In entrepreneurship, patience isn’t just a virtue; it’s a requirement
I sat there, mouth agape, as my mind slowly attempted to process the news. The man on the screen — an expert for a third-party team I hire — had shattered the one assumption that had carried me this far into the new venture. Sadly, he wasn’t kidding, and what’s worse: He was right.
As entrepreneurs — especially those of us with years of running multiple ventures and a few wins under our belts — we sometimes misremember (or perhaps block out) certain stages of the business-building process.
Ironically, it isn’t the most jarring, heartbreaking, and traumatic stages we suppress. Those are all quite fresh in my brain, even if they’re a decade old and many ventures removed.
- For example, the day my entire company’s marketing channel got wiped out, taking all our data and $30k/month ad spend with it. Ouch.
- Likewise, there was the time I found out my nonresponsive talent partner was officially a fugitive on the run, then in police custody in another country, and jailed, with the money he stole untraceable and long gone. Yep, I remember him well.
- Oh, and of course there was the time my company’s site crashed hours before a promotion that was going straight into over 400,000 of our target customers’ inboxes. I can feel the elevated cortisol like it was yesterday, along with the undying gratitude when our developer swooped in and saved us at the last minute, before the traffic began.
Point being, we all remember the lowlights (our scars) and highlights (our battle-won victories) pretty well, and those seem to be the primary data points that mark our startup journeys. What we forget, however, is actually the phase that preceded most of those lows and highs, and it’s that forgotten phase that’s arguably the most painful, yet simultaneously the most necessary and hardest to revisit.
This is the one piece of entrepreneurship that our connections and resourcefulness can’t necessarily solve. In my case, it took a third party expert to reveal to me my selective amnesia and expose the privilege to which I’ve accidentally become accustom. Sometimes success makes us soft, and if you’re an entrepreneur a few years removed from starting a new venture from scratch, you may be in for a rude awakening.
Lately, there’s been a theme among some very successful entrepreneurs who’ve been recounting their journeys, and it hadn’t really sunk in until I was back in those early-stage shoes. That theme isn’t warning aspiring founders of how hard the journey will be, nor how expensive, unlikely to succeed, and laced with inevitable failures and errors. We all know that.
Instead, the theme has been to warn entrepreneurs about these secrets that are often suffered in silence, then swept under a rug we never revisit:
- Sluggish progress
If you read anything in TechCrunch, listen to a VC-funded founder interview, or dive into the culture of what it’s like building or working in Silicon Valley, you’re sure to find yourself immersed in optimism, enthusiasm, and excitement. The Theranos-syndrome is real. By “Theranos-syndrome”, I mean the projection that every stage of bringing your idea to life is exciting, surprising, innovative, and revolutionary. Each task feels like monumental progress, and the impacts are palpable.
I call B.S. Seriously, let me do you a favor and call B.S. on all of the above in that glorified Hollywood-glamorized fairy tale of “startups”.
You know what you never see?
- 16 hours of straight coding or no-code building (for days on end)
- 1,000 cold calls or manual cold emails or DMs (that week)
- 100’s of hours of keyword and competitor research, backlink cultivating, and tens of thousands of words of SEO content engineering
You never see the thankless, faceless, often mind-numbing and eye-drying, headache-inducing work that makes a founder question their sanity, punish their wandering brain, and lambaste their fingers for not working faster. This is the phase that led me to impatiently ask myself — well, the third-party expert: “Is there really no shortcut?”
Being an entrepreneur, many of us are all about the (legal and ethical) shortcuts that make us feel like resourceful magicians. For example:
- We automate digital marketing to make it scale so we can send millions of emails without lifting a finger.
- We integrate with plugins that make our products onboard customers and sometimes provide services without a single human involved.
- We find cheaper, faster, more convenient ways to make our business run smoothly, like a passive, well-oiled machine we can oversee from afar, while tweaking to accelerate growth and improve outcomes.
We, however, keep our hands far away from getting dirty on a day-to-day basis. That’s building a successful, scalable business…right? Wrong. That’s simply what we remember once we’ve forgotten the tedious grind that preceded that traction, scale, and success.
With my first tech startup, I somehow suppressed the countless hours over months spent bug-testing and QA-ing the app — though many 15–25 page bug-laden fix requests emailed to my developers offer tangible evidence.
With this new venture, however, I found myself shamefully feeling as if something must be wrong if these tedious, mind-numbing tasks are gracing my desk, compromising my time. It’s not that I’ve felt above these tasks, but I simply assumed — with great conviction — that of course, there has to be a better, faster, cheaper way. I figured I must be working hard, but not smart, and I simply need to find the better path. Unfortunately, sometimes that isn’t the case; sometimes the tedium, the boredom, the white-knuckling, and the slow, seemingly thankless grind is necessary.
It’s easy to assume that working smart means automating away, delegating, or outsourcing every less-than-exciting task. While you can automate, delegate, and outsource many things — and sometimes you can choose to pay away most of the tedium, boredom, and annoyances — you can’t likely avoid them 100%.
There are some tasks that no matter how much you delegate, they will require an additional set of eyes, and you may just find that you’re that bottleneck.
For the first time in years, I’m realizing and remembering that getting to the traction, growth, and success phase from the seedling can require months of the mundane, and it’s truly humbling and testing. Strategizing and big-picture planning may be fun, but some aspects of execution just aren’t glamorous. Nonetheless, it’s stacking those microscopic building blocks and making the millimeters of progress that eventually will sculpt that long-term vision.
The hardest part isn’t doing boring things; it’s doing boring things without the regular and immediate reinforcement of revenue and profits. The hard part for those of us used to seeing leads and sales and upgrades as barometers of progress is to painstakingly stay the course in the absence of those instant rewards. Sometimes success makes us forget just how long, slow, and impatient that come-up felt when we return to the drawing board to build from the ground up.
However, here are a few reminders to help us keep the faith:
Can you wait 9 years?
I know a $200M+ founder and entrepreneur who spent the first 9 years building his app before making a livable wage on it. Year 9 was the tipping point, and he only had to wait months before that “livable wage” surpassed 7 figures. If he couldn’t stick out those first 9 years, he never would have reached that tipping point.
Can you wait 1 year?
I know an entrepreneur couple who both spent hours every single day for a full year working on a project that didn’t make a dime (until then), painstakingly building every microscopic piece without delegating a thing. Year two was their tipping point, and they’ve since created a 7-figure passive income machine that requires at most a few hours a week and is fully outsourced. Without the suck of year one, they never would have seen those 7-figure passive inflows.
Can you wait 6 months?
Years ago, I spent months and countless hours in the trenches on an uncertain venture, doing what felt like pointless, menial tasks. Those tasks built a product I’ve been able to sell thousands of times, for years, passively making more money than many full-time jobs and more active businesses. I may have mentally blocked out those tedious months of building, but I haven’t blocked out the months of record-breaking revenue they’ve generated.
As an entrepreneur, the last thing I — and I assume you — want to hear is to be patient. We don’t want to be patient; we want to find the solution to go faster. We’re problem-solvers, and at face value, slow progress feels inefficient and subpar. Nonetheless, successful entrepreneurship requires having the mental stamina, fortitude, faith, and conviction to push through those slow, tedious periods, loyal to our ultimate vision.