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The Knack for Getting Money (sebastianmarshall.com)
126 points by lionhearted on Feb 6, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

Speculation, but I think the tendency toward sociopathic really helps avoid any hang-ups over money. Sure, I'd rather sociopaths get on the Forbes list rather than go out and kill people, but their personality is what I find distasteful, and in any case it's an unnatural brain wiring, that's why I think it's not so easy to just "become a [partial?] sociopath" if you want to rake in money.

I tried the Cutco-selling gig for a couple months, and realized almost immediately that I wasn't cut out for it. Sure I could follow the manual (which was golden as far as things-you-need-to-do-to-convert), smile, talk smoothly, answer questions, etc., but inside I think I just fundamentally couldn't shake the feeling that "If these people wanted what I was selling, they'd have gotten it already." (And I think that came out a bit whether I wanted it to or not.) On a high level I know that can be false, but intuitively, that's how I think; I hate ads and when I buy something non-trivial it's usually after personal research, not because of a salesman. Salesmen even make me less likely to buy something especially because I can see through all their rhetoric. I find something really wrong with exploiting the cognitive biases of people even if it's been done for all time, and even if I do it sometimes subconsciously. We should be trying to eliminate those biases, not feeding them.

All this said though, you don't have to be a sociopath or a real hustler to see the opportunity of printing out new menus for a quick buck. That's more in line with hacking than with money grabbing, I think. More similar to a college student coming up with pizza money for a weekend than with going after money as a goal in itself.

That's why it helps to believe in your product. PG once described his approach to selling as "Make your product the best on the market, and then tell the truth."

That's just another trick to make you a more convincing salesman, like smiling. Of course they drill that into your head during the unpaid training for Cutco, and hey, those knives are pretty badass, I still have and use my demo set. It doesn't change the fact that I feel like "Well, if my product really is the best on the market, what do you need me to tell you for? The truth is out there, it doesn't have to come from me." I'm perfectly comfortable with giving a list of facts about my theoretical product and why it's awesome, or making people aware of its existence, what I'm not comfortable with is making a story to get you to want it or pressure you into believing everything I say, and I definitely don't like rhetorical devices used for selling.

Yet even PG's advice is product-focused rather than selling-focused; can you distinguish PG's advice from a simple bulleted fact-list? (And how well do you think that alone will sell your product?) If your product isn't the best on the market (or so you think), taking PG's advice would tell you to get back to work while a hustler would go out and sell it anyway. (They don't even necessarily have to lie about anything.) PG's approach echoes the traditional programmer reply of why he doesn't need a marketing team or need to study marketing by saying "My product will speak for itself."

Anyway, can you link to an essay or post from PG where he said that? A quick Google search didn't turn up a source.

It was a comment here, not an essay. I can't find anything with a search, but this is a really hard one to Google for since I'm paraphrasing and don't remember his exact words.

It seems this isn't enough to make as much sales as you could. Even if your product is the best in the market, the other guy selling his inferior product may use the black arts of sales and manipulate people into buying his product. I think its very hard to take the high road if you want to make sales. If everyone else is playing the game and you're not, you automatically are a loser.

I did the Cutco thing too. I did kind of feel like I was selling people things they don't really need or want, so I got out of it. So I kind of agree with your there.

I moved on over the years to sales involving multi-million dollar transactions, always involving very high pressure negotiations, and that allows a more detailed look at the true value of the salesman (broker).

A salesman isn't someone who tries to sell ice to Eskimos. He needs to be a leader. He needs to understand his field, understand his customer at a deeper level than what the customer is verbalizing, and help lead customers to actually attain their interests.

Think of it this way. A salesmen has a seller, who is offering something of value at a price. He tries to get a buyer to pay that price, by explaining why what the seller is selling is worth the money. He's a broker, bringing people together who legitimately have value to offer each other.

If he gets good at that he can sell his services for a good price, and do well for himself.

You can do your own research on the right smart phone for you, and even the right car; sometimes it is very helpful to have someone who specializes in a product or service help you understand why it's in your interest to purchase it. It is certainly in the product or service creator's interest to pay for such an excellent specialist.

That being said, a lot of salesmen are scum, or useless, or both, and fortunately those guys never really amount to much.

Totally agree.

> lead customers to actually attain their interests.

This is something I just don't like doing at all, also you're not leading them to their optimal interests and so there's some inherent trickery involved. Yes, sometimes salesmen can amplify personal insight, but mostly it's just a matching up of interests toward a zero-sum game.

That's interesting, because I also sold Cutco, and stayed for 2 years (wanted to hit 25k) before leaving. I thought they were great knives, and felt good leaving each sale. In fact, I felt bad for people that said no or couldn't afford them. I suppose believing in the product is the big difference.

They are great knives. I still use the Super Shears and the knives from my starter set to this day, 13 years later. I was very young then, and didn't have a car, but I pulled in orders for 3 homemaker sets in one of my first weeks.

Cutco makes a good product. But there's no doubt their marketing strategy is a bit deceptive. Telling college students to go through their list of personal contacts and make appointments explaining that you just need to do a presentation for school credit, or that you just get paid to do presentations. I was meeting people who really didn't give a damn about having decent cutlery. I convinced a few that they should spring for the Cutco, and there's nothing wrong with that. I did actually believe the product was great, but if I was honest with myself, I had to admit that unless they really loved cooking, often their money probably better spent on other things.

Cutco was important early experience for me in sales, and I really can't knock the company, its product, or its sales reps. But I was glad to stop making appointments to sell knives.

The problem with hiring a hustler with a "knack for getting money" is that you might be the one he ends up hustling.

The problem with the word hustle is that it has a few very different connotations.

Those who go far have moved beyond street hustling.

So true. I have this print framed above my desk at work:


That's absolutely brilliant. Everyone should see this, it explains a tricky concept really fast. Just submitted here:


(I think most martyr-types won't like it though...)

ooh, very cool. I like it!

This sort of begs the question: if your main drive in life is money, what use is it to you really? It just becomes points in a meaningless game.

Someone driven to change the world or build for the sake of building, on the other hand, is going to make something out of their money, even if they aren't as skilled or single-minded in acquiring it. Money means a lot more when it serves a purpose other than piling on top of itself and buying superfluous stuff.

I'm sure there's a role for people with this approach in most companies, but I tend to avoid them--mostly because they bore me to tears. Someone with ideas and goals that supersede wealth accumulation is a lot more interesting to me, and I'd much prefer to spend my time around such people and scrape by than live in a mansion and listen to a bunch of polo shirt clones yammer on about their real estate investments all day.

Why play monopoly? Or play Call Of Duty? After you pass a certain income, you realise you don't really need what comes after that. But you're just enjoying the game. You're enjoying the winning.

Games are not meaningless, they are fun. That's why we play them.

I get this, and I have nothing against games, but I guess my response is that striving to accumulate more and more money seems like a shallow and tedious form of competition to me in comparison to all the other 'games' out there to choose from. It's similar to how I'd view someone who spends every waking moment trying to optimize their fantasy football team or something. I think people are free to get their kicks however they see fit if they aren't hurting anyone, but I also think that person would get more from life if they tried to expand their horizons.

But making money is one of the most fun and meaningful games out there. You can make many people happy with the money you have, you can make your life better, you can travel to new places.

If you win your fantasy football league a million times, nothing changes. If you win at the entrepreneurship game 20 times, your life becomes a whole lot better.

"But making money is one of the most fun and meaningful games out there. You can make many people happy with the money you have, you can make your life better, you can travel to new places."

In this case, I'd say that making people happy and travel are the fun and meaningful games. Money helps enable them, sure, but there are plenty of ways to make people happy and travel without much money too, so if these are the things that make you feel good, why not focus on doing them as much as possible instead?

"If you win at the entrepreneurship game 20 times, your life becomes a whole lot better."

Not necessarily. I guess this is the root of the whole discussion. It depends how you measure.

"You find out when you reach the top, you're on the bottom" -Bob Dylan

Of course, monopoly doesn't actually ruin people.

Excellent point, that's certainly part of it.

I've found that for these type of folks it has absolutely NOTHING to do with money. It has everything to do with competition. I don't know Judd Weiss, but I'll promise you that he's intensely competitive. Money is just how he keeps score.

He actually commented, and the substance of his comment was exactly what you're saying here — money is to him what a trophy is to an athlete or a degree is for a student.

Right on. I also think of guys like Warren Buffett or Li Ka-Shing who are insanely competitive and are still putting in crazy hours into their businesses even though they're both in their 80s. They don't live a lavish lifestyle at all and they're not in it for materialism. They're driven by competition and the sport of business, which is what they love.

Well, the great thing about money is that (as long as you don't cheat people) it is not only an excellent barometer of accomplishment, it is extraordinarily useful and even fun.

In a macro sense I believe the pursuit of money is very healthy, contrary to some popular beliefs, it actually encourages a society of people each working very hard to contribute.

In a micro sense I believe this pursuit of money is also very healthy, it gears your mind to focus on a standard of what legitimately is or is not worth doing. It is our goals that give us purpose and serve as a powerful way to bring out our power and productivity. I think it is wrong to condemn that.

Sure there's lots of things very much worth pursuing that money can't buy, but that doesn't make money any less worth pursuing.

I think it makes a lot more sense to pursue 'quality of life', both for yourself and people around you. I agree that pursuit of profits is healthy, but only because it forces us to focus on building systems that both improve quality of life AND are sustainable. Focusing on the numbers instead of the substance of what you build or provide just sets you up for misallocation of your time and energy on many levels, even if it's effective in increasing those numbers.

Man I wish I could upvote this a thousand times. I still don't quite understand people who see nothing but green paper - numbers after a dollar sign - in their future.

I'm not going to lie. My goal right now is definitely to make money. But it isn't my goal in life. That's for sure.

My drive to make money is fueled by my desire to live freely, without financial chains (as my parents and a lot of my family have)... and to have fun and live a good life with those around me. If I have wealth to share and to help makes the lives of others easier, you bet I'm gonna spread it around. I don't have a wife or kids but being able to provide for them when that time comes and give them good lives is my main concern.

Wish I could upvote this a thousand time as well :)

Best book on the knack for getting money is "How to Get Rich" by Felix Dennis, founder of Maxim magazine (worth between $400-900M, that's what he says in the book): http://www.amazon.com/How-Get-Rich-Greatest-Entrepreneurs/dp...

Here's a good Inc. article on it too: http://www.inc.com/articles/2008/07/dennis.html

Utter determination, fearlessness, tunnel vision, and hard work are his answers.

"... became a millionaire by 24 at which point I bought a large modern house in Bel Air; got ranked among the top 10 Commercial Real Estate agents in California and the top 20 Commercial Real Estate agents in the World at Remax Commercial for 2005 and 2006; ..."

Is selling in the real-estate boom cycle a good indication of how to make money?

Selling in the boom and then stopping and doing something else when the boom busts is, to me, evidence of having a knack for getting money.

This has "survivorship bias" all over it. Why not just write about how lottery winners have a knack for getting money?

I'm surprised about the negativity here, one of the most fun parts about being an entrepreneur is exercising this knack for getting money aspect (I'd say start a non-profit if your business has nothing to do with this, but they have to hustle too).

As to it being about money or manipulation, to me it's about seeing or creating opportunities that no one else can then chasing and obtaining them.

One thing that jumped out at me here is the 'many irons in the fire' aspect of hustling. This seems to go against the grain of 'focus, focus, focus' to which I think many of us ascribe, or at least aspire.

For example, YC is supposed to be about entrepreneurs not ideas... I wonder what YC would look like if accepted teams were told to start pushing on their three best ideas simultaneously?

This seems to be channeling Tim Ferris. Forget the quality of your ideas, just change your mindset, and all will be spectacular.

I think the knack for getting money is probably entirely based on drive and conviction. I think it's a personality trait. Despite having several business ideas, I find that I just don't have the drive to get them going. I want to get those business ideas off the ground, but I have a hard time getting past the planning stages or putting in more than some minimum effort.

I usually find myself distracted by ridiculous things like TV or video games. I also tend to talk myself out of things saying I don't have the skills, or the contacts, or don't know how to get started, or don't know enough about the industry.

I admire the real entrepreneurs who have the drive to get their businesses going and I wish I had it. Hopefully it's a skill one can learn.

> I admire the real entrepreneurs who have the drive to get their businesses going and I wish I had it. Hopefully it's a skill one can learn.

Pretty sure it's a skill/skillset and can be learned, yeah. I think the key is incremental progress + celebrating even small victories. I've pissed away tons of time on surfing the internet or video games, but improved by looking to scale it down and then celebrating when getting there even a little bit.

I was just reading this, it's relevant:


Look to do whatever small action gets you a little closer, and then celebrate when you get it done. Then repeat. I find the celebrating to really help, since big changes take a long time and you do suffer a lot of that time - if it's for a far-distant payoff, it's harder to stick with it. You can bring the payoff closer by celebrating every time you do things even a little more correct. Do whatever little step you can do and complete and then celebrate a little. Feel free to email me if I can help at all, or you've got specific questions, or you want to brainstorm a little on good next steps to take and complete.

I think it's both something you practice and also something you motivate yourself for. I had some entrepreneurial episodes as a kid, which I enjoyed and found some success in once or twice, but somehow forgot about in the teenage years. I started exploring the possibilities again, but I would say that I only got properly shocked into the mindset again after(surprise) getting hustled myself, in a bad way, and wanting to make up for it.

Knowing and relearning the "child's reality" is important to success, I think. It gets you past all the blind spots that derail businesses.

It's too bad we can't bury this obnoxious and poorly written article. Don't bother with it.

"ill make a grand moving snow today"

Did 50 Cent really go shovel snow? I thought that was a double entendre (and a joke), "moving snow" being a euphemism for selling cocaine.

While I agree that getting an idea off the ground takes a lot of what's in this blog post - it's important to draw lines...and I think you develop those lines only with experience. A lot of times the quick buck (even if substantial) hurts you later. Sometimes the quickest way to start building skyscrapers is to learn to weld.

Incidentally, another HackerNews link is exactly what I'm referring to.... http://andrewchenblog.com/2011/02/05/stanford-cs-major-seeks...

The only problem I have with this... is that I've experienced firsthand the other side of this coin. For a few years I was surrounded by a few people who have a knack for getting money... by any means necessary. These people would lie (not little white lies, big ones with negative impacts), manipulate, and straight-up steal from others just to make a few bucks. They had no remorse for the detrimental outcomes they brought upon those they stole from... no compassion whatsoever.

When looking for those with a knack for getting money, look for those who earn it... those whose ethics are no less than admirable... unless of course you lack compassion and morals yourself. Those who manipulate and steal without any remorse for others' lives need to be weeded out. They drag the rest of us down and hold us back for their own selfish gain.

Some may consider this darwinism - survival of the fittest - but I believe we've made much more progress as a species by working with each other than against.

The last conversation I had with these people I spent years with was to try to explain how their line of thinking quite honestly brings suffering to countless people. Prime example, big banks making deals they know will fall through regardless of the impact it has on the economy... look where we are now. The type of people who made the decisions that led to the recent recession, which caused a massive decrease in my father's hours at work, are the same ones who want to perform a shortsale on his house because he has fallen behind on his mortgage. As for the suffering I mentioned, let's just say my father will give up his house over his dead body.

Beautifully put. The knack should be a means or a by-product, not an end.

I think the main thing not to forget is that although making money is what determines a company's survival, that's not what determines its value.

Carl Sagan usually puts things in perspective for me :)

They had no remorse for the detrimental outcomes they brought upon those they stole from... no compassion whatsoever.

Sounds like they were simply psychopaths, hence lacking most emotion. It seems like that emotion/empathy was selected for in our evolutionary history (or perhaps it's just a side-effect of something else, don't know), so I don't think psychopathic behavior could possibly be characterized as darwinism.

Both strategies (empathetic and sociopathic) can be selected for; they're relatively stable when combined. The sociopaths need empathetic people to prey on, the empathetic people can tolerate the cost -- up to a point, at which they cooperate to attack the sociopaths.

You might fairly characterise civilisation as the arms race between sociopaths and everyone else.

if the majority are emotional/empathetic, there may emerge a niche for a population of lecherous psychopaths - i.e. bankers. evolution doesn't have to move the entire group in a particular direction.

I can summarize this article thusly:

A mountebank promoting sociopathic behavior.


Whoever is voting this up, please stop and consider what etiquette level you'd like on the site. There's reasoned and intelligent critiques in this thread, which are good.

But this alnayyir goes around and writes really venomous nasty stuff. I already asked him to cut it out after he replied 18 times in a past thread, all really nasty. Do you want the site to have members calling other members nasty names with no other substance? No? Then please vote accordingly. You'll get what you bless.

alnayyir is kinda like an anomaly. I think he says stuff so that you extremely outrage by it or you are ardent supporter of his point.

I estimate there are 10x[10 is a guess but there are significantly more] more people with upvote power than downvoting.

These two points combine to make it difficult to downvote him to hell. That is why flagging is appropriate, don't just downvote, flag.

>alnayyir is kinda like an anomaly

Only amongst a sampling of sycophants. You wouldn't believe how much this victory blog bullshit does to discredit this community amongst lay hackers that aren't heavily involved in startups.

I don't feed trolls

Truth and decency > etiquette.

I'll stick with these summaries as they're far less time consuming and often more to the point.

Good luck with your 'victory'.

> Truth and decency > etiquette.

Not according to the guy who runs the site:

"Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation. When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names."


> Good luck with your 'victory'.

You know what I'm most proud of? It's that I get a chance to work hands-on with and serve a lot of people. I answer pretty much every email I get, I reach out to help people whenever I can, I look to serve, and I do cool things with good people.

And yeah, my life is pretty good individually, too.

So seriously, next time you feel like calling names, why don't you channel the energy into reaching out to someone to help them? Or to building something? Or maybe start your own blog, and share your insights on there? Or go build a productive business? Or contribute to a nonprofit?

>"Be civil. Don't say things you wouldn't say in a face to face conversation. When disagreeing, please reply to the argument instead of calling names."

I was civil, and I was marking the post for what it was. I've gone out of my way to explain my opposition to this charlantry and instead you saw it as an opportunity to paint me as unhinged, rather than merely concerned about the community.

You no longer deserve an explanation, you robbed yourself of that with your political games designed to make me look bad.

You may enjoy my summaries in silence, or you can keep drawing attention to me. It's up to you. You won't get any more effort at explication out of me though, no-how.

>You seem to hate me personally

Not at all, you're one instance of a class of plague that furthers the disinterest and apathy of talented people in startups and entrepreneurialism.

They will peruse HN or similar communities for a time, run into non-content such as you post, and run screaming.

Your existence and those of your ilk serve to harm the startup industry and give the corporations more leverage to hold onto the truly good hackers.

People like you have done more to make my efforts of making fellow hackers aware of opportunities in self-employment, startups, and entrepreneurialism more difficult than anything else.

Worse than the global financial crisis, in terms of how often I hear a given excuse/reason, for not considering alternatives to their current jobs.

I'll keep molding my bread, even if it isn't pretty.

I'm actually glad you replied with your perspective. Now I can see where you're coming from.

> Not at all, you're one instance of a class of plague that furthers the disinterest and apathy of talented people in startups and entrepreneurialism. They will peruse HN or similar communities for a time, run into non-content such as you post, and run screaming. Your existence and those of your ilk serve to harm the startup industry and give the corporations more leverage to hold onto the truly good hackers.

So, you're commenting is because you think my blog is harming the startup industry and giving corporations more leverage against hackers.

I don't think that's the case - I'm all for for self-employment and people doing their own thing. I pretty regularly encourage people to do just that, and offer to lend a hand to anyone who has questions or I can help, and I've done a fairly large amount of free work for people here to lend a hand.

Personally, I've contracted or ran my own company in 3-4 different fields, had employees, negotiated contracts, done large-ish deals, and lived/worked/traveled through 40+ countries.

I share those experiences. Also, I share what I'm learning on tracking time, building habits, I review books, write lots on history...

But you know what, I'm open to a dialog here. You've got a serious aversion to me, and I feel like it's really uncalled-for. I haven't done wrong by you, and I work to make myself valuable, serve people, and do my writing to the best of my ability.

But, what would you look for more of? What's missing? For instance, in this post here that you don't seem to like - I'm looking for the link that makes someone good at getting money in a self-employed/business context. I explored a few things, and I think one of the biggest is having no hangups - being willing to shovel snow even after being a multi-platinum selling artist. Or starting a valet parking company even though you know nothing about it.

I think there's some interesting stuff in this post. Apparently others agree, because it's at #1 here. But you disagree. What would you prefer differently? Share your take and I'll listen - maybe I can learn here and improve.

If you aren't getting haters on hacker news, then you are doing something wrong.

Cut the sales pitch. Your reaction is emblematic of what I'm talking about.

>What's missing?


There's no sales pitch here.

> I was civil, and I was marking the post for what it was. I've gone out of my way to explain my opposition to this charlantry and instead you saw it as an opportunity to paint me as unhinged, rather than merely concerned about the community.

I actually think you're sincere. At first, I thought you were just trolling - y'know, when you insult me personally without addressing any of the points in the article, I think that's kind of uncool.

But you just replied with your reasoning - if you want better writing on business and entrepreneurship from me, maybe I can do that. I'd like to write better. But can you be more specific than desiring more "Substance"?

What does more substance look like? More stories/anecdotes? Statistics? Context? More tactical stuff, like which terms of a contract are important to negotiate over and which aren't?

If you'd like me to step my game up, hey, maybe I can. I believe you're sincere about wanting a better community here, more resources for people to break from the corporate world and do their own thing. Me too. So, I'll listen to your feedback. What's more substantial writing look like to you?

I agree that his name calling has no place here. That said, there's a certain something about your site that leaves me non-plussed. The 'Victory.' bit seems kind of... hrm, I suppose I'd say 'cheesy', although I hope you don't take offense. I did like the article though: it really does seem like some people are money magnets.

he reminds me a lot of alexy vayner.


compare with this blog post:

"Whenever I compared myself to people similar to me, it wasn’t even close. I worked more, accomplished more, produced more, did more meaningful things, was traveling the world. I read more books, did more writing, was generally healthier and more disciplined, spent my time well. I was the top 1% for my age, and even better than that if you measured me against people from similar backgrounds."


>What's more substantial writing look like to you?

Here's a recent quote from IRC concerning this discussion, and this particular comment was aimed at your blog specifically.

19:54 < (name censored)> seems like a cheesy self-help blog 19:54 < (name censored)> 10 ways to get rich!!!!

Subject that said this is a brilliant embedded dev that I can't convince to consider the startup industry at all. There's a serious paucity of embedded people in the industry and it would be great to have somebody like him.

Too bad he's extremely skeptical of all of it because of people like you.

More comments from the same person:

Concerning your blog again:

19:57 < (censored)> i basically dislike any author that tries to simplify something difficult, undermining people that have put effort into it

Concerning hackerne.ws:

Someone (the stackoverflow asker) is bitter that someone released a competing product for free.

That's basically what i think of hackernews.

Full of people that are only interested in making money. Don't get me wrong, i want to be rich as well, but have some fucking pride.


This community, the victory blog bullshit, all of it damns itself.

My erudition is a self-indulgence and attempt to put a mirror up.

Cheers, enjoy the cat picture.

Edit: Added comments from another programmer below.

21:03 < (name censored)> alnayyir: I just read some of that Sebastian Marshall tripe. Bleh, it made me vomit in my mouth a little bit. What a bunch of unscientific, psycho-babble nonsense.


If other non start-up hackers don't like advice such as this (business advice, which seems to be what you're saying), perhaps the problem is with them and not Lionhearted? They should be able to understand that it is a valid viewpoint and a general truth that these things exist, are useful, and are neutral in nature, and it doesn't make sense to ignore it.

> Truth and decency > etiquette.

Etiquette is an implementation of decency so that inequality is basically "truth > 0".

One can be truthful and decent without being a jerk. In fact, the most effective truthful and decent people are the "not jerks".

FWIW, I've found that folks who try to justify being jerks with "I'm just telling the truth" typically aren't that truthful. They're just passive-agressive mean, which makes them worse than straight-up jerks.

A mountebank? Seriously? I can see a point of view that the article is promoting sociopaths as something desirable, but a mountebank?

One of many.

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