What is More Important To Succeed Online: Business or Technical Skills?

By Daniel Scocco

The answer to this question obviously depends on how we define success. Most of the people that work on the Internet, in one way or another, could be considered online entrepreneurs, though, right? In that case, I would say that we can define success as “having a profitable website or online company.”

Who never dreamed about creating the next Google or the next TechCrunch?

Daring to dream is something that we all should do. Apart from conceptualizing our dreams, however, we also need to work hard and smart to achieve them, and that involves making sure that we have the most suitable skill set. And this leads us to the main question:

For someone that aspires to have a profitable website or online company, what is more important: business skills or technical skills?

I know that having both would be ideal, but we don’t live in an ideal world. When people get out of the school they will inevitably need to focus on either one or the other. Some people go to study Computer Science and learn to code, while others go to study Business Administration and learn entrepreneurial skills.

Technical Skills

People that pick the technical route will usually create the first version of the websites or of the software themselves, and once it takes off they will move into a managerial role and hire coders to handle the technical part. Here is a list of companies and websites where the founders had technical skills and were directly involved in the early developments:

  • Google (Sergey Brin and Larry Page studied Computer Science)
  • Yahoo! (Jerry Yang studied Electrical Engineering and David Filo studied Computer Engineering)
  • Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg studied Computer Science)
  • YouTube (Steve Chen and Chad Hurley studied Maths and Computer Science)
  • Digg (Kevin Rose studied Computer Science)
  • Amazon (Jeff Bezos studied Computer Science)
  • Technorati (David Sifry studied Computer Science)
  • Netscape (Marc Andreesen studied Computer Science)

The advantage of choosing this route is that you will be able to create the code yourself, which gives you a lot more control over the final result. Additionally, you will also not need to hire anyone early on.

The disadvantage is that the lack of business skills might compromise your coding efforts right from the start (should you pick a wrong business model or fail to lay down a marketing plan, for example).

Business Skills

People that follow the business route will usually conceptualize ideas, products and business models, and will then hire programmers and a technical staff to implement it under their supervision. Here is a list of companies and websites where the founders had a business background (they have a wide have of academic formations, but they all worked with businesses and entrepreneurial projects):

  • Skype (Niklas Zennstrom studied Business Administration)
  • LinkedIn (Reid Hoffman studied Symbolic Systems and Philosophy
  • SalesForce (Marc Benioff studied Business Administration
  • Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales studied Finance)
  • Broadcast.com (Mark Cuban studied Business Administration)
  • Mahalo (Jason Calacanis studied Psychology
  • TechCrunch (Michael Arrington studied Law)
  • Gawker Media (Nick Denton studied Journalism)

The advantage of this route is that you will have more experience to understand the market and the customer needs. The disadvantage is that you will need to rely on other people to execute your ideas, and you will be limited to their expertise and technical abilities.

Over to the readers

If you had 15 years and needed to decide what path to follow, which one would you choose? Have your say in our poll and leave a comment too:



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34 Responses to “What is More Important To Succeed Online: Business or Technical Skills?”

  • john plott

    I know a lot of talented programmers on your sites
    Email marketing seems easier for some folks.But it is rewarding only when carried out in the
    most proffessional.So I would advise you to find a good email marketing program that can help
    you in your email marketing campaign right from a scratch(with a clean slate).

  • medyum

    Go with business. All the tech stuff you can learn pretty easily. Also, there are tons of freelance designer/coders looking for work and for a reasonable fee too.

  • Market Secrets Blogger

    Business skills definitely…you can always jv or hire ppl with the technical skills. Now techies may claim the same thing -that they could always hire those w business skills- but in actuality they can’t get too far and will sooner or later need someone to manage things just so they can keep pumping out the “gadgets,widgets,etc.”

    Of course, a good balance of both skills is ideal 😉

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