Why are you in such a rush?

This post was republished on PandoDaily. You can read it here.

I see a consistent attitude among a lot of young entrepreneurs both technical and non-technical that I think leads to more harm than good:

They’re always in a huge rush.

They’re always in a huge rush to get the prototype out, to get it on TechCrunch, to get it to go viral, to raise money, to reach a million users in the first year, to be bought for a billion dollars the year after that, to retire to a beach somewhere before they’re 25.

And they always have a ton of reasons for why they’re in a rush:

  • “It’s a market opportunity that’s huge and I’m the first person to realize it so I need to move as quickly as possible to take advantage of it before competitors swoop in and claim it.”
  • “If we don’t get it done by the time I graduate then I’ll have to get a job so I only have a limited time to make it work.”
  • “I want to prove whether or not I can do it so I know if it’s a legitimate career path. So I’m giving myself 6 months to make it happen otherwise I’m going to do finance.”
  • “The funding climate is great right now and I want to raise money before it goes away.”
  • “When I graduate I don’t want to have to move back in with my parents so I either need to raise money for this, or make enough revenue to live on. If I can’t do one of those by June I’m going to have to find a job and shut it down.”

These rationalizations play off of the way an entrepreneur “should” think: move as quickly as possible at all times, do not pass go, do not collect $200. If you’re a real entrepreneur you’re only going to experience success by throwing yourself 100% into your idea from the very beginning even if you have no experience or skills and very little else other than manufactured conviction.

Moving as “quickly” as possible feels good. It feels productive. But ultimately I think being in a rush often slows you down.

A few weeks ago I was talking to someone who wants to work on a startup to teach people how to code.

His thesis was that there aren’t enough coders because the technical education that you get from college is either non-applicable or inaccessible and expensive. He thought it would be good for the economy and a big business opportunity to build a company that could help young people learn programming skills online.

I buy that. Even though plenty of companies already do this, he had a specific international market in mind that he wanted to apply the idea to.

The problem? He’s a non-technical MBA and currently going through the process of finding someone to build the site for him.

It struck me as odd that someone non-technical would want to build a site to teach people how to program, but not entirely outlandish so I asked, “If you really want to do this as a non-programmer, doesn’t it give you the opportunity to teach yourself to code first and then build your startup around the methods that helped you learn to do it?”

“Yes,” he said. “That’s true. And I am teaching myself to code. But we need to get this done as soon as possible so I need to find someone to work on it now because it could take a year or so before I’m good enough to build it myself.”

This is a very standard response, and it may actually be true for this particular guy. He seemed smart and may end up being successful building this company (I certainly hope so). But what happens to a lot of young entrepreneurs in a rush is that it leads them to ignore doing the one thing that will help them the most: building tangible skills.

They’re so focused on the artificial time constraints they set themselves and so convinced that what they’re currently working on is The Next Big Thing that learning skills like programming or designing or sales or marketing or SEO seems worthless.

I don’t blame them, either. If I actually only had 6 months to get The Next Big Thing off the ground I wouldn’t have bothered learning skills either – it would be a waste of time.

But what the people working on these ideas understand intellectually but not emotionally is that in a world of uncertainty, their special beautiful perfect concept that you need to sign three NDAs to see, will almost certainly fail.

By emotionally understand I mean that they may know intellectually – i.e. from reading, or from hearing stories from other entrepreneurs – that their project has small chances of success. But knowing something intellectually usually has very little bearing on your behavior. When you know something emotionally – like you know that your project is unlikely to succeed because you’ve failed before the ball game becomes different. That kind of knowledge will change your behavior (hopefully).

But, as a young entrepreneur, when you do truly understand that your project has very little chances of success the only thing that becomes valuable is the personal capital you take from it. The only thing that matters is what you learn.

As a good friend of mine used to say, “It’s not really about this project. It’s not even about the next one. It’s about the one you do in five years. It’s about being able to execute perfectly on that one because you’ve done it and failed so many times before.”

In an article called That ‘Big Break’ well-known screenwriter Terry Rossio talks about his experience breaking in to the movie business:

“When I was twenty-one years old, I actually had a pretty brilliant observation. (I remember this observation distinctly, as it stood out in the relative wasteland of stupidity that was my thinking at that age.)

I made the observation that anyone who worked at a job for ten years invariably became an expert at that job. Didn’t matter the person, didn’t matter the field. Grocery clerk, college professor, machinist, airline pilot — after ten years of trying to do something, it seemed like you couldn’t help but end up knowing how to do it…

Since I [was] going to be working and studying screenwriting for ten years, that took some of the pressure off. It doesn’t make sense to kick yourself after failing at something for four years, when the path you’re on is designed to take ten. This allowed a period of time to undertake an analysis and exploration of the business, the techniques, the craft, the history, etc. Step by step, from style to format to character to concept to theme, etc. In other words, we gave ourselves room to practice. And in that practicing, we learned the elements needed to construct a good screen story.”

This passage resonated with me a lot, because it’s the exact opposite of the “rush” mindset. It’s not that Terry Rossio was lazy, or incompetent, or a coward that he didn’t run around at twenty-one trying to sell his script before he graduated college and had to get a “real” job.

It was that he looked at things on such a long time horizon that something like having to get a job to pay the bills didn’t faze him enough to make him “rush.”

And it was precisely because he gave himself the time to become a great screenwriter that he ended up actually creating enough space for himself to build the skills to become one.

If it takes 10 years to learn how to write a great script, what makes us so sure that it doesn’t take 10 years to become a great entrepreneur?

Here’s an interesting – if a bit anecdotal – piece of evidence for the truth of what I’m saying.

Let’s take a look at the current Forbes 30 under 30 – the collection of the “brightest stars” Forbes can find under the age of thirty. Of the people representing the Tech category – one which is supposedly the domain of young hotshots – what do you think the age distribution is?

Half under 25 and half over 25? Nope.

60% over 25 and 40% under 25? Wrong again.

Of the 30 teams of co-founders on the list, only THREE, were composed solely of people under the age of 25. That means that 27 of the 30 or 88% of teams were run by people in at least their mid-twenties.

More tellingly, EIGHTEEN of those teams, or well over half, has at least one co-founder who is 28 or 29.

The verdict: it takes a while to do this stuff. In fact, to build anything valuable will take years. So if you’re young and have no experience, spending 6 months learning skills like programming and design and sales isn’t a waste of time. It’s an investment.

It’s worth looking deeply into why you’re saying things like:

  • I have to raise money before X date
  • I have to get to ramen profitability before I graduate otherwise I’ll have to get a job and shut it down
  • I’ll have to stop working on this and get a job because I don’t want to move in with my parents after I graduate

Sometimes those are real and legitimate concerns. Many parents can’t afford for their newly college graduated kids to move back in with them. Many people don’t have enough savings to give running a company a shot without reaching ramen profitability or raising money fairly quickly.

But for many people those things are just excuses to “rush” around. Do you really have to get a job right away? Or are you just trying to avoid embarrassment at having to move back in with your parents for a little while?

How much do you really want to do this?

And even if you do have to get a job – most of us do at some point – is that really the end of your entrepreneurial career? It’s not like working 9-5 precludes doing a startup.

As Gary Vaynerchuk likes to say: “7 to 2 in the morning is plenty of time to do damage.”

If you have to get a job then try to work for someone you respect who will teach you what you need to know to become a good entrepreneur. Failing that, just become a doorman.

Not to denigrate the work they do – but in the right situation doormen have essentially the perfect occupation for the still-learning entrepreneur. At the right building they are basically paid to sit for long hours behind a desk and occasionally buzz people through or sign someone in.

It’s great because during the time between when you actually have to do things, you can learn skills. You can learn how to code, learn design, or basically hone whatever entrepreneurial skill you need. Obviously actually building a product at your job might be a little sticky – but it’s something you might be able to work out with your employer (I don’t know the intricacies of the doorman profession).

Having to get a job is not an excuse to invent time pressure for yourself to succeed. Your life does not end when you work 9 to 5. It just forces you to manage your time better.

If you’re a young entrepreneur working on a startup I’d encourage you to think to yourself:

If I had 10 years to do this what would I be working on right now?

If I take away all of the external, invented time pressure what kinds of skills would I need to succeed at this long term?

And most importantly:

Why am I in such a rush?

11 Jun 2013, 10:00am | 32 comments

  • http://francispedraza.com Francis Pedraza

    This is awesome. In the marines they have a saying that they use when clearing rooms: slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

    • DanShipper

      Glad you think so! I’ve heard that before, it’s a great saying

    • http://digitaloverflow.net/ Jeremy

      Its also a quote from “Shooter” – one of my favorite movie quotes…applies to dealing with people as well.

      • David Fontenot

        love it.

  • http://www.hypedsound.com/ jonathanjaeger

    Very good points! I think too many people are in search of what can make them an entrepreneur rather than being in search of a passion or market expertise that will cause them to create something. Perhaps on that path they will become an entrepreneur as a consequence of what they built, rather than the other way around.

    Sometimes it kills me when people are trying to be secretive about what they’re working on, when really no one actually cares. I’m facing a relaunch of my product in the next couple months and I had to bring on some freelancers because my skillset doesn’t cover all the bases. To get the best people working on your project, even if you’re paying them a market rate, they still have choices. You have to be super transparent and get people excited to work with you regardless of the money if you want something to be successful (in my opinion).

    • DanShipper

      Great comment. On the passion front definitely check this out, I think it’s really interesting: http://mixergy.com/course-cheat-sheet-what-to-do-with-your-life/

      • http://www.hypedsound.com/ jonathanjaeger

        Ha yeah, I saw that a while back. I think it’s important to enjoy the process, regardless of the industry. But on the same note, it wouldn’t make sense for me to start a fashion ecommerce startup at this point in my life or some niche daily deals site (i.e. don’t chase something because it is or was “in”).

        • DanShipper

          Yes, I agree

  • aboer

    I really liked the first half of this article. I think there tends to be a rush into new sectors that emerge due a natural five year cycle of idea generation/opportunity spotting, technology funding, and then exits. What happens is that the leading company in a seemingly disruptive sector (take for example daily deals) starts to get traction (GroupOn, for example). Their success, after a year or so, leads to some fast followers. After 3-4 years, the company begins a selling process/IPO, and often a disappointed 2nd or third potential buyer (say Amazon) who missed out on the first deal, looks to acquire a similar one (Living Social). There is a 12-18 month window/feeding frenzy and the third and maybe fourth company get exits.After this, anyone who is still in the Daily Deal space who didn’t make an exit is done, and can’t compete against the big players who have now acquired the leaders. A similar phenomenon happens in Hollywood, which is why you have two or three volcano movies that come out in a given year.

    If you don’t want to rush, there is a good argument for starting a business that is *not* disruptive. Disruptive businesses follow this pattern, but if you can start a business that improves marginally on an existing sector, but does not disrupt it, you have more time. (a good example is Withings or Nest, which improve scales and thermostats, but don’t fundamentally change their industries.) I think it is worthwhile to ask yourself as an entrepreneur is the business I am starting, even if it an amazing idea in high demand and people want to fund it, going to be sustainable in 10 years? Because if it disrupts another industry (or appears to) it is likely it will be an acquisition target in five, and you need to hurry.

    PS. I don’t love (actually I hate) the advice of encouraging people to work from 7 to 2am. This works 1) only for 20 somethings who don’t have families. As you point out, they don’t have any experience, and working these hours will get in the way of developing a well rounded life. 2) This will burn you out anyway. Your first business, you likely need to give up more control to get it going, and it will be painful, but you might get rich. Thats life. Your second one, you don’t.

    • DanShipper

      Great comment. I totally agree with the way you laid out the overall lifecycle of companies. I think my point is that as a young entrepreneur with no experience, it’s probably better not to start right at the high pressure “disruptive” company because doing so will force you to “rush” and not allow you to build the skills necessary to actually execute on a disruptive company.

      Also I agree with the PS – but it can be hard to get anything off the ground unless you put in the hours. You don’t have to work 7-2 every night, but you probably will SOME nights.

  • http://www.brennanjp.com/ John Brennan

    Really great post, Dan. Certainly top of mind for me of late.

    • DanShipper

      Glad you liked it John!

  • http://toptestprep.com/ Top Test Prep

    Well said Dan. Great article. We’ve built a company on a traditional model, and loving every second of our slow… but steady growth.

    The team at http://toptestprep.com

    • DanShipper

      Great to hear guys. Good luck with what you’re doing 🙂

  • NetVenturacom

    I think this raises a good point – good things don’t come fast. And in general, if it’s worth doing, it should be worth doing for the long run – not quick exits and claims to fame.

    But I don’t entirely agree with the “no rush” concept.

    Having been in the online industry before the first bubble in 2000 and run numerous businesses, my 15 plus years of experience have not removed the “no rush” factor. I think there will also be a sense of urgency with many companies, particularly in the tech field where technology is so time critical.

    I experience urgency to this day, always have. Whether its to generate $$$ ASAP or to deliver a product at the right time, or simply to learn fast.

    I think most big tech companies build their business on timing. Like Steve Jobs used to say – watch the waves come and know which one to catch, knowing when to go and then making sure they can do it as quickly as possible. Apple would not be where they are now had they not moved quickly on the iPhone and pretty much all their other products, Square will need to move quickly to gain market share to fend of many many many competitors.

    Urgency is real and good, it keeps you motivated, it keeps your targets front of mind. The bigger question is why you are doing this and what you want from it. If it’s quick wins on little experience – good luck.

    • vulgrin

      Agree entirely. And also having gone through that first bubble, we also know that opportunities are NOT limitless – no matter what you tell yourself. I know a lot of pre-bubble folk who had good ideas but then got caught up in the collapse and could never capitalize on those ideas. “Go slow” is the wrong advice. “Timing is everything” is better.

      And for all of the examples of why slow and steady above, there are numerous examples where the opposite was true. Little companies like Facebook, for example. Or even Apple and Microsoft when they started. Everyone likes to look at Apple NOW and talk about how measured and thoughtful they are, and how perfect they are, and completely ignore the vast majority of the company’s history where they WERE a startup and failed miserably.

  • endico

    If RUSH = (GOAL – NOW)
    / TIME then lets RELAKS

    If RUSH ≠ (GOAL – NOW) / TIME then it
    must be a FOOTBALL


    how long it takes to rush?

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  • brettlarkin

    Great reminder. I think without you intending many of your articles are also very zen. A favorite quote/image of mine, whether an entrepreneur or not, is that it’s impossible to rush and be graceful at the same time.

    • DanShipper

      You know I actually had a Zen story in this post at first, but I took it out for brevity. It went like this:

      There was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day, his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.

      “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

      “We’ll see,” the farmer replied.

      The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.

      “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed.

      “We’ll see,” said the farmer.

      The following day, his son tried to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown off, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came over to offer their sympathies to the old farmer.

      “We’ll see,” he said again.

      The after that, military officials came to the village to draft the young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

      “We’ll see,” said the farmer.

      I think having that attitude is key to dealing with startup life. Glad you noticed.

      • David Fontenot

        Three words: it goes on.

  • kenbarlo

    Great article Dan! I really appreciate the completeness, detail and effort that are put into these articles and especially this one.

    • DanShipper

      Really glad you noticed it 🙂

      I hope I can keep it up

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  • Henry

    Good, and thanks for the encouragement, especially since I’ve been at this for exactly ten years now, and fortunately with some tremendous failures behind me for an education. While I haven’t arrived yet, there is no question that my chances are greater now than with the perspective I had when first starting out.

  • http://dailyredesign.com/ dailyredesign

    This hit me right in the gut. I needed it.

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  • Conrad Kleinespel

    Great article, Dan. Thanks for posting.

    I’m 22 right now, so I’m at a time where I think there might not be enough time because of having to get a job sometime, etc, etc. Nevertheless, I think learning about sales could greatly help me.

    I am wondering though. Do you think that doing a first startup is a good enough way to learn sales, through having to try and sell a product in the real world ? I’m torn between starting something and trying to sell it vs. finishing my IT studies, then studying sales for a bit and then starting up.

    Thanks again.

    • DanShipper

      The best way to learn is to start doing it now! You can even finish your IT studies – just do the sales stuff on the site.


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