Out of StartupBus this year, I’ve seen some amazing hackers. It’s a culture I’ve tried to encourage since we first ran the event (and more on that below on what I mean by that). But what about the non-technical people, are they hackers? Yes, but no. I came to a new realisation this March that you need more than a hacker to be successful in a startup: you need someone who can hustle. And often that’s what the “business” person is in the founding team.

I’m not the first person to realise this and in fact, my friend Micah wrote an excellent post about this last July.

So what’s a hustler? And actually, what’s a hacker? Let’s start there first — Micah says the following:

A Hacker is more than a code monkey, who can quickly build software and find interesting ways to hack together code. Thats a developer. Thats 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.

Paul Graham wrote a great essay on it many years ago. I’m still trying to work out myself what a greater hacker is, but I would essentially define a hacker as someone who understands how to make the best decisions to prioritise their efforts on what has the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time. Meaning, a perfectionist will treat a challenge as a sum of equal parts, diligently working through all the work without regard of the higher purpose. A hacker, would think of the end goal and take shortcuts on the things that are not core to the long-term effect.

It would be like me saying I need something that looks like a clock, so that it fills a void in the background for a movie shoot I need to do. I tell you that you have 24 hours. There’s nothing you can buy, and it needs to be made by you from materials on a farm the shoot is occurring.
A perfectionist would get lost in the mechanics and the quest to build a functional clock, where the hands correspond to the actual time. A hacker would get a hamster spinning in a wheel, which triggers movement of the clock’s hands. Both work, it’s just the perfectionist will plan on work that will take a month building it, forgetting the fact he needs to do it in 24 hours or he fails; the hacker’s solution isn’t a long term solution, but that’s the point — it’s achieving the purpose for what is needed right now.

So what’s a hustler? I think it’s a different skill set. Micah defines it as follows:

A Hustler on the other other hand is a relationship builder. Someone who can build direct relationships with their customers. They arent 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.

Unlike a hacker, the hustler isn’t required to prioritise their efforts. Instead, what they do is extract value from, say another person (like paying customers). It’s like saying a hacker is someone who smartly builds value of a product, while the hustler smartly builds value by selling the product. Hackers are good at products and process (the value creation), hustlers are good at selling and relationships (capturing the value generated).

These days in tech, they say a good designer is needed along with a good coder, but I think this is just talking about a specific skill set. Hackers might not know how to code or use photoshop: but they can get the job done. It’s a mentality. And likewise, a hustler can come in very different forms, depending on the industry and the team. But make no mistake, if you’re looking for a founding team, you need a least one hustler. Because without someone to hustle the customers, you have no real business in the long term.