I should have known that when we picked a company name like Hustle Fund, it would lead entrepreneurs to introduce themselves as “real hustlers”. But, I think my definition of hustle is very nuanced, and it’s not what most people think it is.
Very often, most people think of “hustlers” as people who are:
- super sales-y
- slick talkers / great at talking
- doing 100 different things all at once
- working really hard and wearing that hard work as a badge of honor
One entrepreneur even told one of my business partners that he didn’t think of himself as a hustler because he wasn’t doing anything illegal! Hah!
But this is not what “hustle” means to me. To me, hustle is about scrappiness to achieve to focus. The key word is focus.
I think the hardest part about running a startup is having focus. Focus is the key thing needed to grow a business. Because you have limited time and money, you can’t afford to invest in many different facets of your business. You can usually only afford to do just 1 thing really well otherwise a whole bunch of things will end up turning out mediocre or half-heartedly done – even if you are burning the midnight oil and working really hard.
This is easier said than done, though. What this means in practice is saying no to just about everything. In fact, taking on LESS at a startup in many cases is actually better than taking on more. This means saying no to meetings that will lead nowhere. It means not pursuing partnerships that will only produce incremental returns or revenue. It means simplifying product and reducing features. Ignoring lots of emails. Etc.
As a founder, even with all activities reduced as much as possible, it’s still difficult to truly focus, because there are some activities that need to get done in a business that take up a lot of time but don’t actually contribute to the growth of your company. Such as reviewing legal paperwork with your counsel. Setting up new accounts and adding 2-factor authentication. Setting up a checking account. Applying for a credit card. Etc. These are all activities that need to get done and take up time that don’t actually help your revenue (or whatever your KPI is).
Compounding time management issues, startups also have a lack of resources. E.g. how do you move your lead gen number when you have no marketing budget? Even if you are good at time management and saying no? Being scrappy to achieve focus is just really hard.
My last thought on this is that the good news and the bad news is that being able to successfully hustle is somewhat of a level playing field (though difficult for everyone!). By this I mean, I’ve found that the best hustlers come from all walks of life. People who go to Ivy League schools or worked at Google and Facebook are not necessarily good at hustling (some are and some are not). Often, people from these places actually are given a TON of resources, so scrappiness is not actually something they know how to hone. I went from being a marketer at Google where every news outlet wanted to cover all of our product launches to a bootstrapped 2 person startup where no one cared at all. In addition, people who go to top schools are often very good students. They are often good at being on top of projects and doing everything. Unfortunately, at a startup, you have to deliberately drop the ball on a lot of tasks in order to free up time to really really knock 1 thing out of the park. This is a difficult skill for people who are perfectionists who otherwise excel at non-startup jobs. On the flip side, I’ve also met entrepreneurs who were not good at following directions at school or work, but are able to do incredibly well with their own startups because they have relentless focus on what matters most to the business at the expense of other things.
Working on improving my own hustle is something that I strive for everyday – since Hustle Fund is a startup in itself, we, too, have a bajillion and one things that we need to take care of but really should only be focused on 1 thing at a time. This means, for example, if we are focused right now on saying helping our portfolio companies, it means that we can’t be responding to everyone who has sent us a pitch deck. This is fine balance, but something I’ve thought about everyday for the last decade or so since embarking on this startup journey.
How do you hustle?