Persistence in blogging
I have been blogging for almost two years now, admittedly with a few gaps here and there (like the last two weeks), but in comparison to the average blog it seems I’m doing ok persistence-wise. Apparently most blogs are abandoned after a couple of months:
Several studies indicate that most blogs are abandoned soon after creation (with 60% to 80% abandoned within one month, depending on whose figures you choose to believe) and that few are regularly updated.
Source: Caslon Analytics
According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.
Persistence in business
I’m thinking – or maybe hoping – that persistance in blogging is a good proxy for persistence in setting up a business.
Few people know better what it takes to set up a business than Paul Graham, partner at Silicon Valley-based seed fund firm Y Combinator. Graham asked start-up founders what surprised them about starting a startup, and a common theme among the answers that came back was the importance of persistence, determination, character and commitment:
1. Be Careful with Cofounders
This was the surprise mentioned by the most founders. There were two types of responses: that you have to be careful who you pick as a cofounder, and that you have to work hard to maintain your relationship.
What people wished they’d paid more attention to when choosing cofounders was character and commitment, not ability. This was particularly true with startups that failed. The lesson: don’t pick cofounders who will flake.
Here’s a typical reponse:
You haven’t seen someone’s true colors unless you’ve worked with them on a startup.
5. Persistence Is the Key
A lot of founders were surprised how important persistence was in startups. It was both a negative and a positive surprise: they were surprised both by the degree of persistence required
Everyone said how determined and resilient you must be, but going through it made me realize that the determination required was still understated.
and also by the degree to which persistence alone was able to dissolve obstacles:
If you are persistent, even problems that seem out of your control (i.e. immigration) seem to work themselves out.
Several founders mentioned specifically how much more important persistence was than intelligence.
I’ve been surprised again and again by just how much more important persistence is than raw intelligence.
This applies not just to intelligence but to ability in general, and that’s why so many people said character was more important in choosing cofounders.
6. Think Long-Term
You need persistence because everything takes longer than you expect. A lot of people were surprised by that.
I’m continually surprised by how long everything can take. Assuming your product doesn’t experience the explosive growth that very few products do, everything from development to dealmaking (especially dealmaking) seems to take 2-3x longer than I always imagine.
One reason founders are surprised is that because they work fast, they expect everyone else to. There’s a shocking amount of shear stress at every point where a startup touches a more bureaucratic organization, like a big company or a VC fund. That’s why fundraising and the enterprise market kill and maim so many startups.
But I think the reason most founders are surprised by how long it takes is that they’re overconfident. They think they’re going to be an instant success, like YouTube or Facebook. You tell them only 1 out of 100 successful startups has a trajectory like that, and they all think “we’re going to be that 1.”
Maybe they’ll listen to one of the more successful founders:
The top thing I didn’t understand before going into it is that persistence is the name of the game. For the vast majority of startups that become successful, it’s going to be a really long journey, at least 3 years and probably 5+.
Yeah the “everything takes longer than you expect” is probably ever more true in West Africa. I think I have adapted my expectations, and get positively surprised when things go quickly. Though, it taking two months from the taxi arriving at Abidjan port, to it starting running and making money, was more than even I had expected.
Don’t be hapless!
Back to Paul Graham, when ironing out the qualities of a successful startup founder, he says that persistence is not enough. To avoid banging one’s head against a brick wall one needs to be flexible or adaptable as well. Putting persistence and flexibility together Graham calls it being relentlessly resourceful, and argues that it’s the opposite of being hapless. Graham discusses all of this in a very interesting blogpost entitled Relentlessly Resourceful. A few excerpts:
A couple days ago I finally got being a good startup founder down to two words: relentlessly resourceful.
Till then the best I’d managed was to get the opposite quality down to one: hapless. Most dictionaries say hapless means unlucky. But the dictionaries are not doing a very good job. A team that outplays its opponents but loses because of a bad decision by the referee could be called unlucky, but not hapless. Hapless implies passivity. To be hapless is to be battered by circumstances—to let the world have its way with you, instead of having your way with the world.
What would someone who was the opposite of hapless be like? They’d be relentlessly resourceful. Not merely relentless. That’s not enough to make things go your way except in a few mostly uninteresting domains. In any interesting domain, the difficulties will be novel. Which means you can’t simply plow through them, because you don’t know initially how hard they are; you don’t know whether you’re about to plow through a block of foam or granite. So you have to be resourceful. You have to keep trying new things.
Be relentlessly resourceful.
Some people are just constitutionally passive, but others have a latent ability to be relentlessly resourceful that only needs to be brought out.
This is particularly true of young people who have till now always been under the thumb of some kind of authority. Being relentlessly resourceful is definitely not the recipe for success in big companies, or in most schools. I don’t even want to think what the recipe is in big companies, but it is certainly longer and messier, involving some combination of resourcefulness, obedience, and building alliances.