As longtime readers may suspect, I am a bit of a newsy and as such, subscribe to an amazing array of sources of news and information. One such source is Fred Wilson, a cofounder of Union Square Ventures (USV), a New York City-based venture capital firm, who is a favorite of mine. Wilson does something that I admire and don’t seem to be able to equal – he posts to his blog EVERY day. Some of his posts are short, some long, some trivial, some surprisingly impactful.
Recently, Wilson (his blog: AVC, as in “A Venture Capitalist”) posted an item that really resonated with me – it’s about grinding…and I wanted to share this with Strata-gee.com readers. It is important…
What does Wilson mean by ‘grinding’?…
Fred Wilson’s blog post on grinding snapped me to attention within the first two paragraphs – literally the first seven sentences – as he describes something I see almost every day reporting stories for Strata-gee.com…but especially as it relates to the “other side” of the company…our sister company, The Stratecon Group…a tech industry marketing company.
In his post, Wilson writes:
“It is tempting to search for the one magic move that will make everything better. A new VP of Sales. A new database layer in your tech stack. A new brand for your company. Moving everything to the cloud. More capital in the business.
But it is rarely one thing that a business needs to succeed. It is often a little bit of everything.”Fred Wilson, avc.com
BOOM! There it is…”it is rarely one thing that a business needs to succeed.” That, my friends is profound…and true. And it is a concept that eludes many in our industry.
I can not tell you how many times I’ve watched people make a singular move thinking THAT is ALL they need to succeed…only to eventually fail – sometimes spectacularly. That is “magical thinking,” and it is a dangerous concept. What kind of singular decisions or magical thinking like this have I personally witnessed?
- Take all our marketing dollars to hire more company salespeople…because that will drive sales…right?!?!
- Take an entire year’s advertising budget to be used for a one-shot, one-week run on a huge electronic billboard, part of the bright lights in Times Square…that’ll make us famous, won’t it?!?!?!
- Or put our ENTIRE company budget into engineering this one new product (or technology, or line) that is sure to be a massive hit…we’ll be rich, won’t we?!?!?!
The Dangers of ‘Magical Thinking’; A Unique Alchemy
I could go on… Each of those scenarios above are ACTUAL examples that I have personal knowledge of…some of them many times over. Nothing is more dangerous to the health of a company than the CEO or other key executive engaging in magical thinking.
As Stratecon clients can tell you, I constantly talk about developing a unique formula – multiple elements that draw from the unique resources residing in the company that combine to drive a company’s success. It is NOT easy to succeed in the Tech business… And in my experience, those that do succeed tend to – by luck or by design – benefit from a unique alchemy that comes together to create something new, exciting, and timed right for the market.
Sometimes success happens accidentally. Sometimes, it is manufactured. But never is it easy…
The Problem of Twitter’s Fail Whale
Wilson talks about how Twitter – USV was an early stage investor in the social media site – was struggling with regular system overloads causing the then ubiquitous “Fail Whale.” Users were getting tired of going to use the system, only to be told Twitter is temporarily down. That cute fail whale, was not helping alleviate their growing frustration. Twitter’s engineers couldn’t seem to solve this problem.
Then Twitter acquired another company, a smaller one with a small engineering team called Summize (a search engine). Against all conventional wisdom, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey bypassed the large engineering group already in place at Twitter, and put the Summize engineers in charge of figuring out how to solve the problem.
Problem Solved by ‘Grinding’
Surprisingly…they did it. But that’s NOT the point of Wilson’s story. It took the Summize engineers fully SIX MONTHS to begin to improve system performance. And that was six months of “grinding” it out…slowly and painfully rebuilding the core underlying code behind the whole operation.
It was a slow and steady approach. It took time. But within six months (or thereabouts), we had a much more stable system. And after about a year of this approach, we had mostly said goodbye to the fail whale.”Fred Wilson, ave.com
Wilson said that he found the Summize engineers approach interesting: “Instead of searching for a magic solution, they instrumented the entire system and just started rebuilding every part that was about to break.”
‘Grinding Isn’t Very Satisfying’
That is the essence of grinding. “Grinding isn’t very satisfying,” Wilson notes. People don’t tend to cheer when you say, “…we are going to fix things around here bit by bit with a lot of hard work.”
But that’s what works.
Sometimes perspective clients interview The Stratecon Group and I can tell they are looking for a “magic solution.” They hope that by hiring us, they’ve just pushed the “easy” button (remember the old Staples ad with the easy button?). But I’ll let you in on a little secret, one thing we are not…is a “magic” button.
But what Stratecon is…is a grinder.
The Real Power of Grinding
“I will take a grinder every time. It is a much higher percentage bet. It requires faith and patience and the results are sometimes hard to see,” Wilson writes. Look at a grinder’s results over time and “…you can see the power of that approach.”
Readers, I highly recommend you become grinders…
You can see Wilson’s entire post on grinding here…
Robert Heiblim says
I too am a fan of Fred Wilson and read his blog every day. I met him during a fund raising round and although he turned us down he was quick and courteous. He also followed up and got me involved to help in what today is HD Radio, another investment he had made. Thanks Ted.