Posted on April 8, 2011 by

On Perseverance

Courage. Perseverance.

Perseverance [pur-suh-veer-uhns] –noun

  1. steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
  2. Theology / continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation.

Brilliance. Creativity. Ingenuity. Connections.

These are all qualities which, if you possess them, will increase your chances of succeeding as an entrepreneur. Smart, creative people who can think outside the box and utilize their network of connections are well equipped to maneuver the pitfalls of the startup business lifecycle. However, you can be all of those things and still fail if you lack the one trait which is absolutely critical to succeeding as an entrepreneur: the ability to persevere – even when you’re up against seemingly impossible odds. Unless you’re one of the .0001% of people who launch a product which goes viral immediately and shows continued growth past the initial dip, you will have moments where you want to give up. If you don’t have the ability to look deep inside of yourself and push through these moments (and the accompanying roller coaster of emotions), you will fail.

So what do these moments look like?

You go live with V1 of your product – and no one notices. You spend all day/week/month doing blogger outreach, pitching your product to the world – and no one replies. You ask friends and family to help spread the word for you – and they don’t. You think to yourself: does my product really suck this bad? Do I have it all wrong?

Give it some time. Persevere.

One random wednesday, you notice a little bump in traffic to your website. And then a sign-up. You have a customer. One more makes 2. Then there are 10. 10 becomes 20. You know these numbers are trivial in comparison to the growth of your competitors or the rest of the startup world, but they represent your hopes and dreams; they’re a validation of everything you’ve been working towards. But you’re also smart enough to know that 20 customers won’t keep the lights on. And so you persevere.

Now that you’ve gotten a taste of what success might feel like, you’ve raised your expectations.

“If 20 people like us enough to sign up, why can’t that number be 200?”

“If we signed up 10 today, then we should definitely reach 200 by next friday!”

And then it takes 45 more days to reach 200. Now when you talk to friends about your business, you begin to see doubt creep into their smiles as they listen to you describe your pace of growth. You question yourself again, because if your best friends think you might be failing, then maybe you are, right? Maybe. But maybe not. Highly successful entrepreneurs are the exception to the rule in our society. If the rule thinks you’re failing, then maybe it’s not so bad to be an exception to their thoughts. Persevere.

6 months go by. 9 months. Growth continues, but not at the “up and to the right” pace that you see from companies that get featured on Techcrunch, or that you hear about on Twitter from the startup and angel investment elite. Even so, when you lie in bed at night you think to yourself, “This is really happening. Even if our numbers are low, there are real business owners all over the world using my product.” It makes you feel good. And you should feel good! Remember when all you had was an idea? No co-founder, no ability to build a product, and no idea what you should do next? Instead of comparing yourself to the titans of the industry, compare yourself to that guy. You’ve come a long way. You’ve still got a long way to go, but the distance you’ve traveled thus far is more than most. Keep going.

In business, you can’t always expect that the people around you are going to share your ability to persevere. Sometimes they get tired of the struggle and go back to the safety of corporate life. Sometimes a better opportunity comes along and they jump ship for greener pastures. Either outcome is ok if you have the ability to persevere. This is your path, not theirs. It will be incredibly hard not to, but please don’t take it personally. As long as there aren’t any serious complications with ownership rights or IP, consider it a lesson learned and keep moving forward. People change, but don’t let them change you. Stay focused on the future. The future always looks brighter than the present when you choose to persevere.

It won’t be easy. Taking this path requires sacrifice. Humble yourself. We all need money to survive in this world. Do you think you’re “above” being a waiter, or working a pizza delivery job on the side to keep the lights on? Just how badly do you want to succeed? There’s a famous saying that my friends and I latched onto some years ago: “Successful people do what unsuccessful people won’t do, even when they don’t want to do it.” You might not want to get up at 5:30 in the morning to work a second job, but your situation may require it. Are you up to the challenge? If you have what it takes, you already know the answer.

Life goes on. Time flies by.

And then one day, your perseverance begins to pay off. It could be as simple as reaching a metrics goals you set for yourself, all those months ago. It could mean landing a high profile customer. It could be the moment when you begin to see that your brand has taken on a life of its own; an article or media mention which takes you by surprise (in a good way). It could be the realization that you’ve passed the point of failing from a lack of customers or interest, and now face the problem of meeting customer demand for new features and premium offerings. It could be anything, but whatever it is will be totally unique to your journey. And when it happens, you’ll feel that burn of pride deep inside and think to yourself, “this just might end well.”

Being an entrepreneur is tough – you never know what the next day has in store for you. But you’ll never find out unless you get there, and to get there you’ve gotta persevere. One of the most amazing experiences of being an entrepreneur is that no matter how many other people do it, every single journey will be unique. There are common themes and encounters which we’ll all share, but your journey will never look just like mine, and those that come after us will enter as newcomers on a stage which is continually changing. To fully experience it, you have to embrace the struggle; you have to let life happen. The only way you can truly do that is by persevering through both the good and the bad, to ensure your journey continues. Refuse to turn back. Believe in yourself and what you’re doing, and always look towards the future. It’s bright, and it’s waiting for you.