This is a response to this front-page Hacker News thread with 157 upvotes at time of writing.
Mostly, I felt compelled to respond because:
- It’s a feel-good answer (got to love those!) It tells people what they want to hear, but not the truth
- Clever bait for good developers stuck in a bad situation
- The sheer number of good developers who seem to agree with this
- It’s patronizing
Disclosure: I write code as well.
I think this post suffers from a cause-and-effect fallacy + hindsight bias.
From The Pmarca Guide to Startups, part 4: The only thing that matters by Marc Andreessen:
If you ask entrepreneurs or VCs which of team, product, or market is most important, many will say team. This is the obvious answer, in part because in the beginning of a startup, you know a lot more about the team than you do the product, which hasn’t been built yet, or the market, which hasn’t been explored yet.
Plus, we’ve all been raised on slogans like “people are our most important asset” — at least in the US, pro-people sentiments permeate our culture, ranging from high school self-esteem programs to the Declaration of Independence’s inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — so the answer that team is the most important feels right.
And who wants to take the position that people don’t matter?
(emphasis above is mine)
So the big question is, can you colossally mess up the by-product, and still achieve a great product? YES. I know that might be hard to hear but I’ll quote this pmarca post again:
When you get right down to it, you can ignore almost everything else.
I’m not suggesting that you do ignore everything else — just that judging from what I’ve seen in successful startups, you can.
Whenever you see a successful startup, you see one that has reached product/market fit — and usually along the way screwed up all kinds of other things, from channel model to pipeline development strategy to marketing plan to press relations to compensation policies to the CEO sleeping with the venture capitalist. And the startup is still successful.
Conversely, you see a surprising number of really well-run startups that have all aspects of operations completely buttoned down, HR policies in place, great sales model, thoroughly thought-through marketing plan, great interview processes, outstanding catered food, 30″ monitors for all the programmers, top tier VCs on the board — heading straight off a cliff due to not ever finding product/market fit.
Ironically, once a startup is successful, and you ask the founders what made it successful, they will usually cite all kinds of things that had nothing to do with it. People are terrible at understanding causation. But in almost every case, the cause was actually product/market fit.
If you’re a good developer stuck in a bad situation, there is hope. I acknowledge my bias since I’m in Silicon Valley, but I humbly think this is the best place, not just in the US, but in the world. Not just for startups, but for developers (who’re fine with working for big companies). You are highly valued, and you get paid top-dollar compared to anywhere else on the planet.
If you’re a good developer stuck in a bad situation, send me an email with your resume (and tell me what you’re looking for), and I’ll personally try to find you a good job, right here in the San Francisco Bay Area. No strings attached. I’m proud to be in Silicon Valley, having moved here 2 years ago, an immigrant to the US. For those outside: know that SV runs on a pretty obvious pay-it-forward culture, so I’m happy to pay it forward. A few pretentious “brogrammers” absolutely do NOT represent SV.
Success is decided by the market: you only succeed if users like what you’ve built. And users don’t care where you went to college.
I find it hard to believe that users would care about your company’s by-product.
Update: All this banter is in good spirit, I think Github is going to be an even greater company. I really do. All the best!
Update 2: Just to be clear, between a good by-product and bad by-product, clearly having the former is better. The point is that there’s no causation to the product. At least not in a significant way, because if it did, then all you’d have to do is just keep amplifying the good by-product until you hit the home-run success. Can you “good-culture” your way to an IPO? (Again, I’m not recommending bad culture—I wouldn’t work there either)
 At least I think the readers of that post might not be aware of the inherent hindsight-bias
This is a post in response to this post.