On Teams: Visionaries vs Builders

I took a survey at MosaciHUB this weekend. It’s called the EZOG (“Entrepreneurial Zone Of Genius”) test, offered by startupGuru Boulder. In it you answer a series of 25 questions, like this:

At the end of the test, you’re given a score which measures where you fit into one of four categories:

  • Builder
  • Architect
  • Visionary
  • Cultivator

My score came back with “Builder” as my leading attribute:

Or specifically: Builder (77), Architect (67), Visionary (57), and Cultivator (49).

Now, I haven’t been able to find any academic or statistical background on the EZOG test, but it does have a relatively dense Twitter stream and seems to have captured the imagination of many in the entrepreneurial community. At first glance it reminds me of a horoscope: it describes your results using complimentary language that make you want to agree with it (I’m proud to be described as “standing still is not an option”), and describes your “blind spot” in a way that makes you nod your head (of course I feel “over-committed and active,” but then who doesn’t these days?). These kinds of tests resonate because they seem “truthy” – they give us an intuitive framework for thinking about something complicated, which is better than not having a framework at all.

My results took me by surprise, though. Having spent nine years building web-based products and tools, of course I have the traits of a “Builder.” But I suspect most of my friends would probably describe me as Visionary and Architect before they’d call me that (Note for later: EZOG would be more interesting if it included results from the people who know you well). I also suspect that my answers to some of the questions would change over time: if I took the quiz right after I had a great fundraising pitch, I might feel more confident about giving more “Visionary” answers. And I’m not entirely sure my answers prioritized my *actual* values, as opposed to the values I *wanted to think* I have. You can’t help but try to burnish your own self-image with tests like this, answering questions to emphasize what you think your best attributes are – or what you want people to believe about you. (People do the same thing answering questionnaires about their personal integrity and churchgoing habits.)

On the other hand, I’m relatively pleased I placed high on the “Builder” scale. I recognized back in the 1990s that visionaries seemed thick on the ground. After all, it’s a title many would love to deserve. But for most people being called a “visionary” is a backhanded compliment. To paraphrase the old aphorism: “those who can execute do; those who don’t call themselves visionaries and wait for someone to make their vision happen.” Or they just claim they “thought of that idea” years after someone else got rich making it happen. Maybe it makes me a cynic, but I’ve spent my career learning how to execute so that no one could accuse me of being “just” an idea guy.

Bill Gross from Idealab has a similar take on the roles necessary for startups: he breaks them into Entrepreneurs, Producers, Administrators, and Integrators. Another interesting framework point, although Gross suggests that the relative importance of these personality types change during the lifespan of the company.

The broader point behind all this is valid, though. Great teams can’t be all visionaries with no one to execute (or vice versa). The myth of the solo entrepreneur has probably killed more startups/great ideas than anything else. From founders not stepping down when their company grows beyond their skills, to founders insisting on large equity shares and foregoing the capital to make things actually happen, and on and on – getting the right mix of types on your team is a no-brainer. Kudos to MosaciHUB for bringing the issue forward and making people think about it.


Michael Sattler

With a career spent in founding and technical leadership roles with new and enterprise-level organizations, Michael Sattler is a veteran in technology strategy, operations, and product management. He’s spent decades in B2B and B2C SaaS product development, software and application design, engineering operations, new venture creation, and innovation practices.

He has scaled and managed technical teams from 2-50+ across three continents, led large-scale cross-functional program management, and founded or co-founded six companies.