Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Seattle 2.0, and imported to GeekWire as part of our acquisition of Seattle 2.0 and its archival content. For more background, see this post.
By Janis Machala
I am in the process of forming a company out of technology from
the University of Washington where 6 different academics
contributed to the patent portfolio. Two are mechanical engineers,
two are biomedical engineers, and two are radiology diagnosticians
and imaging techies. It’s been very slow going getting this many founders
together on the various topics and issues around company formation.
Only 1 of the professors/scientists is to be part of the company on a full-
time basis and he is now wavering on coming on board due to the risks
inherent in a startup.
His recommendation was finding someone to replace him as soon as
possible so he could go back to China and do something else, that the
company needed to live on beyond his involvement. What that does
not take into account is the company’s founding soul and DNA. Who is
the core of the company and brings it into formation with respect to
values? Can I do this? Sure. But I am not the full-time CEO, we will be
hiring someone and that person won’t be around for many months yet.
It made me think about for how long the company equals the founders
and the founders represent the totality of the company. One part of me
says it’s probably a year before there’s enough critical mass of people to
make it seem like a separate entity from the founding team.
However, what I deep down believe after many many years in building
startups and working with founders and seeing company evolution is
that there’s never really a separation. The founders’ fingerprints, foot-
prints, and DNA are always on the company and there’s never a time it
goes completely away. That’s why when you think about working for a
startup or joining with founders as an executive team member, look to
the founders and how they view the world.
Think Google founders and the “Do no evil” mantra they espouse. Think
about how developers rule at Google, even after many hundreds and
thousands of business people being hired. Even if the two founders left
today, that fabric would stay behind. Ask long time Microsoft employees
about how Steve/Bill that company is, even after all the decades in
DNA’s a good thing, though. It lets you know what the rules are and the path
that will be the “right” one. Listen to how the founders talk, send email, act
in meetings and you know what will and won’t be accepted. It will let you
know whether it’s a place you can thrive and have fun or drown and be
miserable. Every person can assess how they will or won’t be successful or
effective given how the company’s founders have made their marks and set
the pace/tone/inner clock.
Janis Machala is the Founder and Managing Partner of Paladin Partners.