As a founder, more work doesn’t equal more success

One of the most critical skills of a startup founder is to decide what to spend time on.

Should you work on your product, come up with a new marketing campaign, talk to users, do fundraising, hire employees or go to a networking event. You should most probably never do the latter, but among the other options (and there are usually many more), it’s not so obvious how to decide.

Ironically, I was inspired to write this blog post because I’m currently trying to decide on what to focus. Probably I shouldn’t focus on this.

Unfortunately, I can’t tell you on what to focus. Nobody can. It’s a highly tricky act of balance and mostly a matter of experience. This is my second serious startup, and I think I’ve gotten better at it over the last half-decade.

What I can tell you is this: More work doesn’t equal more success. The hours you put it don’t map linearly (probably not even logarithmically) to the outcome of your company. The quality of your decision making (if we could somehow measure it), however, has an exponential effect on your success. I think.

That’s also why the folks at Y Combinator help you do exactly that, once you get it in their program:

It’s entirely possible that you work 50 hours and the work that you did turns out to be completely useless later on. For example, if you come up with a new marketing campaign for your product, but later decide that you need to change direction. Now, your product might render useless to all the users you acquired.

How can you avoid working towards the wrong direction? Well, you can’t. But something that helps is to take time to think and discuss. Try to emulate a YC office hour with yourself, your co-founder or a friend.

Once you’ve decided what to focus on, do you really believe your own reasons? Be honest with yourself. Often, we just do stuff because it’s the easiest way to check off of our to-do list, but deep down we know that it probably wasn’t all that useful.

Take the time to think, now and then. Just sit there, go for a walk, go to the bar, or whatever you like to do to relax. It might feel like time wasted, because you’re not doing “real” work, but it’s not. Remember, more work doesn’t equal more success.

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