Marketing · Saas

Marketing & Business Dev People - If I Write Code For 8+ Hours Every Day, What Will You Do?


March 23rd, 2014

As a programmer, I hesitate to join forces with people who don't write code when starting a SaaS company.  A lot of programmers I know feel the same way.  Personally, it's because I feel like the hours I put in and the value I create (keep in mind this is for a SaaS company) will not be matched.

Let's say there is an early-stage SaaS company comprised of two programmers.  What can Marketing and Business Dev people offer the company, especially if it's a company that may not want to raise money (aka no fundraising duties)?  What tangible value would they create?  Programmers work notoriously long hours (I know I do).  Should working the same hours be expected of Marketing and Business Dev people? 

Jake Carlson Software Development Manager at Oracle

March 23rd, 2014

Not in Gerald's case, apparently. ;)

As a fellow developer, I hear what you're saying. But your software isn't worth the hardware it's compiled on if nobody uses it and nobody makes the deals that makes the business run. We can all argue in circles about how much value each role brings to the table, but at the end of the day it's up to each individual to prove their worth to the business. If someone can double your revenue, I'd say that person is very valuable (arguably more valuable than that second programmer, in some cases).

A marketing person that doesn't add value should be let go, just like a programmer that doesn't add value. If you're worried that you'll get stuck with someone that doesn't add value, just make their compensation tightly coupled with performance. Also, the number of hours worked really should not be a primary metric. The amount of value added should be. As programmers, we both know that simple but elegant solutions trump extra hours spent solving the wrong problem or solving it in the wrong way.

Dimitry Rotstein Founder at Miranor

March 24th, 2014

As someone who is forced to do development and marketing in parallel, I can appreciate the work of a non-technical co-founder. For the record, I am prepared to give equal share to a good marketing person, if only I could find one. Here are some of the few things I'd like such a person to do instead of me, so that I could concentrate on development:
- Market research (as already mentioned here): finding a suitable segment, analyzing competition, studying trends, and so on. This alone could well be a full-time job.
- Non-technical content for the website and social network groups.
- Overall structure of the website (for Saas a website is especially important, right?), including testing and measuring the traffic and user responses on landing pages to optimize the website.
- Maintaining a regular company blog, email list, forum (including moderation), polls, and more.
- Face-to-face marketing: business meetings, meetups, conferences, presentations... Just making a PP slideshow is one big time sinkhole. At early stages face-to-face marketing could be the primary way of getting users, no matter what the product is, and that takes a lot of time. Paul Graham wrote an excellent piece on this:
- Business and legal documentation: EULA, TOU, Privacy Policy, BP, ES... If the start-up is incorporated, then taking care of all the related paperwork too. If it has revenues, then drawing P&L charts, taking care of all the money issues and so on. Yes, ideally, these things should be done by a lawyer and/or accountant, but up to a certain point anyone with enough brains and motivation (and some existing tools like Business-in-a-box) can do it. Although it is nice to have a business co-founder with legal and/or financial education/experience.
- Setting goals and time tables. A developer working without constraints often takes too long to complete the product, because he tends to create a work of art rather than a marketable good. While quality is important too, there has to be a deadline imposed by someone else, or the work will not be done until it's too late. Or maybe that's just me :-)

This list is by no means complete.

Paul Travis Multifaceted Online Executor: Product Marketing to Program Mgmt. to Business Development

March 23rd, 2014

I did a decade of professional software development on product millions and millions of people use(d) then got bored and jumped the fence to marketing and business development and have been successful in this for 20 years.

I've even had business partnerships which went "askew" because my tech colleague went so far down a path before we vetted that the particular approach added value.

The way you say "programmers need help getting the word out about their projects" suggests to me that you have little value in the collaborative process, but I think that's where the gold is.  A pricing/licensing system, web page, or channel strategy is worth every bit your code is worth.

(In fact, I'd say you're sounding remarkably like some of my clients -- who really want JUST the results of sales and marketing but don't actually want me to do any of the work it takes to get there...)

Alicia, what do you have to say on the matter?

Mike Whitfield Sr. Software Engineer, EPAM, Google

March 23rd, 2014

Hey Austen,

I can't help but notice 2 threads from you now that have reflected disdain for the biz process.  FD is a highly vetted community, so this is a place where you can rest assured everyone here is serving some significant value to the company and the business process.

What's deeper past the feelings of ill-will on business processes?

-- also an engineer


Erin-Michael Johnson

March 23rd, 2014

I'm also a programmer, so I "sort of" get where you're coming from; however, I think you're making the assumption [probably incorrectly] that value creation is a linear process owned solely by product development. In some highly public success stories, this is certainly the popular narrative (read: social network). In my experience, YMMV, working with startups and being a technical co-founder myself (8 years strong, profitable, backed, rejecting capital), I know that the contributions of smart developers (I like to think I'm smart) are integral to success. But... success is a bumpy road, and I've also watched GOOD marketing (biz dev) of a GOOD product (prod dev) become the tipping point for success. Not just once. Pretty much always. My point, be careful discounting the value of skillsets other than "programmers." We're a linchpin, no question about it, but don't drink TechCrunch's koolaid make you believe we're the only people who matter.


March 24th, 2014

"As a programmer, I hesitate to join forces with people who don't write code when starting a SaaS company"

Fundamentally you need to understand that a company's success - and therefore value - depends on a whole suite of complementary disciplines coming together to work towards a shared vision and ambition. Given you're starting a SaaS company, having a team who can understand the technical product would be important. That doesn't mean they all need to be coders however - indeed, they shouldn't be.

"Programmers work notoriously long hours (I know I do).  Should working the same hours be expected of Marketing and Business Dev people?"

Oh boy. You're considering value created/productivity based on hours worked? This is completely the wrong way of looking at things. You're not building a factory that makes grommets. 

Here's an article about hours worked vs. productivity:

Ahmad Khan Sr. Technical Account Manager at Amazon Web Services

March 23rd, 2014

As an engineer working in enterprise sales, I see how technology purchasing decisions are made everyday. If your SaaS product is B2B, I would argue that you wouldn't get very far without a great marketing team that can get the word out to the targeted segments as well as a motivated sales team with the right relationships. In a high-stake deal, a customer will more likely buy from people they like and trust rather then a cool website. This is especially true if you have 10 other companies trying to offer the same product are not clearly differentiated.

For a B2C product, you might not need sales and business development people but I would still consider marketing to be essential.

John Sechrest

March 24th, 2014

If you believe in the Lean Startup Methodology and you look at the customer development cycle, it actually begins before you do coding. And if you are going to get to 10,000 user anytime soon, someone is going to have to be contacting and visiting with thousands of customers to understand what they perceive about the problem space and the key features that need to be focused on first. It is wasteful to build things that people don't want. How can you know what they want if you don't talk to them. How will you make thousands of customer contacts before you write your code?

Shobhit Verma Ed Tech Test Prep

March 23rd, 2014

Those are awesome responses.
I am a programmer myself and I have been doing Marketing for ~1.5 years now.
There is a book called "The mythical man month" which removes the fallacy that a coder working for 8+ hours is better than a coder working for 3 hours. So clearly even coders cannot be compared based on hours they put in.
Marketing "progress" is even less measurable. I would say that the right marketer/biz dev person may even appear to work only for 1-2 hours but what matters most is their passion. I know good marketers who live and breather their products, they get ideas when talking to friends, when waiting for a cab or when a crow shits on them .. why ? Because they observer every life experience and ask the question -"what does it teach me about how to market my product better?". Talk to them about how they want to solve the marketing problems and see if they make sense to you, you may want to use an expert's advice if you haven't developed the faculty to assess.

TL;DR Coding- which has a tangible outcome- cannot be measured in hours, and marketing is even harder to measure. Use expert advisors to help choose such cofounders, otherwise it is like buying a used car when you haven't even driven a car before. You can get lucky, but more often than not, you will be sold on something that is not relevant. Don't do it without expert supervision.

Edward Sullivan Founder and Executive Coach

March 23rd, 2014

1) First, FounderDating needs to fix this auto-responder-hell issue.  Sheesh...

2) This part of the OPs latest response confuses me: "Is it unreasonable to expect to find a scrappy, hard-working, Marketing/Business Dev person with a toolbox full of strategies to deploy for gaining traction, customers, and revenue?  Where can programmers find those people?  Can you select hustler as a skill-set when browsing the FD network?"  I thought you help Biz/Marketing people in such contempt that you were questioning their value?  But now you sound like you're trying to find one?  Very confusing...

3) Overall, I find the premise of the original statement/question deeply flawed.  To imply most if not all of the value of a company lies in it's product/programmers belies a deep misunderstanding about how starting and building a business actually works.  Anyone can come up with an idea.  Any programmer can build an MVP.  But getting from "Look at this cool thing I built" to a few million people using it (and PAYING for it) is 100% sales and marketing.  

You say that the hours you put in and the value you create will not be matched.  But what value is there if no one uses your product? The start-up graveyards are filled with smart technical founders who couldn't market or communicate their vision.  

Over the years, I have worked with teams of engineers who have spent a lot of time developing cool products and exactly ZERO time thinking about how to take it to market.  They say, But we built this amazing thing, why is no one using it?  The value savvy business partners provide them makes all the difference between languishing with a few hundred users and large-scale adoption.  And much of the value they provide would be considered "soft skills" by a coder: design, brand, messaging, discipline around product simplicity, answering the question "Are we solving a major pain point?", introductions to taste-makers and opinion leaders, early customer trials, user advocacy, user feedback, partnerships, policy initiatives, etc.  To say all of that pales in comparison to the value provided by the programmers is patently indefensible. 

If you want to know more value about what value non-technical co-founders provide, try reading about Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Reid Hoffman, or hundreds of others...