One of the most exciting trends of the early 21st century has been the explosion of hacker culture around the world. By hackers, I don’t mean people who pose security threats to computer networks. I’m referring simply to people who use technology to create useful products. For a number of reasons, the next few decades will see more hackers added to the global population than at any time in history. Because of their skills, hackers are uniquely positioned to become entrepreneurs and start companies. While not all hackers want to become entrepreneurs, those who do need much greater access to training and capital in most places around the world. If we can streamline the path from hacker to entrepreneur, the world can unlock immense innovation and prosperity.
Just a few short years ago, we would have been amazed by any story in which a small team of developers created a service rapidly adopted by millions of users worldwide. Today, we have what seems like a multitude of examples to point to: Facebook, Skype, Dropbox, and many more. The truth is, we haven’t seen anything yet. The striking thing is no longer the existence of such successful hackers — it’s the fact that the sheer number of hackers is expanding so rapidly.
It is becoming less expensive to create web-based services due to the cloud and prevalence of open source technologies. Social media allows well-liked services to spread quickly, and inspires new innovators to jump into the game. As the global middle class grows, increasingly large numbers of engineers are being trained. China alone graduates 600,000 engineers per year. Plus, free educational resources like Codeacademy and Kahn Academy abound for people to learn new technologies.
While hackers can make useful products, in many cases they need mentorship and capital to turn their early progress into massively successful, globally-distributed services. The venture capital industry provides much of the capital, but is mostly structured to leverage local networks of trusted relationships. Venture activity skews heavily toward Northern California and a handful of major cities around the world. Yet, over time, it is becoming more likely that hackers with enormous potential will spring up outside of the few major venture hubs. Why shouldn’t a bright young hacker in Ankara, Turkey have just as much chance to become an entrepreneur as one in Palo Alto, Calif.?
You would think the Internet was designed to solve such problems. After all, why not use the online dating model to simply match hackers with VCs and mentors? The solution isn’t as simple as that. Someone needs to identify and vet the best hackers. Plus, these talented developers and designers often benefit from minimal financial support and experienced in-person mentorship to launch startups that VCs think are ready for further capital. By providing these supporting services, accelerators like Y Combinator and Techstars, and educational organizations like Founder Institute, are at the forefront of clearing the path for hackers to become entrepreneurs.
While progress is being made, there is more work to be done, especially as brilliant hackers start to pop up with increasing frequency in areas across the globe that current accelerators have not yet reached. Now, I’m not necessarily saying that every city on earth should have an accelerator, or that VCs from Silicon Valley should spend most of their time running all over the world.
However, I am advocating for governments in every country to recognize that the health of their economies will be increasingly dependent on whether there is a decently paved path for hackers to start companies. Leaders in both the public and private sectors should be asking questions such as: Are there excellent programs to train potential entrepreneurs and angel investors in my country? Do my country’s most talented hackers have a realistic chance to attend a relatively local, high quality accelerator? Is it easy to incorporate and invest in businesses? Is there reliable Internet access in my country?
Nations should consider hackers to be a precious resource. The amount of innovation and global prosperity in the 21st Century will be directly proportional to how well we nurture this resource. What do you think is the best solution to ensure that hackers everywhere have the opportunity to become successful entrepreneurs?