We were literally down to our last dollar. In fact, truth be told, we didn’t even have a dollar.
Times were so tough that every week I had to get down on my hands and knees and beg our investors for enough money to cover payroll and basic expenses.
It was humiliating. It was painful beyond belief. And it was absolutely what I had to do.
Or maybe it was the time, early on in my company’s existence, when my two cofounders “Jim” and “John” quit the company right before we were about to be funded. Jim and John then stole the company’s IP (down to the slide deck we were using to raise money) and left me for dead.
Or maybe it was the time the Great Recession hit right in the middle of our initial fundraising efforts. Silicon Valley was effectively shut down for close to one year. And someway, somehow, we had to make it through the abyss.
Or maybe it was the time one of our investors blocked every term sheet we received for reasons to this day I don’t fully understand. The investor was literally cutting his own throat. We had no money, and it looked like we were going to have to shut the company down.
Or maybe it was the time one of our manufacturing partners had a quality problem that potentially was going to stop us from shipping.
Okay. Enough already. You get the idea.
There are a lot of things that stand in the way of succeeding in a startup. And there are a lot of things that stand in the way of you succeeding in life.
The only things that gets you through the tough times is determination, belief, and (most importantly) grit.
Why is grit so important?
You will not get through the tough times without grit. And there are always tough times running a startup.
What is grit?
Grit is the passion and perseverance to achieve your goals over a very long time. Grit is stamina.
Grit is living life like it is a marathon and not a sprint.
Grit is getting back up every time you are knocked down. Every. Single. Time.
The defining moment for my “grittiness” came during my junior year of college.
I was an Electrical Engineering major. There were roughly 200 of us at the beginning of my junior year.
The first quarter was the toughest quarter. We had four EE courses, back to back every Tuesday and Thursday:
- Third Year Calculus. I still remember it today. The course was taught by Dr. Lewak. This was the weed-out course.
- Stochastic Processes. This beauty was taught by Dr. Helstrom. My memory of this course is that it was very theoretical…and tough.
- Analog IC Design. Taught by Dr. Coles. This was my favorite class, but it wasn’t easy. Coles was tough.
- Queuing Theory. I can’t remember who the teacher was. It was another theoretical course.
The worst part was that each course had homework due every Tuesday. That meant you usually didn’t sleep Monday night.
All-nighters were the norm during my junior year. It was nothing a lot of coffee and No-doze wouldn’t cure.
Oh, and I haven’t even gotten to the tests. The tests were brutal.
I remember in my senior year giving copies of my tests, with my answers, to a junior. The scores were in the range of 40% or so.
“Dude,” the junior said to me. “I’m sorry.”
Little did he know those were some of the best scores in the class! Thank goodness the tests were graded on a curve or everyone would have failed.
I grew my hair really long and I had a beard. I remember calling my Mom up before I came home for Thanksgiving and telling her, “Mom, I have a beard.”
“Shave it!” Mom said to me.
I didn’t shave my beard or cut my hair.
My mantra was, “I can do anything if I can get through this.”
It was brutal. But somehow, someway, I did it. Of the original 200 EE students starting my junior year, only 60 of us made it through.
And I knew, after my junior year in college, that I could do anything I choose to do in life. I didn’t call it grit back then, but I knew I could grind with the best of them.
What are the keys to developing grit?
The great thing about grit is that grit doesn’t require you have great intellect. Grit is all about doing the same things over and over again.
Even when you don’t have hope, you keep going.
Even when you don’t want to, you keep going.
For example, Blossom and I like to go on runs together. There are some mornings where one of us or both of us really don’t have the energy.
I looked at Blossom after one particularly tough run. I asked, panting, “How’d you do?”
“It was really tough, but I made it. It’s days like today that make it possible to have easy running days.”
Blossom has grit.
So, how do you develop grit?
Here are the tricks I use:
A. Have a plan and stick to it. You need a plan to know where you’re going. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but you need a plan.
B. Have a daily schedule. My plan becomes my daily schedule. I don’t like to do lists, so I use my calendar to plan my day. I find it keeps me focused throughout the day.
Hint: Give yourself small time-breaks between tasks. You’ll find it easier to get everything done, so you feel good at the end of the day.
C. Set small incremental goals to achieve. Kaizen is a really powerful tool that I now just began using. It’s the art of setting small goals.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have big goals too, but you can use the small goals as stepping -stones to the big goals. Try it.
D. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. The celebrations don’t have to be big either. Maybe go out to the movies with your spouse. How about a cup of coffee or buy yourself that new book. Just celebrate.
E. Don’t quit if things don’t go your way. Not everything is going to work out the way you want. Just don’t give up. Keep moving. And learn from your mistakes.
F. Visualize your success. Maybe I should have put visualization first. It’s another great tool that I’ve recently learned.
I visualize the day ahead going exactly like I want it to every night before I go to bed. And, I visualize the day ahead going exactly like I want it to when I wake up in the morning.
And the one thing you can’t be taught….
I can’t think of another way to say it. It’s resolve.
It’s this ability to get up, every time you get knocked down.
Even when you don’t feel like getting up…
Even when you’re bone tired…
Even when you’re down to your last dollar…
Even when you’ve lost hope…
Just get up. That’s grit.
And you’ll know you’ve got grit when you can just get up.
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