In the last couple of years, the popularity of the word hustler has soared.
Especially in tech land where you often hear the combination of hacker, hipster and hustler to represent a dream founding team (i.e. development, design and business).
I haven’t tended to use the term to describe myself… for one thing, ‘hustler’ seemed synonymous with porn magazines for most of my life.
Not only does this turn me off but now, every founder is hustling their energetic jazz hands across the startup community. “Like this, share this, buy this, we’re awesome.” It can come across noisy, ego-filled – and a lil’ desperate. And oh so extreme extrovert.
I was interviewing candidates for a role a couple of weeks ago and one even showed up with ‘hustle’ written on their palm. Kinda cute.
Young professionals are now also asking for career advice on how to become a hustler. Choice excerpts from the responses include:
“Exploit counter-party weaknesses”, “Learn how to intimidate someone. Financially or physically. Whoever has might IS right”, and “Hype it up, talk a good game”.
I understand persistence and not taking no for an answer is part of the sales process but what’s an ambiverted or introverted individual supposed to do when dumped in the hustling bustle?
First up, reframe what it is to be a hustler
While I’m old fashioned and believe ‘marketer’ does the job, ‘growth hacker’ and ‘distribution hacker’ are also passable as titles. You see, hackers are smart. They’re analytical and look for patterns. They’re self-sufficient but can collaborate when needed. They’re curious and seek new ways to optimise processes. They understand there’s science and art. If your version of a hustler is my version of a hacker, then I’m happy to be called a hustler. If it’s uncreative, sloppy, void of strategy and at the expense of others, then no.
Remember: hustle in your own way.
Say no to bullshit
I had a micro-epiphany the other day when it came to looking at how I tell the story of my company. For a while, something in my gut wasn’t quite right – I also couldn’t get my head around how to play the game. Then it hit me – that’s because 80% of startup land is bullshit and I hate bullshit. I just can’t do it. I can’t lie (well, not express my version of reality). It’s all vanity metrics, bloated achievements and boring same same. I was viewing a stream of old accelerator pitches the other day and was mesmerised by how impressive each founder was. It was like watching magic. But then I stood back and realised I’d heard of none of the companies and upon a
Google DuckDuckGo search, found minimal product or press trails on the web. I questioned if many were still around.
Remember: you can progress and tell it like it is.
Make it so you then can fake it
I’m flipping this one around. The best way to build your confidence is by doing. Explore and go wide, then focus in on an area to get your bread and butter. (The T-shaped analogy is still relevant.) If you’re feeling demoralised or unproductive, create a side-project and put some of your energy into watching it grow. This flow state will have a snowball effect into your other work. You’ll then hustle from a deeper, more purposeful place. Faking it requires energy and when there’s no time left (and your social life has become non-existent), you don’t want to worry about projecting confidence – you need inner belief and will.
Remember: you don’t have to think if you’re telling the truth.
Accept that your version of being annoying isn’t actually that annoying
Growing up in England, it was drilled into me to always be well mannered and very respectful of others. Don’t talk about yourself, don’t ask for too much, always give, be humble, express your gratitude relentlessly and so forth. [Sure, this may be universal but stay with me...] Fast forward to when it comes to hustling and wow, there’s a lot to balance and unlearn. When I used to cold email people and not hear back from them, or better – get a response saying they’re busy – I would interpret this as the biggest “Go away and never contact me again” signal going. Wrong! This gets your nowhere – especially in larger markets like the US. Someone once told me you can follow up six times in America without being annoying. (Perhaps divide that by two for Australia.)
In Bali last year I met an amazing guy working on setting up the creative community there (such as kicking of its first coworking space and local events). I asked him why he wasn’t sharing more of his work and ‘asks’ on his social profiles and he remarked that he didn’t want to come across too self-promotional. I laughed. Here was this incredible giving listener worrying about being ‘noisy’. Contrast this to the Cindy Gallops of this world (who make retweeting great feedback about oneself look cool and humble brags a normal part of life), he had a long way to go.
Remember ambiverts/introverts: your version of being loud, persistent and annoying isn’t really all that loud, persistent and annoying.
Focus on less, not more
You’ve likely heard Carl Jung’s theory that introverts get energy from inside themselves (ideas and concepts in their own minds), and extroverts get energy from outside of themselves (interacting with other people). This means that you need to preserve your sweet, sweet energy juices when hustling. It gets exhausting – especially when you’re working across different cities and have to prove yourself in each. (I’m waiting for the day ‘personal brands’ become more portable!) Don’t overdo it with new connections. Despite working on a startup around professional event discovery, I don’t recommend heading out to any old networking mixer frisbeeing business cards into people. Go for one-on-one coffees, share your story and build up a relationship. Slot non-work conversation time in. Be vulnerable and personable, it’s refreshing and real. Get to know people over time. There’s also a beautiful thing called the internet where you can enjoy chatting without leaving the sanctuary of your desk. Regardless of all the face-to-face IRL mantra in the media, you can get a lot done online and across borders.
Remember: slow and steady wins the race.
Change hustle leagues
New York is the city of hustlers. If you think you have hustle, come here for a while and enjoy life in the don’t waste people’s time/speak quicker than biologically possible/schedule calendar invites for everything world. On my last trip back to San Francisco (which I thought had hustle), it felt like everyone was floating around slowly talking about ideas to change the world rather than getting stuff done. Yep, manic NY.
Feel free to share them below.
Related: my friend Elizabeth Yin is hosting an event dedicated to non-technical founders and the art of hustling. Hustle Con (which is now sold out) is being held in Silicon Valley next week – and we’ll have some coverage on The Fetch Blog. If you want to see if you can grab a last-minute ticket, use promo code ‘thefetch-hustler’ for 25% discount. (See the quiet hustle there?!) ;)