The Hacker and The Hustler

Common wisdom among the technorati and tech Accelerator elite, is that any startup needs to have 2-4 co-founders to be viable.  At a minimum, you need one hacker and one hustler. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniack are perhaps the most famous example. If you have the luxury of building upon that, add a designer and perhaps one additional programmer.

The hacker in this case is a technical co-founder.  They’re the programmer that can put things together and can find innovative solutions to meet the near term business goals.  They love lean methodology and embrace the art of the “pivot”.  In most cases they’re not the classically trained software engineer however, who prefers stability and thoroughly-designed enterprise architecture.

The hustler meanwhile is all about business development, marketing and sales.  They’re probably not the MBA consultant who has mastered supply chain management, but they’re excellent at establishing relationships and getting the word out about the product, establishing partnership agreements, and generally creating a buzz.

While this co-founder arrangement does seem ideal, I found it a little surprising that most of the tech accelerator programs (Y Combinator, Tech Stars, etc), won’t even consider a single-founder applicant.  The logic is that there is so much to be done that a single person cannot possibly accomplish it all within a reasonable amount of time, or risk the window of opportunity passing them up.  But perhaps equally important, it is very difficult for someone to switch back and forth between ‘heads up’ and ‘heads down’ tasks.  To have a quality product developed, a hacker needs to have an opportunity to focus on the small details without interruption. As they focus on the details, they tend to avoid phone calls and meetings and become obsessed with completing a product.  But this is toxic to relationship building, sales, and marketing.  And so even if someone believes they possess the skills to do both, the context switching is just too much of a burden and should be avoided.

While it may not be necessary to find a co-founder if you are not seeking funding or accelerator support, it is worth pondering this point for a little while, if it is considered to be so important by the accelerators.  Perhaps you are a software engineer by day and a hacker of your own product by night, but you have no co-founder and would rather not have one.  Perhaps you should consider other creative ways to enlist business and marketing support from others.  Consider setting up an aggressive affiliate marketing program and recruit top super affiliates to promote your product for you.

There can be many ways of structuring a solution but I think the key point here is that it is tough to be both technical and business focused at the same time, and still be effective, so one needs to find a solution to this problem that is workable in their own situation.