The vision thing

I love working with engineering-centric founding teams — makers who can not just envision the future but build it as well.

But I had a conversation this morning with another early-stage investor that highlighted a common skill gap in teams like this: even when they have a crisp vision of the future in their heads, they’re often not that comfortable articulating it in public.

This is obviously painting with a very broad brush — “engineers” are all kinds of people, with all kinds of individual strengths and weaknesses. But to borrow from the Meyers Briggs Personality Type Indicator framework, they more often fall on the “S” (for Sensing) end of the spectrum than “N” (Intuitive) — meaning they feel most confident when they build arguments based on a foundation of facts rather than making (or at least going on record with) big logical leaps.

And early-stage founders have to do more than just build product and listen to customers — they also have to sell, painting a vision of the future that can get new hires, investors and analysts excited about where they’re going and why they’re going to win. Almost by definition, that vision is always bigger and more audacious than the current state of the business might suggest.

Roman Stanek — CEO of GoodData — described this tension perfectly in a blog post I came across last night:

“…there’s a clear distinction between what I would call air wars and ground wars. The air wars are talking to analysts going on speaking trips and so on. The ground wars are selling stuff to your customers and solving a real problem. Every company has to do both. The air wars help to build the brand. The ground wars help you win customers.”

Technical founding teams usually start out with natural excellence in the “ground war”, but have to invest time and effort in building up their “air war” capacity.

Those that recognize this early and lean into the task tend to accomplish more, faster, than those who expect to win through execution alone.