Where Are the Hackers? How Can We Live Without’em?

hacker IT security protection

There are three or more separate steps in getting the technology security right.



Owen Davis spoke at my Columbia B-School Lean LaunchPad class a few weeks ago, and his words to my students always hit hard.

Founder-turned investor, Owen is clearly one of the brightest lights on the NYC tech scene, and founded NYC Seed after launching and selling several companies.

Founder: “We know what to build. Give us the money and we’ll hire the tech team.”  Owen’s simple two-word answer, “get out!” 

These words hit me like lightning, actually reminding me(the “hustler” to my friend and “hacker” Owen), of my own similar comments about “no startup can ever outsource marketing to an agency.

“It’s like like a human being outsourcing or renting his aorta.” 

Perhaps even truer when you discuss the tech team at a startup, where product development should always be a core competency, not a purchase.  And the always adversarial relationship between outsourcers or software shops and the startups paying their bills heighten startup risk to a great degree, in my opinion. 

Even when there’s a hacker/hustler team in place, is the hacker a visionary or a coder?

Too often it’s the latter, leaving the team without critical advice on such crucial questions as architecture, strategy, and team development.  Who are the right hires, and in what order? Where is the hacker strong or weak, and how does the team compensate?

Importantly, every good leader needs a mentor or several—and the mentor who can coach a strong hacker brings a dramatically different skill set than the mentors a hustler will need along the way. Recruiting both skill sets early in the game can dramatically enhance the startup’s chances for success.

The current mad startup bubble brings with it literally thousands of founders with minimal tech understanding, skills or know-how. 

Yet they are often blithely out, pitching for funds, when they likely deserve little if any investor support at all.  The savviest investors support fully-baked teams, which doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is a full-time employee. 

But having access to the coaches and experts—particularly around the core technology—is an important investor concern, just as it’s often a concern to potential customers as well, particularly when it comes to enterprise software or similar “heavy tech” startups.

To me there are three or more separate steps in getting the technology right:

1.   Product design:

This is much more than “I have an idea for a startup,” and includes wireframes, database architecture, interface, UI, UX and more. Some of the least tech-savvy founders can’t even describe the difference between UI and UX, or think wire frames go on cool eyeglasses.

Next page- 2 more separate steps in getting the technology right


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