HotJar: How being a generalist can pay off big time

Kayla Lee on January 19, 2018

Can anyone seriously look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and think, Hmm, pretty impressive for a mathematician, but not the greatest work I’ve seen, the guy should’ve stuck with just math.

Probably not. So why is society obsessed with the bogus notion that being a jack-of-all-trades is a bad thing?

Dr. David Darmanin, Founder and CEO of HotJar, recently spoke with us on our Founder Chats podcast. During his interview, it was crystal clear that David’s generalist personality was vital to HotJar’s success. With all of his diverse work experience, David was able to grow HotJar from zero to $10 million in yearly revenue.

Being a generalist might be the best thing ever.

Generalists make flexible employees and flexible leaders

David wore plenty of hats during his trek to starting HotJar. He arrived at law school with a background in design. He learned Drupal while building a website for a client. He lead optimization and design at hardware performance company.

David’s generalist abilities made him flexible enough to say “yes” to novel experiences. And with all that broad knowledge, he’s now able to oversee and direct a SaaS company that’s unique selling point is it’s all-in-one web analytics.

Tech is ever changing. Companies deploy new features daily. With changing tech and agile development, you can bet that agile employees are needed to maintain a company’s growth. You can also bet that, like David, the person leading all the agile peeps has got to be pretty flexible.

Example: You hire a back-end software developer. But what happens when the company changes marketing directions, and you need all hands on the front-end?

This is why startups want everyone to be full stack. and other startup job sites are littered with these full-stack jobs. Full stack developer, full stack designer – and it doesn’t just apply to those two roles. Growth-hacker much? That’s basically a digital marketer familiar with programming. Companies need people with comprehensive skills.

Being a generalist promotes innovation

Thinking out-of-the-box ruined my business. – Said no one ever

David is a prime example of how a broad range of thought leads to innovation. Understanding design, web optimization, marketing, and development paved the way for his all-in-one analytics tool, HotJar.

A recent study published by Darden Business School and The European Corporate Governance Institute suggests that “generalist CEOs spur innovation because they acquire knowledge beyond the firm’s current technological domain, and have skills that can be applied elsewhere should innovation projects fail.”

Innovation comes from an open mind. A mind able to recognize the opportunities that others miss because they’ve got their noses stuck in the same old places. And, all that open-mindedness leads to creativity. Instead of fixating on one subject, a generalist’s mind has access to a broad range of topics and ideas. With that broad range of thought comes new perspectives.

Do Renaissance Souls make the best Founders?

A Renaissance Soul is a generalist. Someone with multiple passions, who can’t commit to just one “career.” I’d argue that most of us are Renaissance Souls who don’t want to do the same thing, every day, for forever. But, most of us are too afraid to do anything about it because, for some bizarre reason, society guilt trips those who are multifaceted (even though science proves generalism is valuable).

Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Hypatia, were mathematicians, engineers, astronomers, architects, poets, sculptors, and painters all at the same time. It’s easy to stare at the Mona Lisa while pondering Da Vinci’s invention of the hydraulic pump and think, people like him don’t exist anymore.

But aren’t Renaissance Souls still contributing majorly to arts, science, and the economy? Oprah is a self-made billionaire who hosts TV shows, writes bestsellers, publishes a magazine, and runs multiple companies. Will.I.Am. is a Grammy-winning producer who just scored major funding for his customer support chatbot startup. Bezos, now the richest man alive, jumped from computers, finance, to eCommerce.

In fact, the more successful entrepreneurs you read up on, the more generalists you’ll uncover.

Generalists are scrappy and scrappy is better than perfect

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.”
Richard Branson

When David was asked to build a website by one of his first freelance clients, he agreed to it, even though he’d never done it before. He scrapped his way through, learning Drupal as he went along. Being frustrated by the amount of time it took to develop a custom site, he then decided to build another scrappy tool that would allow subscribers to build websites from templates (think Squarespace/Wordpress).

He never waited around because he was afraid to try something himself, scrappy as he knew his efforts would be.

What was most important in getting HotJar’s MVP (minimum viable product) off the ground?

“I guess being scrappy is the main answer. Just doing a lot of things in a quick and simple way. Not obsessing about doing everything perfect. I think the fact that we approached the whole launch with doing a beta, and starting simple, and just inviting people very quickly to participate in it helped us also know where to prioritize, and what to look at, and what to do first.”

Successful, generalist entrepreneurs do things NOW, not later, without fear of imperfection.

Generalists are indifferent to failure

The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is not being afraid of failure. The first time you build a birdhouse, strum a chord on the guitar, or code a website – it won’t be great, in fact, it’s probably going to suck.

The people who succeed are the ones who aren’t afraid of the required, relentless failure that comes with learning and building something new.

David set out on a mission to build the scrappiest version of HotJar that he could. He wasn’t worried about failing. He had already tried several businesses that didn’t work out: a domain reselling business and a website-building platform.

Why would a generalist be better at failing than a specialist? Generalists tend to run head-first into things. People with many passions and interests try and try and try, create and create and create. All that trying makes them indifferent to failure – for them, failure is just part of the routine.

Tap into your inner generalist

Failures are required. Go and launch that imperfect product, no matter what anyone thinks, because you know that launching sooner rather than later is best. You know that you can always go back to the drawing board and make corrections and alterations. Build the interest. Get the customers now. Make improvements later. Fail big time, maybe at multiple ventures, but keep going. And one day, you’ll be happy that you dabbled in all of your passions.

Kayla Lee