Entrepreneurship for Hackers and Noobs

Compete Don’t Innovate

Innovation isn’t the only way to get rich, competition works just as well and you don’t get the R&D cost. Chinese manufacturing firms know this well, it’s why they sell widget X for such a lower price than the original widget Y.  No R&D.

As hackers we seem to have an aversion to “copying” others hard work.  We feel we’re taking away from it’s purity or something.  Well that’s capitalism son.  If you can’t be a big hitter, at least out perform the mid hitters.  And the way you outperform mid hitters is you copy what you can + fix a pain point.  Repeat that, write it down.  It’s the key to your first big pay packet.

The simplest equation I can give: copy something succesful + lower the price.  It works every time.  By it’s very nature it cannot fail unless you drop the ball on quality.  Don’t be afraid to copy everything you legally can, layout, design, functionality.  Make your moves and keep them legal.  Money.

Pain Points 101

You’re claiming you can’t find pain points? Here’s one: An article on Hacker News about Groupon payments taking 3 months to come through. That’s a pain point. Start a Groupon type service, but offering faster payments. Yes you’ll still need that user base, and you’ll still need seed funding to cover initial marketing costs, but you have one very real cash flow based reason for business to choose you over them.

You could start it locally right this minute.  Set up the site, put on your suit and go knock on some local shop windows.  Sign up a few, remember your USP – payment in 30 days or less.  Then get a few users to sign-up and away you go.  Viral local offers and day 1 cash.

Found a news app you love but the interface is sluggish or wasteful? Copy the functionality EXACTLY, redesign, fix the pain point and release.  You’re not doing anything wrong here.  There is no moral high ground to be had by not doing it.  It’s competition, it’s capitalism.  You deserve that money because you made a better product.  Write that down.

Anywhere someone is making profit is a place for you to slide in and split the pie.  Check the barriers to entry, then, if you can, compete.  Zynga making too much money?  Copy the product as much as you legally can and lower the price they charge for in-apps.  Play the game, they’ve done the R&D for you.  They’ve optimised layout and design already.  You can see RIGHT THERE what works.  They’ve done all the work.

Ship or You’re Nothing

You’ve decided your product or service.  Now it’s time to get real.

Everything you do for your business should come with a time scale.  EVERYTHING.  You ship things.  That is how you make money.  You don’t get paid for research or drinking coffee at a start-up.  You get paid when you ship.  And the way you do that is bringing  your product or service to market.

I will ship X on Y.

Where X is your product or service and Y is next Tuesday, next month, or 10 years from now.  Even if you miss your target, you still took aim and that’s 1 step more than Joe average wannabe start-up entrepreneur.

Market while you wait

Bored?  Do some marketing.  What’s that?  You don’t know how or it makes you anxious? Well, you need to learn.  Product + Marketing.  It’s half the equation and 90% critical to success.  Let’s make one now.

  • Where will you get traffic? – source ideas.
  • What’s the cost of that traffic in time/money for each source?
  • What do you need to do to set up that traffic source.
  • What experiments can you do to test you traffic theories? – This is your start-up marketing plan.

Experiments form the basis of every marketing plan.  You want quality traffic.  Quality means money in your pocket.  Measure everything.  Try everything.  See what works, experiment, repeat.  What works for Axe might not work for you.


Good luck, Leave a comment.

Additional inspiration:

“You quit when you can’t find any customers, you stick when all signs point upward and you pivot when your customers keep asking you too.” – Matt Mcnaughton – Promojam.com

“Make something youd recommend to your friends.” – Anonymous


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2 Responses to Entrepreneurship for Hackers and Noobs

  1. Solid advice for a startup maybe but innovation is still key in many fields. Medical is an obvious example. And what about patents? There’s clearly more money in innovation.

    • It’s of course preference, but I’d rather compete than innovate. More interesting day to day decisions, less work, less uncertainty, potentially big profits if you do it right.

      It’s like standing back for the subway doors to open rather than picking a position before the train arrives. You get to pick the ripest berries when you choose to.

      And let’s not underestimate the weight of uncertainty as any startup founder will tell you about. Compete and you get get to sleep at night knowing if you pull it off you get a juicy check rather than pull it off and still end up with nothing. Little to no stress.

      I’d also add it’s not just R&D that’s done for you, its’s also customer training and marketing. You can figure out where the competition is getting customers and traffic and just copy that too.