Hipsters, Hackers, Hustlers

"To run an efficient team, you only need three people: a hipster, a hacker, and a hustler" – Rei Inamoto, founding partner of Inamoto & Co.

In the past five years, startups have adopted the idea of a startup dream team with a hipster, a hacker, and a hustler. This is the minimum team needed to deliver a new product to the market, and conventional thinking is that each of these people match up with traditional job descriptions.

The hipster is a designer, and their job is to make things look nice and appealing. The hipster uses a tablet with a stylus, and usually dresses in a very trendy way.

The hacker wears a hoodie or a turtleneck, of course, and this person is the engineer that will build implement the company's technology stack and write the code to build a working product.
The hustler is the person with business sense, and she will drive sales, raise money, and talk to investors, and structure the company. Depending on who you talk to, having an MBA is a really good idea, or a really bad idea, but prior industry experience is definitely a plus.
In our programs, we find that the Hipster, Hacker, Hustler model is very useful for teams to seek out a variety of talent and make sure that their team composition is not too lopsided. If a company has too many hustlers and no hackers, then you'd never get a product to the market. Without hipsters, the design, branding, and marketing might not work.

Without hustlers, you end up with something like the failure at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Tech folklore tells us that the foundational technologies and design principles for modern computing were invented at Xerox PARC, but Xerox management did not execute a market entry strategy, and both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs "stole" those great ideas and used them as the foundations for Microsoft and Apple.

It is incredibly important to (i) build a product (ii) that appeals to customers and (iii) sell it to them. If not, your company will fail.



But, this is also not a complete picture for team building. If you try to talk to a startup founder, a student, or a professional from industry, you will find that real people do not fit into these three neat categories. An engineer by training of course contributes code and technology, but he or she also needs to have a sensibility for user-facing design and for the market value of specific features. Designers these days use a whole range of technologies and digital skills – and code – to create experiences. Hustlers must understand their product at a fundamental level and must build empathy with their customers to understand their needs.

In an effective team, every single person, regardless of their specific title and responsibility, will play each of these three roles interchangeably.

In this way, professional identity is quite fluid, and a functional team must be much more collaborative and less hierarchical than before. For these three people to work effectively, one of them needs to take a leadership role in a particular activity, but the other two also have to be engaged and provide support. The Hustler must participate in product reviews, and the Hacker must also visit customers and get their direct feedback.

To work in this way, you cannot follow traditional hierarchies where instructions are given from the top of the pyramid to the people underneath. Instead, the leadership baton switches from one person to the next according to specific situation.

This fluidity between hipster, hacker, and hustler roles is then only one dimension where we are starting to see that identity is a fluid spectrum. As society progresses, we are also starting to understand that other dimensions of identity, such as gender, age, and nationality, are also much more fluid and difficult to contain into simple categories.

Traditional advertising broke down markets in very specific ways: Cars are marketed to men, houseware to women, college education is intended for 18-24 year-old's, and anything you sell better have your country's flag on it because "we" are better and different from "them".

The right kind of team will encompass the skills needed for a hipster, hacker, and hustler, but depending on the type of business opportunity, you might actually need a founding team of one or two people with all three types of skills for a simple product or service. For more complex businesses, the founding team can even be four, five or six people collaborating in each of these three areas.

To build a successful company, we need to learn how to reach across these boundaries and work effectively in teams with multiple disciplines, and these teams must understand that the same complexity also exists in the markets they are trying to serve. Understanding such complexity and learning how to manage it is the first step to find the holy grail of a startup: product-market fit.

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