Aaron Edell

@aaronedell

Every startup needs an Alexander Hamilton

Thanks to the wonderful book by Ron Chernow, and the record-breaking musical by Lin-Manual Miranda, Alexander Hamilton has reemerged into the public consciousness of many Americans and others abroad.

It is an interesting thought experiment to compare the United State’s government in the 1790’s to a startup. There are many similarities, and if you‘ve read Ron Chernow’s book, or seen the musical, you now know that Hamilton was a critical factor in the early success of this country.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US10dollarbill-Series_2004A.jpg

Hamilton was a very vocal advocate for the federal government, and for various economic and political systems that ended up being critical to the success of the country. The way he affected his influence was by writing… prolifically.

Write day and night like its going out of style

He wrote and published endless words over the course of his entire adult life, sometimes as articles or pamphlets in defense of various policies or politics, and other times as laws or entire governmental systems. He wrote, and wrote and wrote, and essentially hustled his idea of what the United States should be into existence. It is not hyperbolic to claim that Hamilton is solely responsible for the existence of the United States as we know it today.

A startup today faces similar barriers to success as the United States did in 1789. You have investors/bankers, customers/tax payers, competition/England, internal politics/internal politics, and… um… the French?

As I’ve embarked upon the startup process myself, I have seen a direct correlation between engagement from users and customers, and prolific writing. I don’t just mean writing and calling customers and contacts you know, or meeting new ones at conferences or on LinkedIn, but writing posts on Medium, speaking your mind on subjects that are relevant. Sometimes its posts about your products, sometimes its thought-leadership on subjects you’re becoming an expert on, other times its comparisons between Hamilton and startups.

People need to find out about your product, know that you’re just as excited about it as they are, and be engaged with knowledgable people who understand their problems. After all, most startups that succeed do so because they solve a problem.

Make friends and influence people

Hamilton frequently wrote to people he sought to influence, partner with, learn from, or otherwise engage with for the benefit of his country, almost as much as he published essays or wrote legal systems into existence. He was bold and disruptive, upending what was then considered the natural order of things.

I wrote my way out of hell
I wrote my way to revolution
I was louder than the crack in the bell
I wrote Eliza love letters until she fell
I wrote about The Constitution and defended it well
And in the face of ignorance and resistance
I wrote financial systems into existence
And when my prayers to God were met with indifference
I picked up a pen, I wrote my own deliverance
(Hamilton the Musical by Lin-Manual Miranda)

Unfortunately for Hamilton, he was also shameless, thin-skinned, and didn’t always exercise the right judgement. For me, this serves as a cautionary tale when pursuing rapid growth and quick success at a startup. Its good to be innovative, disruptive, and to lead with a trial and error mindset, but its important to balance that with thoughtfulness and positivity.

A startup is best served if the founders are each good at different things. One of my favorite tropes is the hacker, designer, and hustler approach. I don’t believe that there is only one way to do a successful startup, but I do believe that having a Hamilton on the founding team is critical. They are usually the designer or hustler type (sometimes they are both). Whoever they are, they should be writing prolifically and engaging communities that matter to your startup. I believe they should be bold and daring but also positive and welcoming. They should be passionate about what they are writing, sincere in their desire to share what they’ve learned, and most importantly, unrelenting and prolific in their efforts.

Perseverance in almost any plan is better than fickleness and fluctuation. (Alexander Hamilton, July 1792)

If you built it, they will come

I so badly wish it were as simple as Kevin Costner’s mysterious friend made it sound when he whispered “If you built it, they will come”. Although it is absolutely necessary that your product is something people want, and that if people in your target audience find out about it, they will want it/buy it/use it, it doesn’t always help to try and sit back and wait for customers to trickle in.

http://samuelmullen.com/images/startup_fallacies/field_of_dreams-customers.jpg

Today, everyone is bombarded by a ton of information, so you have to put in the effort to cut through the noise. If your product is good and it solves a real problem, the word will spread, but you have to seed your target audience with enough information to increase the likelihood that someone will learn about your product.

If Hamilton hadn’t written the Federalist Papers, its possible that the constitution would’ve never been ratified. Although information salience and dispersion was quite different back then, its hard to ignore the fact that he saturated as many people’s eyeballs with information about his ideas as possible.

Your startup really needs a combination of good product/market fit and customer outreach.

About the author: Aaron Edell is CEO and co-founder of Machine Box, Inc. Machine Box puts state of the art machine learning capabilities into Docker containers so developers like you can easily incorporate natural language processing, facial detection, object recognition, etc. into your own apps very quickly.

The boxes are built for scale, so when your app really takes off just add more boxes horizontally, to infinity and beyond. Oh, and it’s way cheaper than any of the cloud services (and they might be better)… and your data doesn’t leave your infrastructure.

Have a play and let us know what you think.

More by Aaron Edell

Topics of interest

More Related Stories