Thousands of Small Conversations Yielded 4 Big Keys to Success
Each day at The Hustle, my team sends a daily news email to more than a million people, most of whom either run their own businesses, have side hustles that make meaningful money or are shot-callers at their companies.
As a result, we hear back from thousands of users who generously share their opinions, struggles, questions and successes with us. I find these conversations to be extremely valuable, and they’re always full of actionable lessons. Here are four that come up the most often and are worth passing along:
1. A lack of focus is a dream killer.
One of the most common problems I hear from users is that they’re unsatisfied with their direction. Projects have stalled or their companies aren’t experiencing the kind of growth they’d like to see. When we dig a bit deeper, we often learn that many of these entrepreneurs have three or four projects going at once. They also tell us that they want to build a big business, live a specific life or have more time to focus on what they love.
Despite these big goals, some are attempting half a dozen projects at once -- even people who started a company recently. They have their new main company, their old company,, plus a side hustle on top of all that. In most cases, that's a horrible idea.
Steve Jobs famously used to ask employees, “What have you said ‘no’ to today?” It was his way to remind employees to focus on singular, completable tasks. Focusing means saying no to nearly everything. Most businesses will take longer than you expect and cost more than you were planning. This makes focus incredibly challenging, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is.
The most successful people I’ve ever met have laser focus. And the common thread among people who are unsatisfied in life? Scattered effort. If you have a dream that you want to make a reality, not only should you be laser-focused on that goal, but you should ruthlessly avoid everything else.
2. Save your money until it hurts -- then save some more.
The Hustle’s readers are generally high-earning. One survey we ran showed that nearly one in three people, for one reason or another, have no idea how much they spend every month. That finding was mind-boggling to me. Why? Because being an entrepreneur means being willing, and able, to take calculated risks. To do that you have to know your monthly burn so you have enough personal runway to take the leap.
The first thing I tell anyone who wants to start a company is to figure out their burn and try to have at least 12 months saved up. In my opinion, if you’re starting a company the ideal number is 36 months.
Many people can’t pull that off, and I get it. It’s a lot. And quite hard. One of my favorite independent financial writers once wrote that you should save until it hurts. And then save some more. You need to get disciplined about saving. Otherwise, you can’t take the risks needed to succeed.
3. Silicon Valley is absolutely overrated.
I started The Hustle in San Francisco, the city I’ve lived in for more than six years. I love a lot about this city. But because we have readers around the world, I also talk to a lot of people outside of Silicon Valley. These readers often ask us if they should move to Silicon Valley to start their company or work at a hip startup.
If you’re looking to start a career and build a network, living in San Francisco can absolutely give you a leg up. There are so many incredible companies here, the talent pool is deep, and the average person is open to new product ideas.
But, after you have some roots, I suggest that people get out as fast as they can. Once you have a good network in place, you can leverage that from just about anywhere. Why pay the ultra-high cost of living?
I like San Francisco, but it’s not a deal breaker if you live elsewhere. I’ve met hundreds of amazing entrepreneurs leading fantastic tech companies that are booming far away from the Bay Area, and I sometimes think people outside of San Francisco just seem happier. There are places that are cheaper, cleaner and where you don’t have to deal with a lot of self-aggrandizing bull. It can certainly be an advantage to be a big fish in a smaller pond.
4. Don’t fall for awards or PR spin -- most of it is bull.
I’ve talked to dozens of people you’ve never heard of who run businesses that make tens of millions a year in cash. These businesses are bootstrapped, get little PR, and aren’t sexy. Some of these businesses are in the internet world. Others are just old-school service businesses that quietly print cash. They don’t get tons of press, but you’d never call them failures because of that.
When judging the success of a business, revenue, profit and how well they’re serving their customers are the top attributes. However, the majority of the top “30 under 30” awards or “people to watch” lists have little to do with those important metrics. They have to do with who you know or how cool you look. That’s it.
At previous Hustle Cons, we’ve had had many speakers who were all over the place for these awards. Sure, they may have been on the cover of magazines and speaking at conferences, but their businesses started and died in under a decade.
Press and awards are nice, but they often have little to do with success. Take them with a grain of salt. In fact, ignore them.
The bottom line.
Look, you can throw a rock down Market Street and hit someone willing to share unsolicited entrepreneurial advice. But I’ve paid special attention to the above lessons because they come up time and time again, and I hear them from thousands of people who’ve connected with my team over the years.
The punchline is this: it’s really all about keeping your head down, staying focused and not overextending yourself. Ignore everything else.