The title of this post comes from the book Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, Steve Martin’s memoir about his days of stand-up comedy. It’s a crazy startup-like story that details his 14 year ascent to the top of comedy, followed by 4 years of wild success playing sold-out arenas; an unprecedented feat at that time.
Among the sage-like insight Steve imparts in the book is the observation that many performers have outstanding shows now and again. But very, very few are able to consistently nail their performance. Steve proposes that it’s consistency that makes someone successful in the long run, not having a great show now and then.
You’re probably wondering what this has to do with your startup.
So let’s get to that part.
Your Tenth Appearance
One of Steve’s diatribes surrounds the number of times you have to be on The Tonight Show before people recognize you in the street. In his early career he believed that appearing on The Tonight Show would be his “big break” that would set him up for the rest of his career.
In other words, it was his “link from TechCrunch.”
Steve says that after your first appearance no one recognizes you.
After your third time people start to think you might look like someone…but they can’t figure out who.
After the sixth time they start to know you from somewhere…maybe you work at the post office?
And after the tenth time they start to recognize you as someone who might have been on TV. But they have no idea who the hell you are.
After 10 times on The Tonight Show.
There is no “big break.” Not in comedy, and not in startups.
No link from TechCrunch, write-up on Mashable, mention by Leo Laporte, or Tweet by Ashton Kucher is going to make your business. Each of them will send some traffic your way and a very small portion will “stick” if you have the right mechanisms in place (you want email and RSS subscribers, not drive-by visitors).
But forget the fairy-tale notion that you’re going to have a “big break” after which everything will be a walk in the park.
The Madness is the feeling you get when you have a new idea. The insatiable urge to start researching, marketing or coding. The unquenchable, zombie-like quest to turn your idea into something tangible.
During the time you’re infected with The Madness you can be more productive in 12 hours than you were in your previous 40.
Talk about getting into the zone…you go days without showering because you just need to get one more part of your idea completed (oh wait…I’m the only one?). The Madness is amazing for productivity!
But the problem: The Madness fades.
Sometimes it comes and goes in a few days, other times you can keep it around in a more manageable form for months (meaning you take showers). But at some point every one of us loses interest in a project.
We’re entrepreneurs – we’re made to be passionate about ideas, and the next idea is always the easiest one to be passionate about.
Yep, it’s tons of fun to think of ideas. And it’s easy.
It’s also fun to start building them. And still relatively easy.
But finishing the implementation of an idea? Seeing it through the 4-6 months (or more if you’re playing with fire) until it turns into a real product? That’s when it starts to get rough.
You will inevitably start to question if the idea is any good at all, and why you started working on it in the first place.
Then there’s your launch, supporting it, improving it, and building a consistent, ongoing marketing effort that brings in a sustainable flow of people interested in buying your product. This is when it becomes drudgery.
This is the point where most who’ve managed to make it this far throw in the towel.
It’s easy to come up with great ideas, and it’s a breeze to start coding them. It’s only slightly harder to turn them into a functioning product.
But it’s extremely hard to consistently focus on an idea over months or years. Very few people have the discipline to do it.
This is not a lesson reserved for startups. Look at all the bloggers who’s come and gone over the past 5 years.
Think of every post that hits the front page (or even the #1 spot) on Hacker News (or Digg or Reddit). Many were probably better writers, had more insight, and better ideas than the big name bloggers you read. But publishing a post every week is hard work, and consistency trumps that one or two great posts someone wrote back in 2008.
It’s easy to be great…it’s hard to be consistent.
What Can You Do?
I can’t end this post without some practical steps that can help you maintain consistency. I’ve mentioned a few ideas in previous posts and I’ll state them here again:
Give Yourself a Cooling Off Period
(from Lesser Known Traits of Successful Founders)
I have a rule that I never spend money on an idea in the first 48 hours. During this time my judgment is clouded by the euphoria of having this amazing new idea. Given that I’ve had several hundred ideas over the past few years, at a minimum Ive saved myself a few thousand bucks in domain registration fees.
When you have an idea, write it down and come back to it in 2-3 days. You should have a better sense of its true merits after giving yourself time to cool off.
If you do your research and decide to pursue it you should stand a better chance of making a decision based on logic rather than emotion, which will ideally mean you’ll have a better chance of sticking with it in the long-term.
(from Why Startup Founders Should Stop Reading Business Books)
Find some kind of accountability group or startup community. If you can do it in person all the better, but I’m now starting to see accountability groups forming over Skype, as well.
Then hand pick 3-5 others and organize a small, private, committed accountability group that meets every 1-2 weeks where you can discuss your projects. You’ll be amazed at the impact this has on your motivation, your consistency and your overall success.
If you have another approach you use to maintain consistency please share it in the comments.