Different Archetypes of Organizations

While no two companies are the same, when you get a glimpse of the internal workings of enough companies, you eventually start noticing some patterns. One such aspect is the main locomotive of novelty in the company. I tend to consider this as a polychotomy consisting mainly of Product vs. R&D vs. Regulation vs. Biz-dev.

A quick recap of what each one means, and then we can dive into why this matters in your day-to-day:

  • A Product is a company where the novelty comes from offering a service, experience or capability at a level that the market hasn’t seen before. It doesn’t have to entail some ground-breaking tech, and might be looked at as a “simple CRUD website.” This is often the case with B2C products, for example, the first versions of Facebook or WhatsApp, and more recently Slack.
  • An R&D first company has a business that requires innovation and coming up with something that doesn’t currently exist. You can see this at Intel and Apple.
  • Regulation means that there’s a “moat” one has to go through to supply the service, and that’s not trivial. Stripe is a great example, as they provided superb UX (actually, Developer Experience) in a market that’s very tough to get started in.
  • Biz-dev focus means that the company’s main advantage might be having the cofounder with the right Rolodex, or in the hard labor of building a working marketplace. Think of Lyft, PayPal, etc.

Now, why should you care? First of all, I believe it is necessary to make it clear what sort of company you’ve got. Does a Product company necessarily have no exciting R&D? Of course not, but it usually means that the shots will be called by Product. Having this be explicit will help tremendously with your expectation setting with new hires, and ensuring that you do not hire someone that will be a bad fit.

Also, the other side of the coin is using this type as an enabler in your hiring strategy. I believe that practically anything about your company can be seen as either a positive or a negative thing in your hiring strategy. So a startup might tout that the first hire can do whatever they want, and the bigger contender will say that the larger teams allows you to specialize. Same here, if you identify your company’s type, you can articulate the kind of audience this appeals to and keep hitting that drum.

Moreover, when it comes to your decision-making process, some aspects have different weights associated with them in various companies. So in a Regulation/Biz-dev world, sometimes half the work is being first-to-market, meaning that decisions are likely to favor the quicker, less strategic options, in order to gain ground.

On the other hand, Product companies might sweat the details because UX is what they’re selling, and R&D driven organizations will need to actively work on creating a culture of constant innovation and invention, otherwise someone else will eat their lunch.

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