Archive of articles classified as "Entrepreneurship"

When to be a hacker. When not.


Tim Davis I recently answered a question on Quora that was asked in respect to whether you can be an entrepreneur and a hacker at the same time. I’ll reproduce my answer below but I strongly recommend that you go and visit Quora to leave your thoughts.

Can a person be both a great entrepreneur and a great hacker?

In my view, absolutely you can be – however, as with all things in life – it depends on where you want to spend most of your time. I may not be the most qualified person to provide advice on this matter – as I have yet to sell any business or be considered any sort of expert – so this is just my view.

Entrepreneurship is not all about code, just like it is not all about management. You have to learn to manage people – because fundamentally it’s ultimately people that make your startup and nothing else. You have to have to have trust in them, to delegate tasks to them and mostly importantly believe that they will do it properly. If they don’t – you have to be able to resolve the situation (calmly) and in that sense – fix the issues that arise. You’re either a fixer or you’re a hacker and often its very difficult to be both at the same time. Your team will look to you to fix problems with your business (basically everything – strategy, marketing, bus dev, legal, disputes, employee issues, recruiting etc) and you will look to them to fix the issues you have made them responsible for (code/bus dev etc)

Fundamentally however, you can’t spend all your time coding and none of it building your business and managing the above aspects – they can be all consuming and often frustrating if you are very technical person. So you need to make a decision what you want to be – not everyone wants to be the hustler and not everyone wants to be the technical guy. In this sense, not every business in the world takes the view of “oh I’ll just raise of a bunch of venture capital” and idealistically never worry about the business. You have to build the business as much as you build the code – I started out knowing almost nothing about code and a bunch about business. I learnt quickly that I needed some technical skills and so I taught myself how to code. That gave me a pretty good understanding of the ins-and-out of the differences between what was needed and I’m no where near a great coder. I just filled a void in our team and went about doing the best I could. So in my view, you have to be careful to heed this sage advice:

“If you chase 2 rabbits, they’ll both get away.”

The trick with all the names the anon user above listed is they all realized when it was time to code and when it was time to focus on building the business, being the fixer and not coding. They are all brilliant and talented people but none of them had any business experience when they started (except maybe Jobs who wasn’t overtly “technical” in the hacker sense). The point is – they eventually realized that building a business isn’t all about code, or the latest NoSQL DB or some abstract library that optimizes your front-end code by 0.2s – because fundamentally, no business will exist, if it cannot sell it’s message/dream/idea to a wider market. Users might like the fact that your front-end loads 0.2s faster but its not going to make another 10000 people sign up for it – even if it takes 10 secs for a page to load, if people want it – they’ll wait. So arguably, selling the dream is harder than coding – you might produce some amazingly awesome technical feat but if you can’t sell it and make people want it – then you’re limited in scope.

So you have to make your passion define you and you must convey that in any message (at least in my mind) to make people believe. Steve Jobs was the ultimate master – producing “insanely” great products is what defined him, what made him a master and why so many people love Apple. Was he a hacker ? Fundamentally, from a “purist” technical sense, no – but he could deliver in ways no one else could. Would Apple have been the same if Steve Jobs stayed up coding all night ? No way, he didn’t want to be that person – he realized it and got the best people he could to do that. To quote Jim Collins from Good to Great (…)

Disciplined people: “Who” before “what” 

When it comes to getting started, good-to-great leaders understand three simple truths. First, if you begin with “who,” you can more easily adapt to a fast-changing world. If people get on your bus because of where they think it’s going, you’ll be in trouble when you get 10 miles down the road and discover that you need to change direction because the world has changed. But if people board the bus principally because of all the other great people on the bus, you’ll be much faster and smarter in responding to changing conditions. Second, if you have the right people on your bus, you don’t need to worry about motivating them. The right people are self-motivated: Nothing beats being part of a team that is expected to produce great results. And third, if you have the wrong people on the bus, nothing else matters. You may be headed in the right direction, but you still won’t achieve greatness. Great vision with mediocre people still produces mediocre results.

So the “hacker/great entrepreneur” question primarily lends itself to the quote above. Chase two things, and you’ll never achieve either. Chase one thing and you’ll be awesome at it. Learn when to chase one thing, learn when to stop chasing that one thing and when to start chasing the other. Everything in between is up to you as a person to figure out – your team, how you delegate, how you sell the message to the world, how you make people believe that what you are doing matters and why they should devote their time to it. That’s your journey as an entrepreneur to figure out.

Steve Jobs said:

“The things that seperates us from the high primate is that we are tool builders, we make things. We make things that change our lives and we make things that change the world. This is a long, and long lasting tradition. We shape our tools and tools shape us.”

Make things that change the world and you’ll figure out whether you are a hacker or business builder. You can be both – the more important part to figure out is when it’s best to be one, or best to be the other.

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How much do you want it ?


Tim DavisThe question is how much do you want it ? Forget the boxing for a moment in this video below but rather listen to the story. Although there is a balance in life and it’s probably not accurately potrayed in the story in this video – there is some serious truth to it. It’s about hard work – there’s no way around it because I believe whole heartedly that the overnight success is a myth. The media portrays some startups as an overnight success – but there’s very little truth in that. Angry Birds – the enormously popular video game by Rovio – was the company’s 52nd attempt at success.  They spent 8 years hacking away before they hit their sweetspot – and it’s one of many. There’s no way around it – it’s just all about how much you want it and how passionate you are.

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Passion – A Definition


Tim Davis Why do people do what they do ? I am reading a fascinating book at the moment that I encourage everyone to go out and read to really discover what they want to do with their lives. It’s a book by Carmine Gallo called The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success – and it’s a fantastic read. I suggest you definitely check it out. One of the people the book mentions is a person called Bill Strickland – who is the author of Make the Impossible Possible [who also, in my opinion, looks like Denzel Washington] – and has a inspiring story. After doing a bit more research about Bill, he has a quote that I think is amazing and something that everyone who reads this blog should paste up on their wall.

“Passion is the emotional fuel that drives your vision. It’s what you hold onto when your ideas are challenged and people turn you down, when you are rejected by experts and the people cloest to you. It’s the fuel that keeps you going, working hard, giving more than you can possibly give when there is simply no validation of your dream. Passions are irresistible. If you’re paying attention to your life at all, the things you are passionate about won’t leave you alone. They’re the ideas, hope and possibilities your mind gravitates to, the things you focus all your time, attention and dreams upon and nothing else but doing these things truly feels right.”

What’s truly awesome about both the book and Bill’s Story – is that in some sense it focuses entirely on KAH Conceputalization (at least in my opinion) – but perhaps most fundamentally – the message is simply one of doing what you love – that is, the concept of attraction. It’s amazing that the most successful people in life – and increasingly as a function of their success – are doing what they absolutely love and are passionate about it. Many people live their entire lives in a job they ‘like’ or ‘they enjoy’ but never ‘truly love’. While I completely understand that many people do this for the ‘safety’ of a job and providing for their family – unfortunately they are missing the obvious – nobody ever said that doing what you love would be easy. The truth of the matter is that doing what you love is entirely related to how much effort you are willing to put in, how much you want it to succeed and how much you are willing to do anything to ensure that your passion exceeds the odds. Every successful entrepreneur will tell you the same story – from Bill Gates, to Warren Buffet, to Steve Jobs to Bill Strickland. Money was never the end goal – simply being passionate about changing peoples lives and doing something that each of these entrepreneurs absolutely loved is consistently the message. I have read each of these entrepreneurs official and unofficial biographies and it’s always the same outcome – do what you love and you’ll always be better off in life.

I have absolutely no idea whether our company and startup will succeed – but it’s what our team absolutely loves and we’re committed to it and passionate about it. So we already have at least one building block in place – passion. The rest is entirely dependent on how much we are willing to give and how much we want it to succeed above other options in our lives. Reading the stories, following in the footsteps of thousands of other successful entrepreneurs always comes back to passion, drive and how much you are willing to give. Following a dream isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible either. Many people complain of how hard life is – but the realistic and unfortunate truth is someone has done it harder, done more with less, been less fortunate from the ‘get-go’ and still become successful. Will Smith immortalized the tail of Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness – a true story about Chris who was homeless, lived many nights in a train substation toilet with his son and still managed to become a hugely successful stockbroker. Chris wanted it – more than anything in the world and despite all the odds – he achieved it. The same story is told over and over by many entrepreneurs around the world when everyone told them they would fail – and they may have failed, over and over – but persistence, passion, drive and love for what they were doing always came through in the end.

This leads to the obvious question – if you could do anything in the world tomorrow, what would it be ? Of course, the next step is to simply ask yourself why you cannot do it ? You’ll come up with 100x reasons as to why you can’t and frankly this is exactly why you are currently working in a job you ‘like’ but don’t ‘love’. Indeed, if you love your job – then you will be entirely satisfied and you will be ‘driven’ and ‘passionate’ about it – I congratulate you that you are really doing what you love. But to all those readers who don’t have this, I would suggest that achieving your dream is not about ‘liking’ something or being ‘comfortable’ – it’s about being uncomfortable, it’s about testing your limits but knowing that you are doing it because it’s what you love and what you want to do with your life. I’ve spent many years studying and done many different courses with many different twists and turns – the end outcome ? I now know what I really want to do. Some would argue this has been a long journey (perhaps too long I am told) – but I’ve finally discovered what I want and discovering this now – is better than spending 30 years in career only to discover it later. You’re never too old, it’s never too late, it’s never too hard, it’s never the wrong time.

The point is that passion is infectious. If you show this passion – others will want to join you. How you communicate this passion, how you achieve this passion, the story you tell, the goals you want to achieve – this is what will draw the best people to you and around you and with you. If you want to be a musician, a professor, a teacher, a social worker, a lawyer, a doctor or any other type of career and you want this more than anything in the world – nothing will stop you. It’s been documented and shown over and over throughout time through thousands, if not millions, of people.

There isn’t anything stopping you from achieving a dream but yourself. The real question you need to ask yourself – how much do you want it ?


Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.


Tim Davis Although this doesn’t do much for the loss of a technology icon, I thought I would post a background that some others might also like.

‘Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish’ 

It was a quote from a magazine in 1974 called World Earth Magazine – you can see the original image here – which Steve Jobs highlighted in a fantastic speech he gave at Stanford University in 2005. The video is available on YouTube and I strongly recommend watching it.

So in the spirit of Steve Jobs – may he rest in peace – this is my favourite excerpt from his speech.

“Death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.

And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary …  they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.”

Download it here.

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Think Different


Tim Davis I’ve always enjoyed trying to solve problems but like all people – some problems you just struggle with. Does it have to do with your intelligence ? I absolutely don’t agree with that – yes, of course it’s a factor – I’m not suggesting that if you’re an expert in physics that you’ll automatically be able to solve a problem relating to copyright law – the point is that for a given field – a problem is always as hard as the narrowness that you give it.

What does that mean ? Most of the time, when you approach a difficult problem you attempt to draw upon existing knowledge that you have in a particular field and then you apply this knowledge in a manner which enables you to solve the complexities associated with the problem. This is what everyone does – including myself – but in being the ‘standard’ solving algorithm it is also the ‘standard’ failure algorithm.

Most problems which are foreseen to be ‘difficult’ are viewed in this light simply because you aren’t using the best approach and you have narrowed your view to one particular field of view. “Tim, it’s called Shortsightedness” – well, in some degree it is synonymous with shortsightedness but of course, how can you be shortsighted when you don’t even know all the possibilities available to solving the problem ? Short sightedness, in my mind, is knowing a set of solutions to a problem but refusing to adopt those solutions because you simply  haven’t – or refuse to – consider them. This is quite different from being “unable” to solve a problem because you perceive that you lack the knowledge.

I’ve been reading a little about an American Physicist called Richard Feynman who was for all intents and purposes a genius – although he actively refused to believe he was.  His way of solving problems was unique and was aptly termed the ‘Feynman Algorithm’ which goes something like this:

  1. Write down the problem.
  2. Think real hard.
  3. Write down the solution.

‘You’re joking right?’ Well, no. Although this was never actually created by Feynman – rather by Murray Gell-Mann, a colleague of Feynman, in a New York Times interview – it does really show you that no problem can’t be solved. I’ve often said to people that “Difficultly in problem solving is a function of how narrow you are looking at the problem” and I stand by my quote. To solve the problem – you need to look much further and wider than your particular sphere of knowledge. No problem is too hard – for every single problem the world faces, nothing is unsolvable because for each problem we create there must be a solution in turn. The solution, of course, is limited by how narrow you look at the problem and whether there are solutions which you can’t seem to perceive because they are not “directly in front of” the problem. No problem can be more complex than the human understanding – the problem appears difficult because the approach to the solution is too narrow. As Feynman suggested in his speciality of mathematics – which is true for any field:

“I don’t believe in the idea that there are a few peculiar people capable of understanding math, and the rest of the world is normal. Math is a human discovery, and it’s no more complicated than humans can understand. I had a calculus book once that said, ‘What one fool can do, another can.’ What we’ve been able to work out about nature may look abstract and threatening to someone who hasn’t studied it, but it was fools who did it, and in the next generation, all the fools will understand it. There’s a tendency to pomposity in all this, to make it deep and profound.” — Richard Feynman, 1979

Critically, to solve a problem simply don’t look at the obvious solutions unless they are ‘obviously’ apparent. While I’m no expert by any stretch of the imagination, the point is that solving problems easily becomes an exercise in how wide you can extend your field of view. Look for simple solutions to complex problems and look outside your current specialty for motivation in finding solutions. Often, the most successful solutions to problems come from the simplest of beginnings and because people have thought outside their ‘normal thought pattern’. If you’re unsure, ask questions to as many people as you can and then ask again. The craziest and most outlandish solutions or applications from other spheres are most often the ones that solve the world’s most difficult problems in a way that is simplistic and beautiful. Feynman stated:

“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind, although by and large they will lay in a dormant state. Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps.”

There are many other quotes throughout time by very famous people along the same lines – for example Daniel Boorstin stated ‘Education is learning what you didn’t even know you didn’t know’ and Roger von Oech has stated ‘Be foolish; break the rules; be impractical; get out of your box; look for ‘wrong’ answers; seek ambiguity; make mistakes … And set your creative self free’.

So the point of this post ? “Think Different” – you said it Apple.

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