As I meet with more and more people who are innovating, I find that some people put the “id” in their ideas, while others follow the idea’s innate connections. What do I mean by that? Well, this is a question of the existentialism of the idea. Does an idea have a true essence? Does the life of an idea begin with its inception, or does it start before the idea was born? Is the path of an idea predetermined? Sartre says, in his treatise on existentialism, that “Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself.” Is this also true of ideas? Is an idea nothing but what it becomes, and does it become what it must become or what it can become?

I think the answer is either — an idea will become what its essence dictates if it is nourished, but without catalysts, support and instigation, it follows the path of least resistance.  In other words, ideas don’t just happen; they have to be worked and molded like clay sculptures.

Since startups begin with ideas, they behave the same way. They need support and catalyzing, something to propel them forward. Many startups do not have the internal mechanisms to keep them alive, so they flounder for a while and then fail.

Much has been written about why startups fail, and every commentator writes with conviction. Most explanations focus on running out of  funding, not providing what the market wants and acquiring customers too slowly. These are certainly important, but there is not enough attention on the startup made up of DOGS and no CATS.

Dogs and cats? What? What!

New acronyms, because we don’t have enough in the world already.

DOGS: Detail-Oriented Geeks. These are the people who usually start to flourish the idea but do not know how to get it focused in the right direction, off the ground and out the gate. DOGS are pretty standard in any high tech organization, unless the company was started by a non-technical MBA, in which case, the may not be enough DOGS.

CATS: Cool Awesome Trendsetters. These are the people who can catalyze the idea, focus its development and communicate it to the outside world. They set trends by bridging the detailed technical idea with the market. These types of people are hard to find, purrhaps (ha-ha), because they are not easily understood. They look at themselves as innovators, but if they use that term, the organization tends to wonder about them.

Some companies think CATS are “Sales” and “Marketing”, but Sales and Marketing types usually don’t really know how to relate to the Technical Idea Team (no acronym here!). In larger companies, there are so many layers to try to make the transition successful from the Idea Team to the market. It usually goes like this: tech team – manager – product manager – product marketing manager – marketing – sales. Whew! It’s exhausting — and expensive — to navigate this path. So, when you can identify someone who is a CAT, or groom someone for the job, you are in luck, because this is that rare breed that can speak techie, sales and customer.

But CATS have a hard life. They are often misunderstood at first by the techies as well as sales. Customers usually love them, and I’ve found that once their true value surfaces, techies and sales love them and want them. At my companies, I’ve been the CAT that drives development and the ideas, and I see how critical the role is. Without the CAT, a small company cannot survive, unless it is fortunate enough to have enough funding to build a chain of people between the tech team and the customers and make it over the chasm.

Ultimately, it is the connections driven by the CATS and DOGS that determine if in Idea becomes what it must become or merely what it can become.

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