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Ask HN: How can developers learn business?
6 points by ducktypedlogic on July 9, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 5 comments
There are tons of resources for people who want to learn programming and web development but where and how can we learn how to do management, marketing, accounting and how to validate startup ideas?

"So why were we afraid? We felt we were good at programming, but we lacked confidence in our ability to do a mysterious, undifferentiated thing we called "business." In fact there is no such thing as "business." There's selling, promotion, figuring out what people want, deciding how much to charge, customer support, paying your bills, getting customers to pay you, getting incorporated, raising money, and so on. And the combination is not as hard as it seems, because some tasks (like raising money and getting incorporated) are an O(1) pain in the ass, whether you're big or small, and others (like selling and promotion) depend more on energy and imagination than any kind of special training."

- pg

I recommend University of Michigan’s finance course on Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/course/introfinance There’s also a Business Foundations series from Wharton https://www.coursera.org/specialization/whartonfoundations/3... (I followed a previous version of some of the courses).

A good place to start, read Josh Kaufman's book The Personal MBA.

Here's his presentation @ Google> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp8H8EMm464

There are so many sides of business that it is hard to say learn "business". It isn't unlike technology in that regard, as people specialize in specific areas to get the most of their skills, even though many of those skills are similar.

Marketing, Accounting, Sales, Business Development, Leadership, Public Relations, Customer Service, etc. All these are different, some seem overly similar and share common skills but there are subtle nuances that make them all unique. Small businesses a lot of times collapse Marketing & Sales and don't have a PR or BD team at all. Small to Mid-sized businesses will combine Marketing and Business Development many times as the skills overlap keeps it cost effective. Large enterprises have the luxury of knowing (and the ability to afford) that while the skills may overlap, you can't simultaneously be good at it all, so they break it up.

IMO, the best way to learn "business" is to recognize you can't do it all and be good from day 1. So pick 1-2 to work on, read and study. I personally suggest Sales and Marketing because without those you have nothing to Account for, employees to lead or customers to service. Read Crossing the Chasm (3rd edition), it is a great book on getting your product from the early adopters into the mainstream purchase cycle. It is also a quick read overall. As for Accounting, outsource it, when you are small it is cheap to outsource and you don't need the headache of jacking it up come tax time. But when you outsource it, spend time every week or month with the person doing the work and learn from them what they are doing and more importantly why. This lets you stay focused but still learn the basics of Accounting.

As for validating startup ideas. There are lots of methods, you should check out patio11's blog write ups as he talks about it when he started Appointment Reminder. In general though, and IMO, validating a startup idea is when people actually pay you for it, not just when someone says "cool idea". The difference seems minor but is huge, lots of prospects will tell you that it is an awesome idea, but when you say ok, fork over $50 or $5000 or whatever all the sudden they are like, yea, well I mean.... Same if you are seeking venture money, if you are not getting meetings or are being blown off you have to reevaluate your idea to make sure that you are pitching it correctly and that you are actually pitching something worth while. That doesn't mean you change ideas after the first 10 no's, just that you keep evaluating it to make sure you aren't too far off track and that you are communicating things correctly.

Sheesh, that's a bit like being asked "how can I learn computers?" It's a very broad question. Better questions might be "what within the domain of business knowledge do I need to understand in order to achieve my goal(s)?" And then naturally, the most important question feeding into that is, "what are my goals?"

I think if you want to have a better basic understanding of how large economies work and how that effects political policy, I'd recommend studying macroeconomics.

If you want to understand the basic functioning of a business and how it relates to customers, I'd recommend marketing.

If you want to understand how businesses are evaluated, how they borrow and spend money, how they evaluate internal processes, I'd recommend finance.

If you want to understand how businesses optimize their processes, and design efficiency into their processes, then you should study operations research (aka operations analysis).

If you want to understand how a business keeps track of what it's doing internally, and how it's performing internally and how resources are allocated, and how it handles loans and taxes, then study accounting.

If you want to understand how to acquire talent and insure that employees are being treated in a way that respected laws on fairness, and how to manage worker's comp, pensions, health insurance, etc. then study human resources.

If you want to know how businesses handle their relationships with their communities and the media, then study public relations.

I hope this helps a bit.

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