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Being a Hustler is Not Enough

Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Kevin Swan LinkedIn . Kevin has cut his chops doing product management at before becoming it’s CEO. He moved to the dark side with Cardinal Venture Partners and is now a Principal at iNovia Capital.   Thankfully he is an MBA dropout and that’s why we like him. This post was originally published on April 2, 2013.

Often the startup community attaches itself to buzzwords. We all know them. Growth hacker, lean, gamification, pivot, MVP, viral, ninja, disruptive, etc. I, and you, have been guilty of using them. These terms are not bad by nature and most have real meaning behind them. However, often they start becoming ubiquitous terms that lose their meaning and are sensualized by those using them. I have a new one to add to the list – Hustler.

U can't knock da HUSTLEWe all know the Hustler. Relentless in connecting with people, customers, partners, investors, etc. Always at every event, following up on every lead and never taking no for an answer. You give them a lead and they turn it into ten new opportunities for their business. They will iterate through their MVP (whoops, I just used a buzzword) 20 times to reach product-market fit if they have to. They never give up and their tenacity is off the charts.

Like most buzzwords, they start off with good intentions. There is nothing wrong with the Hustler. In fact, I wouldn’t want to invest in, or work with, anyone that doesn’t hustle! But, being a Hustler is not necessarily going to lead to success on its own. In fact, it can have the counter effect of resulting in a very inefficient way of building a company.

The entrepreneurs that I have come to truly respect and admire have a characteristic that hustle can’t replace. The only problem is I don’t yet have a buzzword to describe so I will just use this:

savvy /?sav?/ : having or showing perception, comprehension, or shrewdness especially in practical matters

The best entrepreneurs have an amazing ability to navigate a startup through all the ups and downs, risks and opportunities and challenges it encounters. They are never caught off-guard by a development and always have a plan B. They can spot opportunities and paths to take that most can’t. Having an engineering background I often think about making things efficient. Savvy entrepreneurs are just that – efficient. Where a pure hustler is running around trying ten different approaches to a problem the savvy entrepreneur has a calculated plan that nails it in the first couple attempts. The savvy entrepreneur uses their time, relationships and public appearances very stringently. They don’t take a ‘throw it at the wall and see what sticks’ approach. They are thinking three steps ahead all the time. They know the next steps they have to take and aggressively push forward.

In my experiences these entrepreneurs are not that common. If the low costs, low barriers to entry and ability to iterate quickly have had one negative effect it is the belief that a successful startup can be the result of a bunch of experiments and hustle. Sure this works sometimes, the startup world is built on outliers. But, these are just that – outliers. The majority of successful companies are built by savvy entrepreneurs who know their domains, have an unfair advantage and are always three steps ahead of everyone else.

  1. Kevin, I could not agree more with that. Possibly because of my own engineering background, I tend to analyse each “hustle” as a balance of payoff vs. effort – aren’t we all efficiency-fanatics.

    However, let’s not forget that successful startups always are made up of a team, ideally orthogonal, complementary gifted entrepreneurs that a) hustle, b) are extremely, unfairly, ridiculously well connected in the domain they operate in, and c) are savvy enough to spot both opportunities and risk. If I see a team of two or three ‘treps that have all these, I am truly impressed.

  2. This article makes a common mistake of confusing ‘efficiency’ with ‘effectiveness’. Entrepreneurs must be effective first, then they can worry about being efficient. Example: is it better to spend a day devising an efficient system to contact 100 leads, or better to focus on contacting your top 10 prospects today? The successful entrepreneur focuses on effectiveness first, and efficiency second. Efficiency is required if one is doing something many times over, and maximizing resources for a system/process that is already effective.

    Hustling is not usually efficient or effective. Though we can give the hustler props for being persistent, unless they effectively drive sales or build brand integrity, they are likely wasting time.

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