Why That Ex-IBM Exec Could Be One Giant, Cash-Guzzling Liability to Your Startup

Picture this.

Young, starry-eyed startup founder comes in to pitch investors for funding.

He clicks crisply through his deck. He describes his product (patent-pending, of course), its features, benefits, and how 1% market share is enough to place everyone in the company on the Forbes list of richest people in the world.

Then the team slide comes up on the screen and the entrepreneur puffs up his chest, clears his throat, and announces that (just so you know) the CTO (or some other C-Suite position) of the company is an ex-IBM executive (or an ex-HP executive, or any other big, public company).

He pauses and looks around the room proudly. Almost as if he was expecting a standing ovation.

Oh, by the way, the company has raised $20 million so far, burned more than 50% of that on overhead (logo design, focus groups, salaries, and such), and hopes to have a minimum viable product in 24 months. Just as soon as this round of funding is completed.

See any problem with this picture?

Several actually. Let’s address just one today.

If you haven’t taken your product and service to market, if you do not yet have product-market fit, hiring an ex-Google COO to impress potential investors will almost certainly spell doom for your startup.

Here’s why.

One, your startup IS NOT a smaller version of a big, public company (HT Steve Blank). Your social media startup and Facebook are two totally different animals. One is a cute, needy kitten; the other is a full-grown lion. Your startup (the kitten) has different needs and needs a different set of competencies than a fully-functioning company.

Second, drawing from one above and quoting Ben Horowitz in his must-read book, “the job of a big company executive is very different from the job of a small company executive.”

To a big company executive (used to big budgets), that $2 million you plan to raise to take your product to market is just furniture allowance.

Former big company executives come with big company habits that could be deadly to your startup. Habits like sending everything to focus groups, analysis paralysis, bureaucracy, ego mania, and waiting for things to happen instead of making things happen (among others).

Bottom line: buyer beware.

Yes, you might need an Eric Schmidt or Sheryl Sandberg for adult supervision, however, hire one with your eyes wide open and only when your startup has taken off and is approaching cruising altitude.

Categories: