Always be Hacking…

We discussed this Scott Forstall clip internally and figured it was worth sharing since theres so much going on in just 5 minutes.

Bradley commented on how familiar it felt to how we roll and it’s worth digging in to this little more.

Quick Background

In 2007 Apple was not yet a trillion dollar company, but its star was definitely on the rise. Jobs was back, OSX was taking root and the iPod was game changer. (Their market cap was ~$174 Billion).

Demo Prep.

They are about to demo the iPhone in a few months and already you notice them sweating the presentation details. Should the CEO of AT&T be on stage? When do we read him in?

You can watch a zillion tech demos, and you will find demo’ers who look like they practiced on the plane ride in.. instead, this is thoughtful craft.

Getting AT&T excited

So they are flying to Vegas to show AT&T the phones.

Notice again, it’s not just “here’s an invite to our launch – you can have a speaking slot” where some big-shot CEO can waffle about the synergy between the two companies. They want him bought in..

They are going to demo to blow his socks off because that’s going to make his talk different too..

(On a much smaller scale) We’ve been using this technique for a while too. For almost every podcast we’ve advertised on, we first requested a private demo with the hosts. You can tell the difference in how they read our ad before and after seeing the demo. You can pay hundreds of thousands of dollars, but you can’t buy that difference in their voice when they’ve seen the win.

Leaving things to chance

Now.. the iPhone is clearly revolutionary… In another part of the interview (included in the full clip) Forstall mentions how at that point, it was obvious to them that the iPhone would win. He was using it, and knew it was the future, but with all that confidence they were still leaving nothing to chance.. they are going to demo it and Forstall is planning around it:

  • Is there going to be good cell signal/service in the penthouse or will our demos look bad because of it?

Again. It’s such dedication to the craft. They have the Jesus-phone. You are talking to a seasoned exec. You could totally hand wave past the bad connectivity.


They want to make sure it pops out of their bag and works.

The option for using 4-Seasons Wi-Fi is great and what’s clear again is their dedication to removing the suck from the experience. Anyone would have understood “let me just join the Wi-Fi… -fiddle- these pesky things -fiddle-“ but they don’t. They are working on it before they leave Cupertino.

I also think it’s awesome that Forstall himself is sweating these details. He’s the head of engineering at a $100 billion dollar company. He isn’t sitting in the suite while IT makes it happen and this isn’t just fake egalitarian kayfabe. It’s a hardwired culture of biasing to action / just making it happen.

Relentlessly Resourceful

(It’s subtle, but) Notice also, that they didn’t land the solution because he played his Apple Card. He landed it by acting like an AT&T exec and using their weight. Anyone coulda done this (but very few ppl woulda).

Paul Graham has a famous term when talking about great startup founders. He calls them “relentlessly resourceful.

A couple days ago I finally got being a good startup founder down to two words: relentlessly resourceful.

Till then the best I’d managed was to get the opposite quality down to one: hapless. Most dictionaries say hapless means unlucky. But the dictionaries are not doing a very good job. A team that outplays its opponents but loses because of a bad decision by the referee could be called unlucky, but not hapless. Hapless implies passivity. To be hapless is to be battered by circumstances—to let the world have its way with you, instead of having your way with the world.

Unfortunately there’s no antonym of hapless, which makes it difficult to tell founders what to aim for. “Don’t be hapless” is not much of rallying cry.

But finally I’ve figured out how to express this quality directly.

What would someone who was the opposite of hapless be like? They’d be relentlessly resourceful. Not merely relentless. That’s not enough to make things go your way except in a few mostly uninteresting domains. In any interesting domain, the difficulties will be novel. Which means you can’t simply plow through them, because you don’t know initially how hard they are; you don’t know whether you’re about to plow through a block of foam or granite. So you have to be resourceful. You have to keep trying new things.

Be relentlessly resourceful.

What you see from the Forstall conversation (which seems obvious in retrospect) is that this isn’t just a requirement for startups. Relentlessly Resourceful is why Apple pulls off the iPod with a small team. It’s why they prototype the iPhone with a tiny team. It’s why they consistently manage to do what they do. Lots and lots of companies have more engineers than they do, and lots of companies have smart execs… but.. all the money can’t buy you smart execs / engineers who default to action and find their way around walls (instead of just pointing out that the walls exist). That bit is culture.

Relentlessly Resourceful can almost be written as “always be hacking”. We built Thinkst for this. We don’t just want the hacks to build our company, we built our company so we can do awesomer and awesomer hacks.

So far, it’s been great for us. It’s leet to see (when you look at Apple) that it scales 🙂

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