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January 07, 2013

2013: The Year of Grit


Small, loose particles of stone or sand.
Clench (the teeth), esp. in order to keep one's resolve when faced with an unpleasant or painful duty.

2013 is going to be an "interesting" year (evoking the Chinese curse).  The macroeconomic environment looks spotty at best, with analysts like Jeremy Grantham predicting 1% growth in the US for decades to come.  Europe is still a mess and in a deep recession.  Japan is in a decades-long tailspin.  And the so-called BRIC countries are forecasting tepid growth (we could rename them "ICK" if we added in Borat's home of Kazakhstan and dropped Brazil and Russia...)

Meanwhile, in our little world of StartUp Land, things don't seem much brighter.  There are complaints about the Series A crunch, lamentations that the consumer Internet has matured ("tough sledding" says Fred Wilson) and fears that the overhang from Facebook's lousy IPO will continue to impact 2013.  What's an ambitious, hard-charging entrepreneur to do?

One word:  grit.  Tough it out, people.  This start-up stuff isn't easy.  It never has been.

Mark Suster captures this sentiment nicely in this post "Entrepreneurshit".  I won't repeat the feeling of dread, despair, humiliation and frustration that he so ably (and painfully) reviews.  Unfortunately, 2013 will see plenty of it for start-up executives.  So here are a few tips to help you grind through the coming year and come out stronger on the other side:  

  1. Maintain Your Foundation.  Whatever it is that allows you to find meaning in your life - your spouse, kids, parents, friends, a dog - nurture it and hold it dear.  Be maniacal about maintaining your health.  Even if you're travelling like crazy, exercise and eat well.  I find that entrepreneurs with strong foundations are able to focus much more effectively than those that are distracted with unhappy personal lives.
  2. Keep the End In Mind.  This piece of advice borrows from one of the late Steven Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Envision the ideal end state that you are striving for in 2013.  Write it down.  Write down the two or three subgoals that fit beneath this overarching goal, including two or three interim milestones.  Have it as a one-pager that you keep with you always.  It will help sharpen your focus day to day and prevent you from getting lost in the daily flurry of activity we all face.  And speaking of day to day...
  3. Be Great Every Day.  The thing that is hard about gritting through a tough year is that you feel that so much of it is out of your control.  But you can control what you do each day.  Don't allow yourself to sleep walk through each week, trudging through the muck in a daze.  Simply put, in the face of adverse conditions, be great every day.  End each day feeling that you delivered a great day against your objectives and don't allow yourself to settle for anything less. 
  4. Maintain Options.  When I first learned how to value options in the stock market, a light bulb went off.  Options have value!  When slogging through a tough year -- such as a new product that just won't ship cleanly, or a fundraise that just won't get traction -- remember to create options for yourself.  In addition to your plan A, develop a credible plan B and C.  Don't allow the failure of a single initiative to be a dead end.

Good luck.  As Ronald Reagan famously advised his White House successor (and one of my favorite children's animated authors captures in a cute book), Don't let the turkeys get you down.

What are some of your techniques for gritting through a tough year?


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