Hackers and Hustlers, Part II

Back in July, I wrote the post below entitled Hackers and Hustlers. Since then, there has been a lot of discussions about the dynamic, and if it was complete. I decided to add some thought beneath it. (the post is presented unedited.)

Every year when people start applying to Techstars (now in 5 cities!), I get emails and phone calls asking for my advice.

I always ask the same question, “Do you have a Hacker and a Hustler?”
Sometimes, I get the response, “Im both.”

To which I suggest that they rethink their application. Its nearly impossible for a single founder to have much success building his startup, let alone getting through a program like Techstars (or Y-Combinator or any of the dozens of others). One person can not do it all. Its really that simple.

What do I mean by a Hacker and a Hustler?

A Hacker is more than a code monkey, who can quickly build software and find interesting ways to hack together code. Thats a developer. Thats someone who is definitely an important part of a startup, but not critical to its success. A Hacker is someone who looks the problem, and solves it in a unique and special way. A Hacker finds the process of problem solving exciting and interesting, and spends the majority of their time looking at the problem in multiple ways, finding many potential solutions.

Often the Hacker is a coder, but not always the best coder you have on your team. Nate and Natty, of Everlater, are decent coders at best. In the last couple of years, they have taught themselves, by trial and error, how to code. I would imagine if you asked either one of them if they considered themselves amazing developers, they would probably indicate otherwise. But as Hackers? They are amazing.

A Hustler on the other other hand is a relationship builder. Someone who can build direct relationships with their customers. They arent really promoters, although they do a lot of promotion. They arent salespeople, although they do a lot of selling. They are passion people. They have the ability to articulate their passion clearly and in a way that gets other people equally passionate.

A true Hustler can get people using their product, or raise money, with little to no capital expenditure. Any one can run a Google Adwords campaign, or buy a billboard. Only a Hustler can get you to love their product in a way where you will speak passionately about it to your friends. A true Hustler is patient zero in a viral campaign.

My favorite young Hustler is Garry Tan of Posterous. Their recent campaign about switching from “dying” services to Posterous is genius, and a great example of the Hacker/Hustler dynamic. To figure out how to import data from one system to another is never easy, yet Posterous has hacked together some great importers. Rather than just releasing an “All-in-One” importer, Garry decided to release one a week, and build some noise around it. Not only has their been noise, but Posterous’ growth has been reported on (since they are self-proclaimed not dying) several times.
Was it just Garry’s idea? I would guess that with investors/advisors like Tim Ferriss, Chris Sacca, Paul Graham and others that it may have originated from the larger group, but his execution of it has been perfect.

A Hacker and a Hustler. Every great startup has a pair. Woz and Jobs are probably the most successful Hacker and Hustler tandem out there, there are thousands.

Ask yourself, as you begin down the path of building a great startup, are you a Hacker or a Hustler? Does your team have both pieces?

If you lack one or the other, your ability to be successful greatly diminishes.
(BTW: A topic for another post, but a company doesnt need a Hacker and a Hustler forever. Its why most startups see at least one founder leave.)

Since July, the biggest question I get is “What about designers?” 500startups often preaches the the best teams are Hackers, Hustlers and Designers, and in many ways I agree, except this: The word designer is a catch-all for a product manager, front end engineer or photoshop jockey that can either design a product or make shit pretty.

I much prefer someone who can design the product, from the flow to the feature set. I can take make shit pretty designers … or leave them.

Since the focus of technology has moved up the peninsula to San Francisco, which has long been the landing place for agencies and creative types, there has been a distinct rise in the apparent value of the “designer.” But, lets be honest – twitter, which originally was built on SMS, did not succeed because of pretty design. Neither did Dropbox. Nor Facebook or Google. They succeeded because of their products.

When looking to add a designer to your founding team, make sure that they understand function over form. Designers focused solely on the pretty may get you oohs and ahhs from the hipster set, but they will not strengthen your founding team, and that should be the initial focus.


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