founders, one in each category. It would
be awesome if you had all three at the
beginning, but that’s rare.
If you look at Apple, you had Steve
[Jobs[ who was a product and sales guy,
and then you had [Steve] Wozniak who
was more of a tech guy. So I think it’s kind
of interesting to ask yourself, which of
them am I? How do I find the other parts?
This will define the corporate culture,
which also has a little bit to do with what
sort of business you should be in.
XRDS: What advice would you offer our
readers about to embark (or thinking
about embarking) on this journey?
ITO: Especially since this is ACM and
they are computer science majors, one
key thing is getting back to the three
rough categories. It’s really important to
find pretty early on people you trust to
be your co-founders with the skills you
yourself don’t have. The hardest part is
they’re typically not in your network.
There’s a great paper by [Mark]
Granovetter called “The Strength of Weak
2 Strong ties are like your close
friends and family. Weak ties are people
you know but are in different networks
either geographically or field-wise. He
shows most people find their jobs through
their weak ties, more than through their
If you’re an engineering student
or computer scientist, most of your
friends are probably similar to you; there
probably are a lot of computer scientists
who aren’t that extroverted as well. So
thinking about what way networking
works for you to get to those people is
pretty important. It’s often by talking
to your mentor and to family friends.
But try to get out of your network a
little to run into people who might be
good collaborators. That’s probably
the hardest part but something you
an entrepreneur, because it’s good for
building up a relationship.
XRDS: How do you know you’ve found a
good person, and what are the signs of
good team dynamics?
ITO: I can usually tell by they way they
interact. What you want, especially if
you’re an engineer, is to find someone
who understands enough to be able to
respect the value of the work you do.
What you don’t want is the category
of business types who are looking for
opportunities to just sort of jump in,
put something together, and go on to
the next thing. They maybe aren’t really
trying to understand what’s happening
on the technology side. I would say that’s
true of salespeople. Product people
are, by definition, going to be a bit more
interested in the technology side.
There are companies like Google that
just started with two engineers. So it’s
not like you always have to have that
person. But mutual respect is really
important. The last thing you want is
to work with someone just because
you want to raise money. Like someone
who has a pedigree but who you don’t
really like but were told you need a
businessperson, so you get somebody for
the fundraising rounds.
This is a separate point but related.
Culture is more important than anything
else in your company. Do the founders like
each other? Can they hang out with each
other? Because you have to spend a lot
of time with each other, and you’re going
to go through really hard times. You’re
going to have to be each other’s support.
So if you don’t laugh at each other’s
jokes, if you don’t like roughly the same
kind of things in society and values, then
it’s going to be hard. Having said that,
I’ve seen people who have very different
politics work well together because they
have similar business values.
XRDS: As in, they have the same
Ito: They overlap enough. For
instance, Reid Hoffman and Peter Thiel
are politically opposite. Reid is very
liberal; Peter is a libertarian. Peter is a
Trump supporter. Reid is not. But they
have a huge amount of mutual respect,
and they’re both sort of philosophical.
When they were working together, they
had a tremendous amount of mutual
I think some problems in society
shouldn’t be commercial or market-
driven, and some things are too long-
term for markets to support easily. I think
there is a solid role for academic, as well
as public and nonprofit, research. Trying
to develop a healthy ecosystem that
involves academia together with startups
and venture capital is key.
XRDS: What does entrepreneurship
mean for you?
ITO: Entrepreneurship is a huge
spectrum that includes everybody,
from social entrepreneurs, to people
with MBAs who are business people, to
scientists who want to commercialize a
technology. But entrepreneurial activity
is anybody who takes initiative and tries
to do stuff. If you were to narrow it to
venture entrepreneurship, it’s really the
idea of having a goal you can explain for
how to deploy something and make it
work by pulling the things together you
need to make it happen.
Even in tech you have probably
three different archetypes. You have
sales-oriented entrepreneurship where
you have people like Larry Ellison who
is very sales-oriented. A lot of the
business-to-business companies are
like that, like IBM, where you have a
huge sales force. It’s about taking the
product and selling it, and that’s the
culture of the company. And then you
have companies I would call product-oriented; LinkedIn would be in this
category. But they usually involve
people who are product-people, either
designers or those who have thought
about how products might fit into
society and what’s a good product.
Then you have engineering companies.
I would put Google in that category,
where the founders are engineers, and
they look at product design and sales
through an engineering lens. They AB
test things to figure out whether the
product is the right design, and they
try to create systems where the sales
aspect is automatic instead of having
lots of salespeople. Whereas a sales-oriented company will build a sales
culture around incentive structures
Again there’s a balance. Most
companies happen to have all these
parts, but most of the time the founder
is only one of the three. Or you have two
than anything else
in your company.