Startups are nonlinear systems.
That is they don’t go better just because you and your team work hard and “get stuff done”. They go better when you Sweat The Hard Stuff.
Here’s an example. A small energetic startup visited me the other day updating me about how well the development on their new web and Android apps was going. “Cool, I said, but is that the problem?”
Their challenge is while the “progress” on development is directly proportional to effort and therefore gives satisfaction each day (“we got the login feature working!”), it will largely not affect their core challenge of customer retention & virality. This is a “HARD STUFF” problem of an entirely different nature that requires all kinds of brainstorming, analysis, experimentation, surveys, imagination and throwing spaghetti at the wall that is not directly proportional to effort. We batted ideas around for an hour, and found one breakthrough: for their product, Facebook signups produce virality because of in-line picture sharing however Twitter signups don’t produce virality. Eliminating Twitter signups was a step in improving virality. A small advance, but real progress from working smart vs. working hard.
THIS IS HARD! And worse, the HARD STUFF doesn’t feel like “progress” because many trials may fail and therefore feel unrewarding. This is the nature of Before Product / Market Fit (BPMF), but when you are before BPMF, that HARD STUFF is all that matters. Later in a startup’s life the HARD STUFF just changes nature like sales pipeline yield or whatever.
One of my partners at Startup Capital Ventures has a discipline of working on the hardest challenges or communications he has first thing in the morning. This forces him to Sweat the Hard Stuff but also means his day gets more relaxing as it goes on because the hard stuff is behind him.
Sweat The Hard Stuff First