Ahh, Delightful Dull Work
So, you’ve got a great startup idea. If you can just build it, they will come, right? All you need to do is take your baby to a startup accelerator, develop and refine your product, then sit back while the term sheets come flying in. Not so fast. While only the crazies might think launching a company is that easy, the willingness to work through the sometimes inexhaustible problems that will arise often separates the wide-eyed dreamers from the life-long entrepreneurs.
It’s not all coding and design, folks
Even with best ideas–the greatest software–startup success means a lot of unpleasant tasks need to get done. Behind big buyout or VC funding headlines, a lot of unglamorous work takes place. Marketing might sound like a distraction to the hacker turning CEO, but it doesn’t matter how great your product is if you don’t have a plan for people finding out about you. Then there’s all those other pesky details of business development to fret over–winning reference accounts, blog and media reviews, growing customers, lots of phone calls, lots of meetings. Secondary concerns?
Not if you ask Paul Graham. Programmer, venture capitalist, essayist, he’s also a co-founder of the Y Combinator, a seed accelerator. Graham likes to use the Yiddish term schlep when referring to carrying out all the tedious, difficult tasks along the startup journey. Speaking from experience, he says, “…schleps are not merely inevitable, but pretty much what business consists of. A company is defined by the schleps it will undertake.”
The value of difficult work
There are some benefits to embracing schlep besides solid but hokey old-timer wisdom. Choosing to tackle difficult problems, founders will find fewer competitors trying to solve the same problem. The challenges will frighten away the lazy or less committed.
Think of how many startups are trying to create platforms for sharing music or videos. Everyone wants in. Because the process and end product are fun! Anyone out there trying to build an app for bypassing the automated answering system of banks or utility companies? (Just remember where you read the idea first, hotshots.) I’m willing to bet the number is small, in the ballpark of zero. That pitch for the later product is a lot more difficult to make. Success would require complex negotiations with other companies, regulations to sort through. Not much fun.
Staking a new claim
Life has a way of making many problems easy to spot. Most of us probably have at least one to do list that we can’t ever hope to fully cross off. Why add more troubles? Well, trying to spot problems early can save time. Learning to locate ugly obstacles can also lead to new insights. Graham recommends asking yourself, “What problem do I wish some one would solve for me?” The answer to that question just might point the way to opportunity–a challenge that you need to buckle down and work on.
Can ignorance truly be bliss?
One explanation for the youth of so many successful startup entrepreneurs is that they have yet to learn firsthand how difficult success is to come by. Because they can’t foresee all the roadblocks they’ll encounter, young founders dive into projects fearlessly. That sort of boldness is worth holding onto. It’s when the schlep becomes heavy, boring, hard, that it’s time to summon a different boldness–the stubbornness to simply show up and make sure the chores get done.