“A lot of being a successful CEO is to not quitting. It sounds almost corny. Winners never quit and quitters never win.”Ben Horowitz
Here’s the truth. Overnight successes sell news stories but in reality, there is no such thing as an overnight success. That overnight success you just read about on techcrunch.com took years and years of tinkering to find the breakthrough. In everything I have read about becoming a master or building something world-class, the statistics show – the longer the master stuck with it the greater their odds were for success.
I am proud to say, this year will mark my fifth year working on roomhints.com. I get asked all the time about my perseverance story I have summed up four steps that helped me to never quit on reaching my dreams.
1/ Find Your Obsession.
Passions are really in vogue these days but it’s more than about just finding your passion. Passions to me are like trends, they come and go, obsessions stick. You need to find your obsession. Personally, I am passionate about startups, fashion, interior design, graphic design, climbing, programming, traveling, and find new passions daily. But to understand if something is just a passion or an obsession I ask myself, and test, whether I would spend 10+ hours per day working within that “passion” for years to come. If I can, then that passion has turned to an obsession.
Your obsession will take over your mind. You will get stuck thinking through problems and the problem becomes one with you that you don’t want to think about anything else.
Drew Houston, the founder of Dropbox, mentions in his 2013 commencement speech for MIT, that as soon as he threw a tennis ball, his childhood dog would run like Usain Bolt. “It’s that obsession, find a problem that really pulls you like that.” Once you find a problem that pulls you – you will never quit!
Alex Honnold is a world-class climber and the first to solo climb El Capitan. That’s climbing a mountain without ropes or any safety gear – absolutely INSANE. If you have time watch the video here — it’s beyond impressive. But how did he become the best free solo climber in the world? Alex found his obsession and never quit. He realized in his early 20’s he could not live without climbing and with that, he climbed almost every day for a decade before his world record climb on El Capitan. To prepare for El Capitan he spent a year climbing the route with ropes. He was so obsessed with conquering this goal that one of his friends made molds of the holds as handles for his fridge and oven, so that each time he opened them he was practicing the hand position. By the time he went to free solo El Capitan, he had every move memorized down to the exact science.
2/ To Never Quit, Build Your Endurance.
“We will make it because we are young and we will never, never give up.”Alibaba Founder, Jack Ma.
To never quit, you need to have the endurance to put in the work for a long time. Alex’s ability to diligently climb El Captain almost every single day for a whole year before free soloing takes great mental focus, discipline, and strength.
“Everybody wants to reach the peak, but there is no growth on the top of a mountain. It is in the valley that we slog through the lush grass and rich soil, learning and becoming what enables us to summit life’s next peak.”Andy Andrews
Your true grit and obsession are tested during this endurance phase. Will you give up when things get tough? Or when things get really tough? When everything falls apart and you hit rock bottom… oh wait that was not rock bottom, this is rock bottom. Can you pick yourself up each time to realize that you have an even bigger mountain to climb than you thought?
Here are a few things that I find helpful to build endurance.
b. Celebrate the small successes and
c. Take breaks/walk away.
a. Confidence: You have to have confidence in yourself. It sounds like something your kindergarten teacher tells you, but when things fail over and over, it’s easy to build self-doubt. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and those that do not. Some days those that do not believe in you will give you that fight — that fire in your gut that gets you back on your feet and reminds you of your confidence in yourself.
b. Celebrate the small successes: Getting to that final destination is a series of steps. Celebrate each step and be mindful of the journey.
It can be really tough to celebrate the small successes because all you want are the big successes. The $$$ customer, close your VC round or huge growth. But these big successes do not happen without the small steps along the way. For Alex Honnold, he could celebrate conquering those tough individual moves that were essential steps before conquering his free solo climb.
Here are a few small things we celebrated at roomhints.com
- The app did not crash this week
- Setting up a nicely designed Facebook and Twitter page
- Our first review on the iTunes store
- Designer signed up and is excited about the service
- The whole team is still excited/motivated to work on this project
- The computer vision search engine worked!
- We all wore the same color purple pants to work
c. Take breaks/walk away: Ok, so this one is really really really really important. When it gets really tough, walk away for a day. Take a trip. Shut off your phone. Get some mental space. You will come back with new energy and clarity. This is super important — don’t be afraid to walk away.
3/ Learn to be Patient.
In startup life, you are making a bet on the future. You have no control over how close or far that future will present itself. If it presents itself at all… But if you are confident in your vision and that it will be the future one day, it’s worth it to be patient.
“You are building a tremendous amount of knowledge about the company, the market, the customer and the product. The longer you have to apply that the better your chances are. If you can somehow stay in the box, then, amazingly, you might find yourself in a good position.”Ben Horowitz.
With Alex Honnold (the crazy incredible climber who free soloed El Capitan that I mentioned above), he had no control over when he would be mentally and physically ready to solo El Capitan. The longer he had to train and prepare the better his chances were at succeeding and if he went before he was ready he was putting his life in danger. He had to be patient with his progress and trust that one day he would be ready. In addition to himself physically and mentally being ready there were many factors out of his control. For example rainfall, temperature or winds. Waiting for the right time of year and day to climb led to his success as well. He optimized time for his success.
Jeff Bezos eludes to this same logic. Give yourself time to succeed. Be patient with time.
“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon, we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow — and we’re very stubborn.” “We’ve had three big ideas at Amazon that we’ve stuck with for 18 years, and they’re the reason we’re successful: Put the customer first. Invent. And be patient.”Jeff Bezos
4/ Trust Your Vision.
Around 2010, Hayneedle and Wayfair (two online e-commerce sites that sell furniture) attended the largest North American furniture mart in High Point North Carolina. Hayneedle and Wayfair both were looking for furniture vendors to sell their products via e-commerce on their marketplaces. At this time this was a really crazy idea. So crazy that 98% of the furniture vendors they talked to said: “no, we do not do e-commerce.” I bet those same vendors feel differently today. Today Wayfair is a public company with a market cap of $7 billion and Hayneedle was acquired by jet.com.
Wayfair trusted their vision of the future, stuck with it and to date are the largest online retailer with revenues of over $2 billion, and a market cap of over $7 billion. They out beat all those that doubted e-commerce.
Therefore – seriously just never quit. Work hard to find your obsession, build your endurance, be patient and trust that everything will work out.
Go work hard, never quit and conquer your wildest dreams!