With Twitter’s IPO, the press is publishing glowing profiles of the company’s executives and early investors. The praise is well deserved. But it can be easy to forget, amidst the write-ups of all the wealth that’s been generated, that the bright minds behind Twitter were not born geniuses or born successful. They had to hustle to get where they are.
After all, co-founder Ev Williams was born a Nebraska farm boy. Co-founder Biz Stone was raised on food stamps. Co-founder Jack Dorsey battled a childhood speech impediment and grew up in middle class St. Louis.
Or consider my friend Chris Sacca. Today he is one of Twitter’s biggest shareholders and has served as a longtime advisor to the company. He’s an active angel investor. Previously he worked as head of special projects at Google.
But not so long ago, Chris was an out-of-work attorney in desperate need of income to help him pay off his student loans from law school.
Chris began sneaking in through the back door of networking and tech industry events, utilizing his Spanish-language skills to smooth-talk the workers in the kitchen to let him in. Once he was at the event, he realized that handing his new acquaintances a business card that listed only his name — and no employer — wasn’t impressing anyone.
So he hatched a clever plan to boost his credibility at the events he attended: create a consulting firm and employ himself there. He made new business cards, hired a developer to build a website, and enlisted his fiancée to draw a corporate logo. Then he returned to the same networking events with new business cards that read, “Chris Sacca, Principal, Salinger Group.” Suddenly, the people he met were interested in talking more. Through these connections he eventually landed an executive job at a wireless company, and his career took flight.
Sneaking in the back door of networking events toting business cards with a made-up company name to seem marginally more impressive so people will talk to you? Yup. Every great entrepreneur — or investor — displays extraordinary hustle and resourcefulness and ingenuity. One of my favorite examples in Silicon Valley is Pandora founder Tim Westergren, who pitched the company to over 300 VC’s before receiving any funding. We profile him in The Start-Up of You.
Hustle is hard to deconstruct; it’s not something you “learn” like you would accounting or public speaking. It’s more a state-of-mind that develops — or doesn’t develop. I’ve found the best way to develop a readiness and enthusiasm to hustle is to read stories of people like Sacca and Westergren and be inspired by all the little things they did to get to where they are. Especially when they’re in the headlines and it all seems preordained. It wasn’t. And that’s inspiring.