delegating those tasks, until you find your product market fit. Jud Valeski writes a good blog post about this in “hiring your first sales guy”.
While sales calls are hard, the nice thing about doing them is that customers love talking to the founder. You have a real advantage in that regard. Just be open and ask for their feedback. You’ll often learn more in one sales call than you would after hours of reviewing analytics data.
Stream participated in Techstars NYC, how did this help you grow as a founder?
Our experience with Techstars was pretty amazing. Alex Iskold who runs the Techstars NYC program is highly technical. He actually founded a company called GetGlue where they spend a ton of time building their feed technology. So, we’re really lucky to have an investor/advisor on our team that fully understands the product and business. It’s been 3 years since Stream participated in Techstars NYC and Alex is still actively helping us out. It’s a great program.
Another great thing about Techstars was their help with fundraising. They taught us a ton about how to raise funding and subsequently helped out with the network and introductions to get our foot in the door.