When aspiring high school entrepreneurs apply to LaunchX, they are asked to self-assess and choose their entrepreneurial type: Builder, Brander, Brain, or Business Developer. Because each of these types make their own contributions to a successful startup, this is one of the factors we consider during the teaming process. Here’s a closer look at each of these roles, and their unique skill sets, with tips on how to excel in each!
You drive product development and manufacturing with your high degree of technical capability. You are instrumental in determining how a product concept will become reality, whether that means building a physical prototype, or coding digital assets.
The Builder is the person who can take vision and turn it into reality. Though they may also have a hand in coming up with the product concept, the most important part of the role is in the name - they build the product, whether that means physical prototyping, coding software, or designing a service. Builders need to be technically savvy, and ready to develop and hone their skills. They’ll need those skills both to complete the MVP, and to iterate and progress, so it’s important that they are constantly learning and keeping up with the latest advancements in their field of expertise.
Different products will require different skills, but all builders will go through a design phase and a prototype phase as they get their startups off the ground. When designing a physical product, CAD (Computer Aided Design) is a great option. Premium programs like Autodesk can be expensive, but there are low cost and free options such as Onshape, Sketchup and FreeCAD available. Check out this list for more solutions and to compare features!
For virtual products, such as a website or app, there are also tools that builders can use here is a list of online tools that can be used to assist in design and prototyping. Coding can also be a key skill for a builder, and it’s another area where they can take advantage of online learning to hone skills. Codeacademy has everything from HTML to Ruby to Python, including resources for complete beginners. GitHub is also great to check out for those looking to solve a particular problem or expertise in a particular area, and has tons of open source code.
When making a physical product, the builder’s next step is taking their design and making that concept tangible. The skills required will vary significantly depending on the nature of the startup and project, and the materials they are working with. 3D modeling and printing, breadboarding, laser cutting, welding, soldering, carving… there are numerous skills that could apply. The good news that there are many great Youtube tutorials for learning new skills, or troubleshooting. But don’t overlook local community resources such as community colleges and makerspaces that may offer different learning opportunities or access to tools.
You help sculpt the user experience through well designed branding and marketing plans. You exemplify cool design through your creative process. You also set best practices in the look and feel of the product.
The brander is responsible for the face of the business, because your brand is what most of your customers will first be exposed to, whether they realize it or not. They are the person who takes a product and finds the right brand identity and messaging to reach the right customers. Branders need to be both creative and analytical, willing to try new things and assess what’s working.Branding, design, and marketing all come under a brander’s umbrella, so they need to be able to look at the big picture, and also come up with the tactics to support it and reach the desired customers.
Branders touch everything from a company’s color palette and logo to their website, blog, newsletter, customer emails, social media, and ad campaigns. It’s a lot to balance, but there are resources that can help! To get started learning about branding and marketing strategy, there are numerous online courses, and many are free. Branders can find courses from Coursera and edX by searching Class Central, and also filter for self-paced classes, or courses with certifications. Hubspot Academy offers free courses along different certification tracks, as well as quicker lessons. Their blog is a good place for find answers to marketing questions as well.
Hubspot is also one of the services that can be used to manage a company’s marketing efforts. Mailchimp can manage contact lists and send email campaigns. Quick Sprout will help a brander assess how their company’s website is converting, and Google Analytics can help assess traffic. For social media marketing, there are scheduling tools like Hootsuite and Buffer, which allow branders to quickly schedule social media posts across multiple platforms. Buffer also publishes articles about social media marketing trends and tactics on their resources page.
Tools like Canva and Figma can simplify design for social media posts, websites header images, emails, flyers, infographics etc., by providing intuitive templates and access to a library of icons, images, and backgrounds. Canva also offers helpful design tutorials. But if spending too much time on design doesn’t make sense (and it may not, with branders having so much to juggle), there’s always the option to outsource to a freelancer on a site such as 99designs, Logoworks, or Upwork. Just make sure you’re getting quality work that aligns with your brand!
The Business Developer
You manage projects, company culture and form partnerships while keeping a keen eye on the numbers. You understand finances and like making sales to drive those numbers.
The business developer is the person who finds a company’s niche, and goes after those customers. They understand the value of the business intimately and communicate it in their sleep. Successful business developers understand customers intimately, making them a key resource and partner for the Brander. Metrics are their measure of success, and they are driven by keeping the company financially successful. That means they need not only the people skills to develop partnerships and relationships to sustain a business, they also need to be good with numbers.
Business Developers make a lot of important decisions that directly impact the success of a company. Everything from product price point, partnerships, to sales team structure, to representing the business at conferences falls within their realm. Like other entrepreneurial types, there are tools and resources that can support a successful business developer, but ultimately people skills and intimate understanding of the product and market will determine success.
Luckily there are courses that can help aspiring business developers learn the core concepts and strategies behind starting, running, and growing a business. Here are a few resources that are a good starting point.
Business Strategy: 8 Best Strategies For Business Growth - course from Udemy
Pricing Strategy Optimization Specialization - a series from UVA and the Boston Consulting Group
10 Steps to Forming Long-Lasting Strategic Partnerships - an article from Entrepreneur Magazine
To help the business developer keep track of the important numbers, tracking tools and a good CRM are essential. Salesforce is one of the most well-known, but it may not be the best option for a business that’s just starting up. A more budget-friendly option is Zoho CRM. Compare these and many more in this list here. Intercom is another tool that can help business developers get insight into how customers are interacting with their company’s website, and reach out via chat, message, or email based on activity. It’s flexible enough to be used by Branders too!
A challenge for the business developer role is reliable forecasting. To help drive decision making for the business they’ll need to make realistic projections about sales, market share, customer growth, retention, etc. They also need the insight to predict how a specific change, such as a pricing increase or a new product rollout will impact company growth. This thorough article from the Harvard Business Review covers different forecasting models and techniques that the business developer should be familiar with.
You observe and interview multiple users, discover patterns, and understand the landscape in which the team is working. You are always emphasizing primary market research and compiling evidence to direct the team towards what will work best for the user.
The Brain is the person who puts themselves in the user’s shoes to refine a product and innovate on an idea, ensuring that the final product is one that both solves a problem and offers a good experience. Research and analysis are of key importance to the Brain, both in person and online. They will need to research potential customers and the market landscape to inform development decisions, as well as analyze how users are interacting with the current product and brand. Successful Brain types are determined, analytical, and data driven.
While their research may be extensive, it’s important for Brains to remain strategic and not get bogged down by too many details. The 80/20 rule is a useful concept for Brains to understand: 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. It’s a balancing act, but there are resources to help entrepreneurs learn the required skills and expend energy in the right places. Two books, Talking with Humans and Testing with Humans were written to help entrepreneurs better understand their customers and run experiments which produce actionable data. These books can be a starting point for aspiring startup leaders, or a good read for entrepreneurs at any stage.
When it comes to tools, Excel is a must for Brain types. You can get support from Microsoft with the basics, or take a self-study course such as this one offered by Training the Street. As always, Youtube tutorials can be useful for learning new tricks. But not all analysis will require a tool such as Excel; Brains also need to be familiar enough with the numbers to be able to do ‘back-of-the-napkin’ calculations.
By either the nature of their business, or by necessity, some startup leaders find that they take on characteristics or responsibilities of more than one entrepreneurial type. Because each role is so important, founders must avoid being spread too thin, and neglecting a key area of running their business. On the flip side, leaders who fit squarely into one category should surround themselves with people who have the skills to fill out each of the entrepreneurial types.
Regardless of entrepreneurial type, success comes from making smart decisions and calculated risks that move the business forward in a meaningful way. And that takes a wide range of knowledge and skills alongside a willingness to always keep learning and growing.
“I always did something I was a little not ready to do. I think that’s how you grow. When there’s that moment of ‘Wow, I’m not really sure I can do this,’ and you push through those moments, that’s when you have a breakthrough.”- Marissa Mayer, American Businesswoman