Something hit me today like a ton of bricks.
Something that's so damn obvious I can't believe I never encapsulated it into a single coherent thought before.
The secret to being a successful entrepreneur is... trading up.
Yep, that's right, trading up.
Trading up, as in the Red Paperclip guy who, after a series of trades, went from a paperclip to a house.
Except I'm not talking about trading paperclips for houses. I'm talking about turning nothing into something.
I'm talking about hustling. About maximizing opportunities. About asking yourself, "what could I do with this thing I just got, to turn it into something bigger and better based on my goals?" (the "thing" being press, or a successful product launch, or an introduction, or basically anything).
I just realized today this is something I do all the time. I've done it so much that it's ingrained in the very fabric of my being.
It'd be really easy to take this the wrong way, especially if you don't trade up often or at all. I don't mean this in a manipulative sort of way at all. There's a certain earnestness you have to have in doing this to live a good life while always reaching for something greater. Let me just give you the small example that made me realize it today, in chronological order:
We're looking to hire engineers. In a big way.
So I heard the news on TechCrunch today about Digg laying people off
And then I thought to myself, "hmmm, I know some SimpleGeo guys" so I looked up the people I know to see what their email addresses were in an attempt to discern a pattern of email addy so I could email Joe
I found that they were all email@example.com and thought "hmmm I'd better verify that, because Joe is a common name, so his might not be firstname@"
So I did a Google search for "Joe@Si...eGeo.com" and viola! A few things did pop up - enough to assure me that I had his email address right (note - took part of the email addy out in this link for spam bot mitigation)
So I emailed him, letting him know about my relationship w/ SimpleGeo and how we were looking for engineers
And he emailed me back letting me know he'd shard my info with some ex Digg engineers
I 'traded up' a series of thoughts & actions to achieve a goal, starting with a simple thought about how ex-Digg engineers were available and I might have a connection to someone who could connect me, to following through with an email and response.
I don't know if anything will come of this, but that's somewhat besides the point. It's kinda like baseball scores. Having a ".267" is pretty solid and a ".335" is even better - if you do it enough times, you'll see results. Or to put it another way -- the way I just figured out today-- if you trade up often enough, you'll get outsized, unusual and extraordinary results, even if you completely strike out much of the time.
The example I showed you above isn't even that impressive. I think any entrepreneur worth their salt will say, "so what? I would've done the same thing. In fact, I'm going to email Joe now." Some of you may have in fact already emailed Joe from reading the part above. That's exactly my point. This is what all good entrepreneurs do. In fact, we do it without even thinking about it, which is why it hit me today that it's such an obvious thing and yet such a marker for success. I must do things like this dozens or more times per day. If I were an Angel or a VC, I'd find a way to test for this.
Another example from today that comes to mind: Sean, one of my co-founders, sent me an article about a "first of its kind" partnership Apple just inked with a Fortune 500 company. So I used Jigsaw to find the contact info for the person mentioned in the article who inked the deal with Apple and emailed him. Who knows if anything will come of it. The process of looking him up and composing an email to him took me about 3 minutes. But if something comes of it, it could mean meaningful revenue to our company. Most likely, it won't happen, but it's a numbers game and seeing his name in the article and reaching out to him is just another example of 'trading up.' It's something I do almost without thinking about it.
Trading up explains why entrepreneurs are always thinking about work, or taking work home with them, or mulling things over in the shower. Trading up explains why being an entrepreneur is an all-consuming experience. Because you know that that one email you didn't get to write, or that one phone call or meeting you didn't take, or that one networking event you didn't go to could have been the home run.
Although many (I might even say all successful) entrepreneurs do this, I don't think many non-entrepreneurs do this, simply because they don't have to. It's mentally exhausting to always be thinking about trading up. Or to put it another way, it's not exhausting once you've done it enough, like building up a muscle group. You have to be hungry to always be looking for ways to trade up. If you have a nice job, or you're satisfied, you won't need to trade up. You never develop those mental muscles. You never see the little opportunities in front of you that you can turn into big opportunities ".335" percent of the time.
Some day I may feel like I don't need to trade up anymore. Then again, it might just be set like concrete into my persona; unchangeable.
I've already had one person disagree with me that "trading up" is the most important facet to being a successful entrepreneur, but I'm going to stick with it for now, at least until someone can convince me otherwise in the comments.
PS see, there I am, trading up again. Putting a line and the end of my blog to encourage comments, so I can make a connection, so I can have another data point in my batting average. I'm telling you, this is big.
PPS if you like this blog, please vote for it on Hacker News. Yep, trading up again, you called it.