Monday, May 5, 2014

Who’s More Important to a Startup: Developers or Communicators?

Dan Gross proposes a thesis:

When it comes to transforming the way we produce, use, store, and manage energy in the U.S., innovation in ... marketing can be just as significant as innovation in technology and engineering. 

Matt Asay fleshes out the argument:

English majors, according to Jayaram, can “tell stories,” which is increasingly the difference between success and failure in a startup:

“Almost anything you can imagine you can now build, so the battleground in business has shifted from engineering, which everybody can do, to storytelling, for which many fewer people have real talent.”

Vivek Ranadivé, chairman and CEO of Tibco and a hardware engineer by training, concurs with Jayaram’s premise, arguing that “a liberal arts degree is more of an asset than learning any trade.” Why? Because such graduates are trained in communicating—in storytelling.

Quality storytelling could be the difference between getting funded or not.

Josh Benton draws a conclusion:

Vox’s edge really isn’t in a particular piece of software. It’s in people and culture. The CMS is an outcome of those two things, not the driver of them.

The Washington Post, where Victor and many of the other Voxers used to work, has an unloved primary CMS, but it also runs WordPress, a perfectly good option. I won’t claim WordPress can do everything Chorus can do—for instance, WordPress cannot produce rainbows and cotton candy, at least not without a plugin—but it can do an awful lot. I haven’t seen anything on so far that couldn’t be built pretty easily on WordPress.

But the difference really isn’t Chorus. The difference is that Vox is open to experimentation, it demands rapid iteration, and it puts technology-shaping people on par with word-shaping people. The difference is that, in many traditional newsrooms, changing the UI on a page like this one would have taken multiple meetings where the tech side’s knowledge would likely have been undervalued. It’s a corporate ethos and a permission structure that means good ideas don’t have to get bottled up. It’s being the kind of place that would build Chorus in the first place. That is Vox’s edge, and you can’t buy that off the shelf.