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If You Don’t Think You Need It, You Haven’t Seen Greatness (techcrunch.com)
251 points by comatose_kid on July 24, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 60 comments

As a professional of the tech field for the better of the last 7 years, I've had the opportunity to work with countless of these marketing, pr, bd people and to be frank, that "Greatness", I've only heard of, never actually witnessed it.

I am aware that the services are needed and can bring some tremendous results when well executed, but at this point I've settled to learn some of this stuff on my own, rather than investing too much time in finding someone to trust with the responsibilities.

Don't get me wrong, it would be absolutely awesome to find the rare pearl that the article mentions. But it's choosing between either continuously peruse for some Master of her domain, or rather investing all that energy into learning to do things myself.

Obviously, some things are more sensitive than others and I still gladly defer to the experts (I won't touch the legal stuff without consult). For others however, I've noted that there have been times when I sat with someone who was supposed to advise me on marketing or BD, and they ended up learning more about these than I did by the end of our meeting.

The whole thing reminds me of this post http://thinkvitamin.com/user-science/user-experience/ux-prof... where the author claimed that "UX Professional" isn't a job title. Ensues a torrent of comments with basically the same arguments that the present article emphasizes it's because you haven't seen a great one yet.

I guess the question is then, how to find greatness?

1) The 'great' marketing, pr, bd people make way way more money than 'great' tech people. It's unlikely that a startup can afford a killer marketing guy at $300k. They're probably hiring marketing people at $50k.

2) It appears you don't value those positions much. If you are the one doing the recruiting, I would say that explains it.

3) Marketing, PR, and BD make a lot more sense in industries where tech isn't the dominant factor. Just look at consumer packaged goods, movies, etc. Almost no tech worth talking about in CPG, but some amazing marketing and biz dev people. Those industries (and others) attract the best business people because they have a lot of impact on the success or failure of the product. In startups, if the developers suck there really is nothing the marketing guy can do about it.

3) Marketing, PR, and BD make a lot more sense in industries where tech isn't the dominant factor.

I won't disagree, but I'd be wary of overstating the importance of that point. Marketing definitely matters for technology (esp. when you take a broad, holistic view of what 'marketing' is). There are more than a few stories in the annals of the tech industry where a nominally superior tech lost out to an inferior product that had better marketing around it.

On that note, the book In Search of Stupidity[1] catalogs a pile of tech marketing disasters from over the years. I'd recommend it to anyone who thinks "marketing isn't that important" or anything along those lines.

[1]: http://www.insearchofstupidity.com/

In startups, if the developers suck there really is nothing the marketing guy can do about it.

That's assuming the consumer is tech-savvy and actually cares. I'm guessing AOL didn't have the best developers, features, etc., but they definitely had the best marketers.

Anti-virus companies also thrive due to PR and marketing, ranging from contacting news outlets about the Michelangelo virus, to scaring people with an animated gif reporting that your computer is infected. With the latter, the scammers made billions off of software that did nothing at all--that's the power of marketing.

As a related question, how to filter out mediocrity. I mention this because your experience, which probably gels with many of us, shows companies should be applying some kind of "fizzbizz" test for these candidates.

For example, a simple question I would ask of business development is what technology (car, phone, public transport tickets, etc.) they've used today, and how would they improve it. If they can't walk through the problems and opportunities, they're probably not suited for a role where they'll need to be pitching ideas to potential partners.

Seven years may feel like a long time, but it really isn't.

Work at a couple companies that grow from a handful to hundreds of employees, and you will find greatness.

5 years and counting. I agree with you.

Product manager, project Manager, UX expert and etc... Snake oil.

Laywers I can understand, that makes sense. Because although nothing says I can't learn Code and be a lawyer, the gap is too big to fulfill in my 23 years. But UX, Project Management, Product Management and etc... yeah not hard at all.

Agree on the whole, apart from Project Managers - I have worked with some damn good PMs and the difference is noticeable.

Of course not every project needs a PM though.

>"but at this point I've settled to learn some of this stuff on my own, rather than investing too much time in finding someone to trust with the responsibilities."

And how many times has a tech person decided to "do it on my own" and ends up producing terrible work but doesn't recognize it?

With programming, it's fairly obvious when a person can or can't do it. But marketing and copy writing, for example, are things the everybody thinks they can do, when in reality it's lack of knowledge on the subject that gives people that perception; "that's easy, I'll just learn it on my own."

That question is literally the thing that defines wether you are going to be a great entrepreneur or not. Great entrepreneurs, the one who can repeat success, know the answer and often they know almost nothing else.

To a certain extent, it's the question that folks like Paul Graham or David Cohen believe they know how to answer.

This is not helpful. Do you know the answer and if so, what is it?

"how to find greatness?"

This is exactly the question they have about developers after working with mediocre or poor ones. It's not a question you can easily answer - but you'll know it when you've found it. It will be like an ice cold glass of water at the end of a 5 mile run on a 90 degree day.

Pseudo repost, just because I think it is worth saying:

Our company started as one engineer. Second employee was a "business guy" - who stuck his foot in the door and kind of hired himself. Two years later, we are roughly twenty employees large (half contractors) and seven digits of revenue, largely thanks to employee #2. :) Engineers can sometimes be quick to dismiss the value of other roles (I know I have), but without the aforementioned employee, we would have no where near our current revenue (he locks down the contracts and ensures good revenue from them, two things no one else in our company is good at).

Engineers can sometimes be quick to dismiss the value of other roles

Very true and unfortunately an attitude which I've seen hold many good engineers back from career growth. Enlightenment comes when you are able to recognize that the non-technical roles are also trade crafts where the clever hacks involve constructing valuable relationships and managing perceptions, essential in every business.

"Second employee was a "business guy" - who stuck his foot in the door and kind of hired himself."

Can you expand on this? How does a business person hire himself when he finds an engineer with a good idea?

One case I'm familiar with: The "business guy" went out and sold a pretty sizable contract for the startup...before he actually worked for them.

This sounds like a great story.

Just start hustling? If you bring results, they can't just tell you to go away now, can they?

Edit: Interesting that I got a downvote for saying the equivalent of the other comments here. I should figure out how to be clearer.

It was probably your tone. Phrasing those statements as questions comes across as a bit condescending.

I didn't mind and I think it was a helpful response, but ya, thats probably why.

I was actually questioning myself, since I was just guessing, but you are absolutely right. It does come off that way.

Our business guy introduced himself at a meetup and said he would get us distribution deals on Wii, Xbox, Playstation, Steam. He had meetings set up with all major players within two weeks. He had equity in our company the next week. We had distribution deals a few months after that.

I don't know how that guy did it, but just do stuff.

If the programmer mentions that you're lacking in SEO, show up the next day with a plan to boost SEO rankings. Even better, show up tomorrow and show what you did to boost SEO rankings.

The easiest way to hire yourself is to just start doing stuff that is highly valuable.

The slightly less easy way is to impress somebody every time you open your mouth, and be there when they need somebody.

One way is to start showing business results, before getting hired. Go get sales for the product, figure out a way to reach potential customers and talk to them about the product.

He promised to pull in (much) larger contracts, and delivered on it, without ever being formally hired.

I had my lightbulb moment about business development when working as a developer advocate at Google. Some companies we partnered with had excellent bizdevs - though not programmers, they were technically savvy, creative about finding ways to work together, and willing to take on feedback - and their companies gained as a result. At the other end of the spectrum, a disturbingly high number of companies had zero mechanisms in place to even get in touch about matters of business development (or even related items such as sales). Not even a simple contact form or email address.

The comments about bizdev also remind me of an interview with Jason Cohen a little while ago, where he was explaining the research he undertook before launching WP Engine. The main point was how methodical and quantitative it all was, and that this is the kind of thing a Business Guy should be doing in a startup, not just randomly filing trademark applications and making sure everything's in order.

It's a huge mistake to think that talent in any field is anything but normally distributed. So while it's fantastic to experience greatness, holding out for the 1% solution is often totally counterproductive. Given my druthers, of course I'd only hire the best of the best. But that's not how the universe works.

I think yours is a solid criticism to the article, it's completely true.

The article isn't written for the salty veterans who've learned life's lessons on the mean highways and byways, however, it is for the thousands upon thousands of cynical young people who clog the internet forums.

I know because I'm about 2 years older than myself at the very point when despite anything I might claim to the contrary, in my heart of hearts I believed "Sales and marketing departments chiefly lie to people".

I can only imagine that the corrollary to this is "if you haven't seen greatness, you don't need it". If you have the opportunity to hire a great marketer you should take it, but your startup doesn't need a mediocre marketer. Don't hire roles, hire people.

> the exercise of ‘writing the ideal press release’ first, before you even write a line of code

That's an interesting idea - Press Driven Development. Has anyone here tried it?

This is also Amazon's approach to product development. See the Quora answer at: http://www.quora.com/What-is-Amazons-approach-to-product-dev...

Wow that answer is a great read. Thanks!

The original, $10 million X Prize (for the first private space flights) was launched this way. They did a huge press conference to launch the prize competition, and got the head of NASA and a bunch of astronauts there.

Peter Diamandis later said he didn't have a dime of the prize money at the time -- he quietly raised it later. In the meantime, everyone just assumed he had it because the launch event had so much credibility attached to it.

I thought the prize money was insurance money?

Partially. The insurance policy still cost a couple million dollars, which they had to raise. And they didn't purchase the insurance policy until several years after the competition was launched.

Quite a few, actually. There was (is?) a rash of people who create a simple teaser web site that collects contact information from interested parties as their "MVP" to "validate" their idea. No code. No product.

I know it predates him, but Tim Ferriss recommended something like this in the Four Hour Work Week, which everyone seems to have read.

I've been experimenting with it recently.

It doesn't take long to throw up a landing page, mailchimp and $50 of targeted facebook [or adword] ads.

It sounds to me like any other kind of specification writing, simply from a marketing perspective. I can see the benefits, but eh. I'm not really convinced.

The benefits are to bring a clarity and focus to the product development process not always enforced by a spec. Who are you building this for as opposed to what are the features.

Writing specifications, and knowing which items in the roadmap bring the most value to the greatest numbers, are hugely different beasts. I definitely took the PR-driven approach to mean identifying those 2 items, even if taken by themselves (without the rest of the roadmap) they are meaningless. This is a massive, valuable skill to have...and one I'm not sure how to acquire. Don't know if this convinces you, but the article really spoke to me.

A few corollaries:

Don't hire someone for one of these rolls just because "everyone has an X" hire someone because they are great at it.

The majority of people in these roles aren't great, otherwise they wouldn't be as widely despised

I have to admit, I'd always sort of dismissed "bizdev" and the like, but this summer I'm working for a small, three-person startup that's one developer and two sales/bizdev and it's completely changed my mind - they're absolutely fantastic.

As a younger person, I'm already aware that I should be careful not to write such positions off. This was a great post to help reinforce the right thinking.

My question is: if you're about to write those roles off, what can you do to make sure you find said 'greatness' and not get saddled with mediocrity?

These are the people that make you say: "It would have been hard or impossible to do <thing> without <person>"

It turns out to be a decent test too. If you can't say that at least once about someone it's a bad sign.

I thought that this was going to be about products, and was all geared up to tear it apart.

It's actually about organizational roles, and it makes a decent argument.

Very interesting topic and I completely agree with the article...

I've been working in IT for many years now, and out of the hundreds of people I've met in many different areas of many different companies, constantly having to work with and under mediocrity, and I've only met a single person who was the real deal.

Lots of people can talk the talk, but lets be serious now? How many people can actually progress beyond that to achieve real tangible results that show a clear display of excellence as opposed to mediocrity? The numbers are quite small in comparison to the human population I'm sure.

When the majority of people in any given profession are mediocre, finding excellence is more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack, unfortunately this is a problem in every profession.

What does BD stand for?

Greatness in this sense means you're able to provide value beyond the bounds of your job description. Some people, especially engineers, tend to be heads-down and focused on the specific tasks and responsibilities assigned to them, and everything else is "not my job" ... in other words "good followers"

But the people who end up leading the team are the ones who not only do what was assigned to them, but can also bring forward completely new ideas, volunteer to lead that effort, and reach out to other teams to provide guidance on how this new thing involves them ... other words "good leaders"

He's not wrong, but this is a self-sealing argument. If the guy you hired just isn't really rocking the boat, well... it must be because he's not a TRULY GREAT <insert role>.

To give a tired example: lawyers, wherein yes, lawyers as a profession is needed and useful and meaningful, but it's also true that they obfuscate unnecessarily and generate make work and so on and so forth. And it's entirely possible that this can come from the same person.

You can make the same argument about virtually every single role ever.

I would alter the headline to say if you think you _won't_ need it, ...... There legitimately are times when you don't need a given subset of skilled positions that are vital to a larger company. I would never file the paperwork to start a company and immanently hire A PR guy, A HR guy, A Lawyer, A Office Manager ,and A Sales Guy. There is something to prioritizing your hiring to what is important given your existing strengths and weaknesses

Maybe someone can list the great companies that have been started by "writing the ideal press release first".

Two examples worth thinking of:

IBM may not have been started with a press release, but Paul Rand's branding and their advertising made them stand out from their competition.

Apple may not have been started with a press release, but Regis McKenna really helped put them on the map.

Translation: you need someone who thinks like an engineer but applies it to these other tasks/positions

Actually, hiring a marketing or BD guy who thinks like an engineer is a pretty good way to hire a terrible person for that role. Implicit in the post is respecting the heterogeneity of thought models.

What does "think like an engineer" entail?

Perhaps I'm missing the point here, but I started studying minimalism and the art of less last year, and there's almost no product I look at and think that I need immediately.

If you're interested in that same mindset, this site is a fantastic read: http://mnmlist.com/

Commenting before RTFA: the minimalist Hacker News reader. ;)

I like the idea of periodically taking a break from Googling or always knowing a fact. For me doing crosswords is a great exercise in this, sure you could Google the clues and know right away, but its much more satisfying wondering the answer yourself and eventually getting it by using other letters gained from different clues.

However, if this became the de facto standard way of doing things, living as our ancestors did, I feel like society would regress. The invention of the search engine was to fill a human need to organize the world's digital information in an easily retrievable format. Libraries have had card catalogs for hundreds of years: just curious, would you argue for going back to the times that pre-date those systems? Sure there might be a more random discovery of books just aimlessly walking through shelf after shelf, but what if you needed that book asap?

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