I’m still a business newbie, I’ll admit it. I haven’t made a million dollars yet and I haven’t been on the cover of a magazine in a while. (Although I was the subject of a Fortune cover article back in the day.) But it’s been my sense that beyond the typical business schtick that I’m busily trying to catch up on, there are two solid rules for getting ahead with a company that others haven’t really just come out and said. So here goes.
Rule One: Employ Monkey Armies.
As an individual, you are only worth as much value as you create. And there’s only so much value you can create alone! This is why many businesses have more than one employee. To gain leverage, you’ll need minions to do your bidding. Ideally, armies of unpaid servants. The best (and arguably most ethical) way to do this is with servers. Get your hands on some servers to leverage the heck out of yourself. Write scripts to automate your work. Automate everything – let your army of servers take care of things for you.
If tasks cannot be automated by computers and aren’t critical, find bored people on the Internet and make your task into a game. A lot of people like playing games and, like Tom Sawyer, they may end up gladly doing your work for you, producing content and categorizing it, rating it, editing it, all for their amusement and your benefit.
If it’s critical, find someone else to do it. You should deal primarily with either people who are inexpensive (as contractors) to do relatively simple work or with people to whom you’d trust your life to partner seriously. You’d be amazed at the kind of help you can get for $10-$20/hour, even in the Bay Area. In the grand scheme of things, this is not much money. Spend it and give yourself leverage.
Rule Two: “Steal.”
I don’t mean this literally. Don’t run around looting or robbing people. But if there are services, software, or resources that you can use for free, you really should do so. Run on Linux (or *BSD). Use MySQL (or Postgres). Use Perl, PHP, Python, and Ruby. With the tools you will be scaling, make sure they’re free. (It’s okay to spend good money for productivity software or software that doesn’t need to scale, like Photoshop.) Find cheap servers for sale and negociate a good hosting contract. You’ll be in charge of your own cluster in no time. It’s not as hard as you think – just do it!
Google spends huge amounts of money making AdWords easy to use; but nobody said you have to use them longterm. This means that you can very quickly try a dozen different slogans, put them in front of tens or hundreds of thousands of people, see how they fare against each other, and change your messaging dependently. You’ve paid Google about ten bucks for what otherwise would have been tens of thousands of dollars of market research.