Evangelist or Missionary: Which one are you?

In my last blog post, I mused on why we don’t drink bourbon in the office anymore – like JR Ewing of Dallas used to – and why his habits and business dealings made him such a compelling (if sometimes evil) character, and even a guide for certain positive business behaviors.

Today, I want to talk about Technical Evangelists and Missionaries. “Technical Evangelist” is a role aspired to by a lot of people in Startupland, or in the IT industry at large. Guy Kawasaki from Apple made this into a glamor position in the industry a few years ago. After all, it’s fun to get out there and talk about the cool new stuff we are creating in this tech world and how customers should want to hear about it –  and, of course, how great and smart we all are.

Really, what does the Evangelist (any kind, technical or religious) actually do? The Evangelist says he is going to speak on a subject and people will go to where he will be, because they want to hear what he has to say. They may agree with him, they may disagree with him. They may love him or hate him, or what he says and stands for. They may give him their money, or snap the TV off. (Check out any number of religious televangelists and see if you don’t agree.) But the point is, people will go and listen to the Evangelist because they are interested in hearing what he has to say, period.

“The Missionary” has a completely different role. He doesn’t announce a time and a place he will speak on a subject, expecting people to show up and listen. The Missionary (technical or religious) has to “seek out the unconverted,” i.e. those that need to be “saved.” That’s what Missionaries do – seek salvation for the unconverted. The Missionary goes into the jungle with his canteen and Swiss army knife and has to go looking for the natives. As a technical metaphor, in Startupland, many times you have to be much more of a Missionary than an Evangelist, as similarly to those “natives” – most of the target customer base for new, innovative tech products have NO IDEA there is something that can help them. The truth is, the Missionary always does the harder job – the real foundation building. (Look at the line of California missions founded by Spanish padre Junipero Serra and all the major cities that formed around them for proof.) The more innovative the solution, the more the company has to be populated with Missionaries rather than Evangelists.

There is way more risk in being a Missionary than in being an Evangelist. If you are a crappy Evangelist, what happens? You don’t get the money! If you are a crappy Missionary? You get killed and eaten! So the Missionary has to do his job for a different reason – he burns with missionary zeal, meaning he is on this earth (or in this company) to do this mission and the risk doesn’t matter. Missionary zeal is what makes Missionaries FEARLESS.

This is why in many Startups you need Missionaries, not Evangelists. Your team has to be fearless as they approach customers (natives) and partners who don’t know they can be saved, or even that they need to be. Scale Computing’s new HC3 is a perfect example of this kind of innovation. We as an industry need to show customers  (in Scale’s case, midsize companies) their salvation in our new, innovative solutions, which are able to solve problems they never even dreamed had a solution.

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