Why I'm an Employee and Not a Founder

I have been working very closely with the founder of a successful startup [1]. For the sake of this post we’ll call him John. John has the title of CTO but he works in the company as an individual contributor. I have lead the team of engineers that John has contributed to for most of the last year. Being in the position of both leader/coordinator and mentee I have become painstakingly aware of a trait that John embodies, seemingly with his whole soul, that I fail to even register on a scale of any measure in comparison.


If there is any one mode that I would say that John is always in, it is the mode to ship. He is always scrambling to just get the next thing out the door. Relentlessly, tirelessly, enthusiastically, shipping. Meetings that he can’t skip are his only real obstacle to shipping.

When I look at my own failing side projects — which is what the product I currently work on was once to John — I see beautiful, well thought out, modular, unit tested, poetic expressions of thought — laid out in code. Just yesterday I opened up an old project and was blown away by the elegant code that I had spent weeks on two years ago. The code may be beautiful, but it is useless. It has been rotting for years. Sitting, essentially dead, in a repository. A momento to wasted time. A complete and utter waste of time.

When I was learning new programming languages, reading articles posted on Hacker News, reading books by industry leaders, doing nerdy deep dives, proving turing completeness, reading about best practices, writing and re-writing and “future proofing” my side projects, etc. John was shipping.

Not shipping may not be the only reason I’m an employee and not a founder, but it has become painstakingly obvious to me that its probably the biggest one.

I really like what a product manager that I work with said, “It makes no difference to the user how something is built if it is not helpful to them.”

P.S. I’m now primarily working to clean up technical debt that we have accrued over the last year. Shipping as the primary goal isn’t always sunshine and roses.

[1] https://news.crunchbase.com/news/lucidchart-draws-72m-in-new-funding-to-scale-visual-collaboration-platform/