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Ugh — enough about grit already!

Happy New Year, friend 👋  

I’ll spare you the quips on “pandemic time”, and skip the cliché truisms, forgo the empty sentiments, and gloss over the yada-yada the new year brings.

In true JDM style, let’s instead begin the new year with a rant and a hot take.

Read time: 4 minutes.

Coming in hot: you’re not rewarded for grit.

It’s an uncomfortable truth, because that’s not the story we tell ourselves.

We tell children to work hard, that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and to always give 110% to everything you do.

Always be hustling. Work long days. Weekends are for slackers. Aim for perfection. There’s no need for work-life balance if you love what you do.

It’s a culture of hustling.

And while we fetishize hard work, few brag about:

  • Getting more sleep — it’s a race to the least.
  • Leaving work early — it’s a shameful confession.
  • Shipping a half-baked idea — it’s done with a grimace.

Grit has become the goal of entrepreneurship in itself, and it’s perverse.

The founders of 2023 are overworked, sleep-deprived, and constantly chasing the ever-moving and never-clear goalpost of perfection.

In short: hustle culture is killing us.

The bigger problem? None of it even matters, because hustle culture also preaches its own contradiction: there’s no “E” for effort.

And we all know it: you’re not rewarded for your grit.

You’re rewarded for creating value.

It doesn’t matter how hard you work if you don’t get results:

  • If you don’t find a customer, where are you?
  • If you can’t figure out their needs, who cares?
  • If you can’t get them to buy, what does it matter?

On the flip side, let’s say you do see results. Do you get bonus points for working harder to get them? Of course not.

And, if you can work less to get the same result, you’d leap at it.

And this is where hustle culture leads us astray:

We focus on building a lifestyle of beating our head against the wall, never asking whether there’s even something on the other side of that wall.

So I propose a new definition of the hustle. It’s not working hard and “crushing it” all the time — whatever that even means.

“Hustling” is the scrappy, results-focused mindset of finding the shortest, cheapest, easiest, least risky path possible to prove that you’re on the right track.

It’s a progression:

  1. Am I on to something?
  2. Ok, am I still on to something?
  3. Yeah, but am I still on to something?

Because that is the journey. It’s like scaling a mountain without a map: progress is not: “am I at the top yet?” It’s: “am I closer today than I was yesterday?”

It’s a mindset shift, but it’s not complicated:

Look for signals instead of results.

This is the first mistake of the failed hustler.

They want to solve a problem for a customer in exchange for money, so the definition of success becomes the financial transaction — even from the outset.

They focus on how they get that sale: build a product that people will love and then see if they’ll buy it. But that pushes measuring success all the way to the end of the process, and front-loads all the risk.

Am I on the top of the mountain yet? No? I guess I’ll keep walking then...

While it’s possible to get revenue from the day one, sales is not necessarily the right metric to be watching.

When you have only an idea, for example, it doesn’t make sense to measure sales volume, revenue, market share, margin, and retention yet — they’re functionally zero, and rightfully so.

Because those metrics are lagging indicators of today’s success or failure.

So flip the question on its head: what’s a leading indicator of tomorrow’s success or failure?

Instead of looking for something you can measure eventually, what if you looked for something you can measure today? And what if you picked one which, if you hit the target, means you’re on track to that eventual financial transaction?

In other words, what’s a measurement that asks:

Am I closer to the top today than I was yesterday? No? How should I course-correct tomorrow?

It’s called innovation accounting.

Not innovative accounting, so goes the old joke, as that’s earns you a courtesy stay at a federal resort.

Innovation accounting is premised on our inability to measure today what will be important tomorrow. Instead, we identify a chain of leading indicators that we expect to fall like dominoes toward that eventual measurement.

And then we just flick the first domino.

I wrote a few months ago how you can use goals, signals, and metrics to find and flick that first domino.

But, seriously… let’s stop with the grit talk.

It’s not that grit is bad.

Grit on the right things can make you a winner. But grit on the wrong things will kill you.

The hard part isn’t having grit — it’s knowing when to use it.

So don’t beat your head against the wall if you haven’t proved there’s something on the other side of it.

Instead, make small bets that compound, over and over again, until you have evidence there’s a “there” there.

Then double-down.

And if I could just rant for a second here…

Founders who try to impress me talk about:

  • how long they’ve been working on their startup;
  • how close they are to finally “launching”;
  • how big of a risk they’re taking;
  • the latest feature they added;
  • that they’re all in;
  • etc.


Big “someday my dream will come” vibes.

It’s just not that interesting.

They don’t realize the most impressive thing they can say is: here’s a small win I had yesterday, and here’s how I’m building on that tomorrow.

And I love it!

Those small wins are worthy of celebration because, in the end, they’re the only thing that matters anyway. It’s all that’s relevant — the only thing that’s interesting.

Because it’s the only thing that says: yes, I know where I am, I know where I’m going, and I can prove I’m gonna get there.

The rest is just talk. Dreaming.

But everyone dreams. Few people actually do.

Whenever you're ready, there are 3 ways I can help you.

  1. If you’re still in the idea-to-seed stage, trying to get early traction, I’d recommend starting with some coaching:

    → Book a 1:1 coaching session to tackle one key challenge, from prototype to pitch.

    → Apply to my Traction Coaching program, and we’ll find traction together.

  1. If you already have early traction, I’d recommend running a Traction Sprint to find the traction you need to get from Seed to Series A.
  1. Of course, you can always ask me a question for my weekly office hours livestream.

3-2-1 Traction Newsletter

Every Monday morning, you’ll get three big ideas from me, two curated ideas from others, and one thought-provoking question for you — all to help you find traction for your startup, or fail fast trying.