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This is The 38th Signal, a weblog about design, coding, design, experience, design, constraints, cookware, and so much more. Established 2007 in Angola.

Ask 38thSignal: Can I build a web business if I'm a jock with no skills? posted by RJ Oct 24, 2007


Johnny Jock asks:
Is there any hope for business majors with no technical aptitude in the online entrepreneur world? Or would you say that things like the ability to program or send properly formatted email or even spell "slashdot" are an absolute must?

Sadly Johnny, the answer is yes, or maybe no, since you asked the question both ways: the four year degree you earned by watching movies, drinking, and "fooling around" with cheerleaders isn't going to get you anywhere when it comes to the internet. All of us geeks remember guys like you, and we hated you and all the fun you were having, so we specifically designed the internet to keep you out.

However, if you're really persistent, and if you introduce me to a few of those cheerleaders, I might be able to let you in on a little secret. There's a backdoor to the internet. Here's how you get in.

Step 1: Hide your jock past and total ignorance

The first step in harnessing the power of the internet is not to let it know about your past. This is not the place to brag about your bench press or how many times you've "done it" - those things will only earn the wrathful scorn of the internet's minions. You're going to need to re-invent yourself for a while. You're going to need a new persona.

Start by memorizing a few computer releated terms. Learn what a gigahertz is, and how it's used in battle against witches. Learn the difference between JavaScript and PHP, and which you should take to cure a hang over. Finally, memorize the names of as many design patterns as you can, starting with the Singleton pattern, the Factory pattern, and the Model-View-Control-Her pattern.

Step 2: Befriend a programmer

The second step is to find a programmer friend and ask then to help teach you. If you don't already have one, and you probably don't, start posting agreeable opinions on needlessly polemic websites run by other web companies. Just agree with whoever posted, saying more or less the same thing they said, but change the words around a little, like this:

Web-company blogger: We think it's important that people not learn that most web-applications are free these days, because otherwise they won't pay us.

You: I think that's a really great idea. You guys are very inspirational. If someone learned, for example, that most web-applications are free, they wouldn't pay you, and I think you've shown quite well why that would be bad.

Once you've got a few people agreeing with you, get their email addresses and start making friends.

If this doesn't work, move to silicon valley (that's in California) and start hanging out in the bars. If there's one thing geeks like, it's hanging out with other geeks and pretending they're not geeks by doing their hanging in bars. Look for the pale, unshaven guy sitting by himself but pretending he's with the people next to him. Sit down and mutter a few of your memorized programmer phrases, complain about your roommate, and you'll have a friend in no time.

Now that you've earned some geek-cred, start by telling your potential friend you're thinking about learning how to program and that you've got some books you're going to read. Whether you actually have the books is irrelevant - you're only saying this to make your friend think he's not taking on a full-time project by helping you, and you wouldn't read the books if you had them.

Next, find a few web-tutorials and give them a try. When you get confused and it doesn't work (and you will and it won't), email your friend and ask for help. Repeat this a few times, and then start throwing in the occasional instant message to get help in real time. After a few weeks of that, fly to wherever your friend lives for "business" and offer to meet for dinner. Pick the most expensive restaurant and make sure you tell them you'll pay as a thank you for all their helpful help.

If at any point during this process your programmer friend gets wise to your incredible ignorance, apologize for wasting his time and find a new friend. Repeat the cycle until you can get someone - anyone - out to dinner.

Step 3: Bait-and-switch

When you finally do get your friend back out to dinner, start ordering drinks fast. Make sure you've had at least 3 rounds before the food comes, and make sure they don't order anything big enough to absorb anything. Now, when he or she is good and drunk, announce to your friend that you have a brilliant idea for a web company, and try to get them excited. Next, declare that over the past few weeks and with their help you've realized that you're more of a "business" guy, with a head for people and profit, but not so much programming. Get your friend to sign a contract for 40% (or even 30%, depending on their liver) of your new business's shares in return for doing all the work.

Pick a name with no vowels, make sure the logo has a reflection in it, slap "beta" onto your homepage, and you're ready to go.

Step 4: Keep the programmer happy

The only way to keep this going long enough to get an actual application is to keep your friend happy, and unfortunately that's going to cost time and money. Invest heavily in alcohol and video games, and force your cool (and cute) friends to hang out with him. Remember: the journey of a thousand miles didn't build rome in a day, and you're here to say "freedom" to your enemies.

Step 5: You're done!

Congratulations! You're a business guy doing nothing, leaching off the brilliance and success of your web-able friend. Welcome to the world of web entrepreneurship! Tech Crunch will probably cover you soon.

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In loving parody of the 37signals weblog Signal vs Noise.