There Are No Hacks

A little meditatation on the impact of my choises on how I use my time.

As a startup founder and software maker, I recently had a recurring thought while building multiple products at Superlinear: there are no hacks.

Sure, there are growth hacks, there are hackish things you can do to build a huge following, there’s an infinite amount of A/B tests you can do, there are shortcuts to rank on Google, there are techniques to get more likes on your posts etc. And sure, in certain cases, for example for businesses that have a lot of cash to spare, it makes a lot of sense to try these things.

But if you’re a small, focused company or even a solo founder, no amount of hacks can substitute creating things that people want, and putting your heart in it.

Whenever you try to hack your way around thoughtful product development, or genuine participation in your community, you're likely wasting your precious, limited time.

To be completely honest, me and my co-founder Francesco have tried at times to “hack” our way into popular sites, finding obscure strategies to boost our social presence or website traffic, or thinking about new products first in terms of growth or monetization. But how much do you think these strategies payed off? Very little, compared to the effort.

What worked for us, for years? Creating things that excite us; going the extra mile to make our products delightful and truly valuable; being responsive to our users; following our gut instincts on what works and what doesn't; learning from other makers that share this mindset; iterating on meaningful parts of our apps in a way that impacts key metrics, not vanity ones.

There's also something to be said about how doing tons of cold, hackish things (and often seeing them fail) has a nasty impact on morale, while failing with product development often means learning lots of lessons, growing as makers, and obtain the experience and tools to not make the same mistakes again.

Between choosing whether to test 10 different paywalls to slighlty increase revenue or adding a new important feature to our product, I'll choose the latter every time.

Hence I have a personal resolution to do less hacking, more making, even in my personal life. There are many shortcuts and hacks your can do to improve your life, and they surely work for some people: trying quick extreme diets, using weird settings to use your phone less (yes black and white display people, I'm talking to you), downloading gamified habit apps to stick to your plans even if you don't really want to, listening to 10 minutes books digests instead of taking the time to read, and so on.

But I think that, for most people, taking the time to do the work will create real lasting value and have real tangible impact, more than any hack or shortcut.