We’re here tonight at Madrone Studios for a fireside chat between Sarah Lacy and Reid Hoffman. For those that aren’t familiar with Hoffman — where have you been? — he is a co-founder of LinkedIn, a partner at Greylock, and a prominent member of the PayPal mafia.
Hoffman began by detailing his thoughts on product-focused founders. Conventional wisdom tends to state that product-focused founders of software companies should be engineers or programmers. However, Hoffman outlined a trifecta of disciplines that product-focused founders should have.
The disciplines are design, engineering, and product management.
As Hoffman noted, “The product founder is critical, but product doesn’t mean writing code. You have to be conversant. You have to understand what a technical strategy is, what is or isn’t feasible, who would or wouldn’t be good to work with. There are a lot of product founders that aren’t coders.”
What this means for product-focused founders is that they can lead the product side of a company, while not actively writing the code for software. This is what Hoffman did at LinkedIn, and he isn’t alone. Steve Jobs is also a well-known example of a product-focused founder that didn’t actually write the code.
Hoffman continued, stating that a product-focused founder doesn’t necessarily need all three, although that is helpful. What’s really necessary, though, is to be very strong in at least one of those, and being willing to learn.
Which is what Hoffman did over time, with one key lesson he picked up being that “if you’re not embarassed by your first product release, you released too late.”