Hustle isn’t just the difference between good and great: for start-ups, it’s the difference between existence and non-existence, between “good enough” and “gone”. Companies in an industry will experience roughly the same degree of luck. Hustle is what makes the most out of good luck and sidesteps and perseveres through the worst luck. HQ, your Hustle Quotient, is how effectively you leverage your IQ and EQ. Hustle is a resource available to all, and this article explains 6 ways to increase your startup’s HQ. The article also explains the interaction of HQ with social, financial and human capital; and in what way HQ supports anti-fragile companies. Concepts are illustrated via examples from history and industry.
In my experience, one factor — a factor available to anyone — opens the door to success for startups: Hustle — the difference between existence and non-existence. Hustle has to be your guiding compass.
Your organization’s HQ, its Hustle Quotient, measures your perseverance and resourcefulness. HQ is how effectively you leverage your IQ and EQ.
It’s not new. Here’s a life-and-death example of HQ outside the realm of this century’s technology startups. More than 100 years ago Amundsen and Scott led two separate expeditions in a race to be the first to reach the South Pole. Presumably, their goal was to also return from the expedition. Amundsen reached the pole first, and he returned with every member of his expedition. Scott and his entire team perished and likely did not reach their goal. The difference in outcome — existence vs. non-existence — boils down to hustle.
Amundsen insisted on 20 miles a day, no matter the conditions, and he never went more that 20 even in great conditions. Scott rested on bad days and covered as much ground as possible on good days. Both teams had roughly the same conditions, but their outcomes were vastly different. Amundsen covered twice as much ground — returning from the expedition. Existence vs. non-existence.
Amundsen had broad contingency plans — literally. He carried three times the supplies that he calculated were needed, and he marked the caches with a 10km band of flags so he wouldn’t miss them. Scott carried the exact amount needed, and planted a single flag for each. Amundsen’s team was fed; Scott’s experienced starvation. Existence vs. non-existence.
Amundsen researched how the Inuit lived in order to understand the problems he would encounter. Scott knew how to use horses, so he used horses—which were not able to survive the conditions.
Three HQ lessons from these expeditions:
- Persevere through periods of bad conditions
- Contingency plans enable you to persevere
- Understand the problems before you choose your solution
A start-up adventure has striking similarities to the Antarctic expeditions, though not that fatal consequences of failure. There are many unknowns, but a bright north star: becoming a billion-dollar company. Startup companies have, on average, similar resources and luck. Hustle is what you make of the good luck, and how you persevere during the bad. Contingency planning gives you the backup you need to survive when the goal takes so much longer to reach than you expected, to endure during the bad luck, and as you navigate the unknowns. In a startup, you can’t dream in a vacuum — you have to address how to solve a real problem. Just as Amundsen created solutions correct for Antarctic conditions, startups must understand the market needs, headwinds, and pinpoints. Outcomes are also similar: existence or non-existence.
Here’s a Hustle example from the technology world: Imagine Larry Page steps on the elevator with you. You could be immediately star-struck and ask for an autograph, while expressing admiration for his accomplishments. Or you could engage him in a conversation that shows off your chops: “BTW I was at the GoogleNext conference last month, and it brought home to me that Google is really giving AWS a run for the money.” Larry is now compelled to say, politely, “Oh, thanks. So, what is it you do (that brought you to the conference)?” You use your HQ to deliver an answer gets his interest, and he agrees to connect with you. Now, although you don’t have an autograph, you do have potential to establish a relationship with Google. This IQ leveraged by hustle.
Anyone and any organization can have hustle. It is a renewable resource with no marginal cost.
So how do you get that hustle, or evaluate your HQ?
- Force yourself into uncomfortable situations, outside your comfort zone. Such as promoting your company even when it feels unbearably awkward.
- Work on things that truly move the company forward. For example, making 20 prospect calls. You’ll probably have to be uncomfortable — overcoming the feeling of failure that prospecting often brings, which is really overcoming yourself.
- Hire people with high HQ. Make HQ central to the interview. What have you done outside your comfort zone, or that’s risky, or leaps into the unknown. You must hire the hustle mindset and behavior, not the job skill set.
- Create a culture of tinkering. The route to success is faster if you try over and over, experimenting and learning until you find solutions.
- Create options where none exist. If you are prospecting, and get no response, what do you do? High HQ people brainstorm on how to get a response. Who else could reach my prospect? How can I get near my prospect? How can I create more prospects?
- Do not accept binary outcomes. You reached your prospect and delivered your most persuasive arguments, yet you got turned down. Don’t react as if the outcome is Yes or No. You got a No to your offer, so now you ask “What happened? Why not? What would have led to Yes? Who do you know who might want to use us?” Answers to any of those questions put you far ahead of where you were after No.
High HQ teams make more of their startup capital. Startup capital is the combination of your social, human, and financial capitals. Financial capital is your buffer for hard times. Human capital is the skills and experience you collectively have. And social capital is your network in the industry you are in. Hustle makes you assess what you can do with your capital. How many people in cloud computing do you know, or how many people in your network know people in cloud computing? What are the gaps in your network? How will you fill those in? Our human world operates within clans or tribes. Hustle is identifying groups that are critical to your success, making sure you invest time and energy in becoming an integral part of them and using them effectively.
As you apply your elevated HQ to your organization, keep your scope broad. Company building is not product building. Product is only one of the variables to manage. The others include finance, advisors, investors, co-founders, talent customers, legal, HR, and partners. Some of these you can select based on their HQ. Some, like co-founders, advisors, and partners, will complement what you do, filling in for your organization’s gaps. It’s all about existence or non-existence.
This manifesto is a result of my constant research into what drives success. I’ll share my reading list with anyone who reaches out to me.
About Asim Razzaq
Asim co-founded YotaScale to bring his expertise in large scale, mission-critical, cloud infrastructure management to companies beginning to use cloud services as well as those that are well on their way.
Asim holds a BS (Honors) degree in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin where he conducted research in distributed computing and large scale infrastructure sponsored by IBM Research. He is a published author in the field of computer science in the area of resource management for large scale, distributed systems.
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