The Most Important Startup Question: Wozniak or Jobs?

Entrepreneurs are a lot like youth soccer players. Watch the same kids during a few practices, then during a few games, and you'll notice they tend to fall into one of two main categories:
  • The Steve Wozniaks: Love learning new techniques, advanced moves, sophisticated tactics -- Wozniak-types love the process of playing soccer and will happily perform drill after drill.
  • The Steve Jobs: Techniques and moves are interesting, and drills are fun for a minute or two, but Jobs-types come alive when they compete.
Would-be entrepreneurs fall into the same two categories. Here's an example:
  • You're a tech person who loves nothing more than developing new applications or solving problems. You can go for days on little sleep and crappy food. You're a skills guy who loves the process; you're a Wozniak.
  • You're into technology, but more for what technology can do. You like developing ideas, you like working with others to turn those ideas into products, you like creating a business out of those ideas, and you like to compete. You love turning ideas into businesses; you're a Jobs.
Simplistic? A little -- but also reasonably accurate. That's why, regardless of the type of business you want to start, the first step is to ask yourself: Am I happiest as a Wozniak or a Jobs?

Here's a hypothetical example: Say you want to open a restaurant. If you're a chef excited by the thought of creating a menu and running your kitchen on a busy night, you're a Wozniak. You need a partner who loves running the business side of the restaurant, otherwise all the "business stuff" will drive you crazy. If you're a chef and excited by the thought of establishing a successful restaurant, then opening more locations based on your original theme, you're a Jobs. You need a partner or an executive chef to handle day-to-day kitchen management.

Here's a real-life example: My then next-door neighbor John was a computer science professor and one of the two founders of Rosetta Stone. His brother-in-law Allen had the idea for a different way to learn languages. Allen and John started the company, Allen focusing on the business development side and John on the programming and tech side. John was the Wozniak, Allen was the Jobs. Later they brought in Allen's brother Eugene to be a second Jobs (disproving the business physics principle that two Jobs cannot occupy the same space at the same time.) They clearly embraced and enjoyed their roles while building an incredibly successful company.

Every day entrepreneurs start new businesses without considering whether they will be happiest as a Wozniak or a Jobs. Many also don't take the time to consider whether their business -- or their chosen career -- will ever even allow them to fill the role they most enjoy.

You may have no choice but to be a Wozniak and a Jobs as you get your business off the ground, but make sure you create and follow a plan that will let you do more of what you love as your business grows.

If starting a business won't let you do more of what you love, why start that business in the first place?

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Photo courtesy flickr user Ballistik Coffee Boy, CC 2.0