An Open Appeal to Grit, and Why Lack of it Will Kill Your Startup

In Revenue Capital

“Hustle porn.” “Toil glamour.” “Work martyrdom.” In the last decade, the pendulum has shifted dramatically from what used to be a ubiquitous startup badge of honor – grit. Does it sometimes manifest itself in harmful ways? Absolutely. But that’s life. It’s common for good things to become overdone and they suddenly become very bad things. However, in the acknowledgment of this, the corresponding pendulum seems to have swung drastically in the other direction, so much so that even the baseline of hard work that was so common amongst ‘great’ founders has often become a damning trait.

Don’t fall victim to this guilt train.

If you are the founder of a startup, hard work is required. Struggle is required. In fact, these grit derivatives go hand in hand with the other big trend is business these days: capital efficiency. The fundamental choice every founder is making daily remains, ‘what do I do with the next dollar?’ For founders that have embraced the tremendous value of grit, the answer to that question is never clear until they have squeezed at least 120% of the value out of every existing resource. This, however, flies in the face of today’s prevailing narrative.

Don’t let it.

It’s not a crime to ask for more. It’s not crossing the line to set audacious goals and stick to them. In fact, that’s hopefully what prompted you to begin this journey in the first place – doing the hard thing. And yet, we see this far too often when evaluating potential investments. A founder’s assumptions of ‘too much’ prevent teams from even achieving ‘good enough.’

What this looks like in practice is, in my option, crazy stuff. For example, asking a team what they think a timeline should be and then taking that deadline at face value. As a CEO it’s your job to challenge your leaders and teams to push harder, to deliver this quarter what may be comfortably done the next. Or it’s adding more and more tools the minute someone gripes about the pain of a manual process. Sometimes pain is just part of the job. Once you’ve solved for it with hard work and hit the goal, then and only then, is it time to present the reward of automation.

Don’t be afraid to embrace struggle.

Struggle makes its alleviation all the sweeter. You’ll never get the chance to paint the target of startup culture as effectively as in those early days, when you carve out its true DNA. Now is the time to say what you want – not after you’ve built a team around false pretenses that don’t align to your true wants. Demand excellence. And surround yourself with others willing to do the same. There will never be a more competitive advantage than establishing a culture for your team where the expectation is that everyone asks more of themselves, they are never quite comfortable with where they are, and they always strive for more.

Don’t go gentile into that good night.

Grit, determination, and drive are really. Good. Things. For the founders we invest in, they’re table stakes.  Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and position it synonymously with overwork, that’s a cop out. Because for every 100 organizations willing to pull back in the name of ‘work/life balance’, there’s one out there who understands that work is a part of life. And when you work hard at something you love, life gets exponentially better.