Work As Hard As You Can
Naval: Let’s talk about hard work. There’s a battle that happens on Twitter a lot. Should you work hard or should you not? David Heinemeier Hansson says, “It’s like you’re slave-driving people.” Keith Rabois says, “No, all the great founders worked their fingers to the bone.”
They’re talking past each other.
First of all, they’re talking about two different things. David is talking about employees and a lifestyle business. If you’re doing that, your number one priority is not getting wealthy. You have a job, a family and also your life.
Keith is talking about the Olympics of startups. He’s talking about the person going for the gold medal and trying to build a multi-billion dollar public company. That person has to get everything right. They have to have great judgment. They have to pick the right thing to work on. They have to recruit the right team. They have to work crazy hard. They’re engaged in a competitive sprint.
If getting wealthy is your goal, you’re going to have to work as hard as you can. But hard work is no substitute for who you work with and what you work on. Those are the most important things.
What you work on and who you work with are more important
Marc Andreessen came up with the concept of the “product-market fit.” I would expand that to “product-market-founder fit,” taking into account how well a founder is personally suited to the business. The combination of the three should be your overwhelming goal.
You can save a lot of time by picking the right area to work in. Picking the right people to work with is the next most important piece. Third comes how hard you work. They are like three legs of a stool. If you shortchange any one of them, the whole stool is going to fall. You can’t easily pick one over the other.
When you’re building a business, or a career, first figure out: “What should I be doing? Where is a market emerging? What’s a product I can build that I’m excited to work on, where I have specific knowledge?”
No matter how high your bar is, raise it
Second, surround yourself with the best people possible. If there’s someone greater out there to work with, go work with them. When people ask for advice about choosing the right startup to join, I say, “Pick the one that’s going to have the best alumni network for you in the future.” Look at the PayPal mafia—they worked with a bunch of geniuses, so they all got rich. Pick the people with the highest intelligence, energy and integrity that you can find.
And no matter how high your bar is, raise it.
Finally, once you’ve picked the right thing to work on and the right people, work as hard as you can.
Nobody really works 80 hours a week
This is where the mythology gets a little crazy. People who say they work 80-hour weeks, or even 120-hour weeks, often are just status signaling. It’s showing off. Nobody really works 80 to 120 hours a week at high output, with mental clarity. Your brain breaks down. You won’t have good ideas.
The way people tend to work most effectively, especially in knowledge work, is to sprint as hard as they can while they feel inspired to work, and then rest. They take long breaks.
It’s more like a lion hunting and less like a marathoner running. You sprint and then you rest. You reassess and then you try again. You end up building a marathon of sprints.
Inspiration is perishable
Inspiration is perishable. When you have inspiration, act on it right then and there.
If I’m inspired to write a blog post or publish a tweetstorm, I should do it right away. Otherwise, it’s not going to get out there. I won’t come back to it. Inspiration is a beautiful and powerful thing. When you have it, seize it.
Impatience with actions, patience with results
People talk about impatience. When do you know to be impatient? When do you know to be patient? My glib tweet on this was: “Impatience with actions, patience with results.” I think that’s a good philosophy for life.
Anything you have to do, get it done. Why wait? You’re not getting any younger.
You don’t want to spend your life waiting in line. You don’t want to spend it traveling back and forth. You don’t want to spend it doing things that aren’t part of your mission.
When you do these things, do them as quickly as you can and with your full attention so you do them well. Then be patient with the results because you’re dealing with complex systems and a lot of people.
It takes a long time for markets to adopt products. It takes time for people to get comfortable working with each other. It takes time for great products to emerge as you polish away.
Impatience with actions, patience with results.
If I discover a problem in one of my businesses, I won’t sleep until the resolution is at least in motion. If I’m on the board of a company, I’ll call the CEO. If I’m running the company, I’ll call my reports. If I’m responsible, I’ll get on it, right then and there, and solve it.
If I don’t solve a problem the moment it happens—or if I don’t move towards solving it—I have no peace. I have no rest. I have no happiness until the problem is solved. So I solve it as quickly as possible. I literally won’t sleep until it’s solved—maybe that’s just a personal characteristic. But it’s worked out well in business.