The typical digital startup has two founders: one is technical, the other does sales and marketing. Think of Hewlett and Packard of HP, Wozniak and Jobs of Apple, Evans and Maloney of GrubHub. My own company, Orbit Media, has two founders: Barrett Lombardo and myself. He’s the hacker, I’m the hustler.

Micah Baldwin defines these two roles beautifully:

  • Hacker (aka “The Product Person”)
    This is the problem solver who creates the product or service. He or she is often the developer, but not necessarily. “A Hacker is someone who looks at the problem and solves it in a unique and special way.”
  • Hustler (aka “The Passion Person”)
    This is the relationship builder. He or she typically handles the marketing, promotion, fundraising, and sales, ideally with little or no capital. “They have the ability to articulate their passions clearly and in a way that gets other people equally passionate…a true Hustler is patient zero in a viral campaign.”

Inside the startup community, there’s a lot of emphasis on finding technical co-founders and CTOs. I’ve seen plenty of articles, events, and websites all about finding that technical co-founder. The Built In Chicago Job Board has a co-founder category, but all the postings are for hackers. The website Matchist helps people find freelance developers, but often the visitors start by looking for technical co-founders.

I know MVP. But what’s MVA?

Take a stroll through your local incubator and you’ll hear people talking about MVP, or “Minimum Viable Product.” This means building something useful quickly and launching fast. It allows a startup to get feedback from users sooner and iterate more quickly.

But I suspect these startups have never used the term “Minimum Viable Audience.” This is the minimum number of visitors necessary to reach the startup’s revenue goals. Maybe these companies know their MVA, but they’re calling it something else. Either way, to be successful, they should be doing this kind of math:

Target Revenue = Transaction Value x Customers

Customers = Conversion Rates x Visitors

Visitors = Search Traffic + Email Traffic + Social Traffic

It’s the hustler’s job to promote the business and reach this minimum audience. Without a great hustler, they’ll need a lot of cash (advertising dollars) or a lot of luck (viral marketing).

All hack, no hustle: Nikola Tesla

If a business is over-focused on the products and under-focused on the marketing, it fails. It gradually runs out of money. The volume of new customers fails to cover the cash burn rate and the costs of developing the product or service. History is full of examples. Here’s one of the best and most tragic.

Nikola Tesla was the greatest hacker of all time. He invented alternating current, the radio, radar, x-rays, neon lighting, the remote control, and wireless communications. Not since Archimedes has humanity had a better inventor.

But I don’t pay my electric bill to ComTesla, I pay ComEd, as in, Commonwealth Edison. Why? Because Thomas Edison was the better hustler.

Tesla was famously paranoid and difficult to deal with. Most of his inventions failed to reach an audience. His greatest commercial achievements (lighting the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 and building the hydroelectric dam at Niagara Falls) were successful only because he partnered with the business mind of George Westinghouse. Westinghouse was a pro-hustler.

Tesla died a poor man, living in an apartment paid for by former business partners. Moral of the story? An average product with great marketing will outperform a great product with average marketing.

How’s your hustle?

If you’re not sure, here are six ways to tell if you’re not doing the basics of hustling.

  1. Your company depends on people signing up online, but you’ve never tested the calls-to-action on those signup buttons.
  2. You haven’t addressed the SEO basics. For example, you have no keywords in your home page <title> tag.
  3. Your email signup form isn’t giving people a reason to subscribe.
  4. There is no social proof on your website. Without testimonials, social media following numbers, “as-seen-in” PR credentials, association memberships or some kind of third-party evidence that you’re legitimate, you’re not building credibility.
  5. You’re not promoting your content. A hustler communicates through writing, and that content needs to be promoted through search, social, and email.
  6. You’re ignoring your analytics. Are you using your website stats as a scoreboard? Or are you really analyzing what’s happening? If you’re not making decisions based on analytics, you’re not really hustling.

Getting some ideas? Great! Now you can calculate your minimum audience. Write something useful, and promote it. Find your superfans, and ask for reviews. Test the key parts of your marketing, and improve whatever isn’t working. If possible, build your audience before you launch.

They don’t call it ‘hustling’ because it’s slow. Get moving!