Why can’t more people do everything?

by Alex Duncan  |  July 12, 2011 – 10:19 am


Creating successful websites roughly splits into 4 skill areas:

  • Marketing – Blogging/PPC/SEO/PR
  • UI/UX/Design – Wireframing/Fireworks
  • Frontend – HTML/CSS
  • Backend – Java/Ruby/PHP/ASP/Nginx

I’m constantly surprised and a little disappointed by the number of people I meet who are only really capable in one of these four areas and whose knowledge of the other areas is at best vague. I just don’t understand why or how these people think that is good enough. I’m not talking about people who lack ambition, I’m talking in many cases about people actively trying to start new online projects. In fact when I say they’re only capable in one of these areas, some are completely incapable in all 4 areas.

This doesn’t really seem to make much sense.

If you are a web entrepreneur and you cannot do all of the above to a reasonable level you are working with one arm tied behind your back. You are constantly reliant upon other people to work for you and you have little or no way at all of judging how good their work is. Your ability to communicate your ideas and bring them to fruition is severely limited. Sure if you have lots of money to splash around you can pay people to do it for you, but you still have no way of knowing if these mysterious technical things they are doing that you don’t understand are serving your ultimate business aims. If you’re one of these incapable people sitting here reading this post and shaking your head in disagreement, I promise you this is true, because unlike you, I know what you don’t know and please believe me when I tell you it’s important stuff.

I can completely understand why investors are unwilling to back founders who aren’t capable in these areas, it leaves them almost entirely reliant upon hiring smart people and burning the investors money at a faster rate. I’ve seen what happens in the gap between ideas guys and technical guys five dozen times and it’s never pretty.

Perhaps this post is a bit of an ego trip because I do possess this varied skill set. I’m definitely no superstar in any one area, but I’m pretty strong in each. I can take part in high level strategic discussions, wireframe solutions, design mock-ups, code the CSS & HTML, write the backend in PHP/Node.js, set up the linux server and then I’ve got a pretty good idea how to market the thing when it’s finished. Did I attend some special school, no. I’ve never had a days training, I studied Zoology at University and taught myself how to do everything using the wonderful free resource known as the internet.

Sure one guy on his own is ultimately not going to be able to do great things without help, but in the early stages of building a new company when ideas are embryonic and resources are scarce it can mean the difference between success and failure. Later on when things go better, sure I’ll hire people and I’ll be able to talk directly to them in a common language and guide and shape their work far more powerfully, because I can do what I’m paying them to do almost as well as they can.

So if you’re out there trying to find people to work for free/imaginary equity to help you build your latest and the greatest idea. Give me a break, go start teaching yourself, there is no better way to learn something than having to do it and if this idea doesn’t succeed you’ll be in a far stronger position to start the next one.

FYI: My approach to creating websites is inspired by the world changing 37Signals, you can read more about their philosophy on their blog Signal vs. Noise.

This post by Tim Harford on why there will never be another Leonardo Da Vinci provides some great context for this problem.

Da Vinci was able to achieve so much, so broadly, because so little was known

I believe that the breath of knowledge is still manageable and that it is possible to be a Renaissance man/woman of the online sphere.

  • Rb_eternal

    I can give your post extra love, for I am one of few who can accurately imagine the words read by your disarmingly sweet, posh voice.  Au Revoir