Adam Smith

Early Startups Needs Generalists

October, 2009

I was at MIT for a few days last week for the MIT Startup Bootcamp. One thing I love about MIT entrepreneurs is how scrappy and motivated they are. Compared to the iconic facebook chasing social media west coast entrepreneurs, these guys are Rocky Balboas. They stay in the game when others would have given up, and they tackle substantive problems.

MIT graduates still come out with several learned habits that will work against them though.

One such habit is to obsess over everything. At MIT there's a very finite set of material to study at any time in any given class. The hard core students among us make sure that the curve is attrociously high. You might spend 20 hours studying a small set of material.

So the onus was on expertness. Of everything.

This doesn't work in an early stage startup where everyone has to be a generalist and work on seven different projects per day.

You don't want to be an expert in your series A docs. If you are negotiating the finer points in a legal negotiation, you are losing.

If you are worrying about your computers costing $800 versus $1200, you are losing.

I know the MIT obsessive in you wants to optimize everything, but just don't.

Instead, hit REALLY high notes on the important things.

HubSpot is a startup that's all about bringing modern Internet marketing to small and medium businesses. It's a huge opportunity and a huge deal. Their biggest challenge is educating the 100 million small business owners about this new world.

For HubSpot, educating their market is incredibly important to their success.

So they put on a conference. Their founders wrote a book. They've released several free and easy tools like TwitterGrader and WebsiteGrader. They take this stuff seriously, and they should. Their MIT'ness is shining through in the best of ways.

So, for folks like me, half the battle is identifying where to hit the high notes and where to swing for the B team. And when it comes time for the B team, swallow your pride and show 'em how impressively unimpressive you can be.

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