Scale and the Shoemaker

  • The hacker builds things, while knowingly incurring technical debt because speed and learning are the priority at this stage.
  • The hustler creates buzz—with investors, customers, the media, or partners. She knows that at this stage, contracts are flexible and customers are worth far more than the revenue they bring in.
  • The designer owns every facet of customer interaction, from branding to website to app design to the subject line on emails.
  • The analyst keeps the other three honest (something I argued a few years back was missing from the other three roles.)

Product-market fit

If you’re a single startup founder, you need to devote time to all four of these roles. Discover and overcome enough risks, however, and you find the right product for the right market. This is the realm of product-market fit.

The three machines

Brad Feld says startups have three “machines” that run their business. The customer machine finds and acquires buyers. The product machine builds and delivers what customers pay for. And the company machine handles the organization itself, from recruiting to treasury to compensation to governance.

Photo by Dmitrij Paskevic on Unsplash.

The shoemaker’s children

In the old tale of the shoemaker’s children, it’s the cobbler’s kids who lack decent footwear. The same principle is true for scale-stage companies. They advocate new, better ways of doing things. But they seldom heed their own advice. They’re so focused on delivering new things to clients, they fail to disrupt themselves with technologies and processes that might otherwise give them the upper hand.


Georgian Partners is one of the largest VC firms in Canada, with the bulk of its investments in the US. I like the team there a lot: They’re seasoned operators who’ve built and sold companies themselves. And they reinvest a substantial portion of their carry into an Impact Team, which deploys critical technologies like differential privacy into their portfolio of companies.

One of the panels and debates we hosted alongside content last year.



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Alistair Croll

Alistair Croll

Writer, speaker, accelerant. Intersection of tech & society. Strata, Startupfest, Bitnorth, FWD50. Lean Analytics, Tilt the Windmill, HBS, Just Evil Enough.