Why you should work until you drown

In the past few years movements like “lean startup,” the “four hour work week” and “start up weekend” have gain a lot of popularity. The gospel they preach? Building a business should be quick…a sprint and not a marathon.

If you haven’t changed the world by they end of the weekend or your three-month accelerator…you’ve failed!

Maybe that’s the reality for some people and some businesses. They either get things right on the first try or they give up and close up shop. One sprint and they’re out. That’s not our philosophy at Pay4Bugs. To me, building a business is more like a marathon of sprints. And a marathon of sprints isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Speed is important, but your goal should be the first company to get a product “right” and get it to market.

Putting out new products is really easy. Craig Federighi said it best, “New is easy, right is hard.” Pay4Bugs took me two weeks of evenings coding to build the first version. It’s since taken us years to refine and we’ve only recently figured out what we think is the “right” formula. New was easy. Right is hard.

Apple wasn’t the first to build a smartphone, but they were the first to get it right. But imagine if they’d announced the iPhone six months after everyone was already using Samsung Galaxies. History would have turned out a lot different.

So we know finding the right formula is critical, but so is doing so quickly, while it’s still relevant. So how fast should you go? What’s the right pace?

Instead of more running/business analogies, let’s talk about swimming, because I’m swimmer. In college, my event was the 200 butterfly. Suggest swimming butterfly to casual swimmers and they’ll run away in fear. “Butterfly…I can’t do that, I’ll drown!” Even many competitive swimmers with years of swimming under their belts try to avoid the stroke.

The difficult part of butterfly is the synchronous over-water recovery, where you have to lift both of your arms, your head and part of your torso out of the water all while breathing. No other stroke requires that you hold most of the mass of your body above the water.

Other strokes can be swam easily with poor technique. The worst that happens with bad breaststroke, freestyle or backstroke is that you don’t go very fast. But not butterfly.

Butterfly is unforgiving. If your stroke is inefficient, you use an insane amount of energy with each stroke just keeping your body from drowning. Poor technique in butterfly usually ends with coughing up a lot of pool water.

Even swimmers really good at butterfly start using bad technique when they’re exhausted. This is the Catch-22 of butterfly. Go really fast to win, but go too fast and you’ll drown and lose. If you push yourself too fast on the first 25 yards of a 200 yard butterfly and you can look forward to spending the next 175 yards drinking pool water and coughing. Hardly a formula for victory.

So treating a 200 fly like a 25 yard sprint clearly won’t work. But we still haven’t figured out the right pace.

Let’s leave the pool for a bit and see what comedian Jerry Seinfeld has to say about over the counter medicine:

Nobody wants anything less than 'extra-strength'.
'Extra-strength' is the absolute minimum.
You can't even get 'strength'. 'Strength' is out now.
It's all 'extra-strength'.
Some people are not satisfied with 'extra', they want 'maximum'.
"Give me the 'maximum-strength'."
"Give me the maximum allowable human dosage."
"Figure out what will kill me and then back it off a little bit."

Back to the pool. I always approached pacing myself in 200 butterfly race like Seinfeld’s take an OTC medicine. I figure out how fast I need to make myself drown, and then back it off a little bit.

Building a business is like swimming the 200 fly. Figure out how fast you need to go so that when you get to your goal you’ll be burned out, have run out of money or been committed to an insane asylum and then back it off a little bit.

Point is, if you push yourself too hard, you won’t make it and if you don’t push yourself hard enough, by the time you get there, it will be too late.

How do you pace your work and building your business? Let me know in the comments!

  Updated
Larry Salibra

About

I'm an entrepreneur and Engineering Partner at Blockstack where I'm building a new internet for decentralized apps. More about me.