Relax. Startup Success Has Nothing To Do With Hard Work

By Joe Procopio

Instead of grinding every day, here are seven areas to focus on

I recently had a long conversation with a founder friend who had worked herself to the edge of burnout. A yearlong period of slow growth and stagnation had left her frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give up.

As a startup founder, executive, and adviser over two decades, I can totally relate. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been racing toward the brick wall of mental and physical collapse — brought on by the mantra of winning by working harder than everyone else.

Along the way, though, I learned that there’s a huge difference between creating a culture of hard work and creating a culture of results. So before you start making ill-advised pivots borne out of mental desperation, ask yourself which of those two outcomes you’re chasing.

Because one is a path up, the other is a spinning wheel.

Hard work has its limitations

I’m not here to downplay the importance of hard work in the startup world; quite the opposite. Hard work is the minimum requirement for a startup to keep its doors open. New businesses often fail when their leadership just assumes that things will just work out in their favor.

What I want to make perfectly clear, however, is the fact that hard work alone won’t make your startup successful. This is the trap I see a lot of entrepreneurs fall into after they get their first taste of success. The belief is that they worked very hard to get where they are, and working even harder will get them even farther.

But here’s the thing: A startup doesn’t get paid for mastering a commodity, a startup gets paid for harnessing innovation.

Hard work should be reserved for short bursts of mitigation

In every business, new and old, there will always be outlier events that threaten to wrestle defeat from the jaws of victory. It could be a competitor you didn’t see coming, a large customer prospect overstating your chances of getting their business, or your best employee going to work for someone else for more money.

All of these things hurt, and all of them will require your company to scramble to stay afloat, let alone get ahead. But all of those events were already disasters waiting to happen. When you’re heads down all the time, you aren’t being preventative about catching those events and mitigating them. In fact, you’re pretty much asking for them.

Long term, your strategy should be to perpetually reduce the likelihood of catastrophic events and the hard work needed to fix them. Here are seven recommendations I make to every new startup leader (and some of the old ones), to keep their head level until they need to push the emergency button.

1. Build a great team and delegate

It’s the death spiral phenomenon: We’re working too hard to take the time to hire, we’re moving too fast to take the time to delegate, and we end up in a spiral of more and more work until the whole system comes crashing down on us.

A great team is the primary factor in your investability, productivity, and eventual success. Don’t waste this opportunity because you’re working too hard to focus on it.

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