What does it mean when a company says they are looking to hire hackers?

They’re looking for people who move fast, prototype rapidly, and get an idea into the wild. The implementation may not be perfect, but it works. Small companies in particular benefit from the rapid feedback loop. Build an MVP, test against a small user base, gather feedback. Rinse and repeat. Hacking means building something new, putting it out there and seeing what happens, with the implicit understanding that it may not last.

For certain types of applications, this approach excels. With more experimental products, where you’re testing the core premise of your business and the problem you seek to solve, hacking out a polished prototype can help define the viability of your assumptions and the direction of your nascent business. Sacrificing elegance or scalability for an idea you’re not sure about is undeniably the right decision.

So why aren’t we looking for hackers?

We have to be 100% accurate for every feature we release into the wild, because the stakes are much higher. Consistency, clarity, and testability of everything we build matters; our product, and the underlying transactions, demand it.

Payroll systems are inherently complex. Start with implementing the federal tax code, sprinkle in the rules for each state you want to support, and build an internal representation of ACH deposits to move millions of dollars from company bank accounts to yours, then split funds between the employee and the IRS.

Let’s assume the above outline is sufficient to run payroll; what’s the difference between that and an MVP? Why can’t we JSIO the building blocks and ride a viral Twitter campaign?

We deal with crucial transactions like paying employees and filing taxes, so we can’t afford to make mistakes. When the priority is moving fast, errors understandably happen. Dropping a few SnapChats won’t have a material effect on anyone’s life (we hope), but if you store a routing number as an integer and dropped the leading zero, an employee might not be able to pay rent.

Our system doesn’t have time to come of age – we have to be mature at birth.

Our philosophy

A core tenet of our company culture is “Don’t Optimize for the Short Term.” As a company, we are building a business to be thriving and relevant in the future; not just six months, but one year, five years, and decades from now. In fact, it doesn’t appear that anything but a long-term strategy would be viable; existing payroll solutions have been around for decades, so the tradeoff of hacking for speed isn’t a net positive.

The way we grow our team, the way we build our product, all the way down to the code we write is driven by a culture focused around four words: “Do the Right Thing.” We have to remember who we’re building this for — the millions of small business owners who pay exorbitant amounts for atrocious, decades-old “portals.”

That’s why we’re not willing to just hack something together. We’re not building Uber-for-haircuts, or a social CRM for nightclub lines, and we’re certainly not leveraging crowdsourced, artisanal daily deals. But we are bringing millions of transactions into the 21st century. We’re rejuvenating a dreaded, or even feared chore and making it the rewarding, engaging, delightful experience we know it can be.

Chris Maddox Chris Maddox, a contributing author on Gusto, provides actionable tips and expert advice on HR and payroll for successful business management.
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