Hackers and Hustlers Essential for Startups

Posted: January 1, 2012 by Micah Baldwin in People, Startup, Technology

This week “THE ENTREPRENEUR” team is taking a holiday break.  We have invited  Micah (pronounced Me-Ha) Baldwin, a Silicon Valley startup veteran and author of the blog, “Learn to Duck: Sometimes the Best Way to Learn is to Get Punched in the Face.” to share wisdom of essential talent for tech startups.

JULY 6, 2010 BY 

Every year when people start applying to Techstars (now in 3 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, “I’m both.”

To which I suggest that they rethink their application. It’s nearly impossible for a single founder to have much success building his startup, let alone getting through a program like Techstars (or Y-Combinatoror any of the dozens of others). One person can not do it all. It’s 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. That’s a developer. That’s 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 hand is a relationship builder. Someone who can build direct relationships with their customers. They aren’t 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 FerrissChris SaccaPaul 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 doesn’t need a Hacker and a Hustler forever. It’s why most startups see at least one founder leave.)

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