Today I was on Facebook and came across an interesting post on Medium by my friend, Dan Norris. I’ve known Dan for quite a while, back in the day I was writing a blog called “Startups Down Under” and he reached out to me via email to talk about VCs and the startup industry in Australia. I was on his podcast one time where the interview was so massive that he had to spread it across like two or three episodes. And over the years we’ve been in groups, circles and communities together.
Watching Dan’s success is one of those things that’s filled me with excitement, satisfaction, curiosity and frustration over the past few years. You like to see people you know do well, it’s an intrinsic part of being a decent human being (and not a sociopath) and if you know Dan, I can safely say that Dan he is one of the most tenacious people I’ve ever come across.
He REALLY wanted to be successful.
I also think Dan’s kind of a unicorn.
He’s got a very keen insight into what’s working at the moment – he reads the zeitgeist incredibly well. That’s a pretty rare skill. You don’t teach that.
One thing he does relentlessly is put himself in positions where he can self-promote – not in a douchey way, but he’s out there talking and engaging in the conversation. He’s built himself a profile through hard work, being incredibly prolific with sharing his views and by saying interesting things that sometimes go against popular wisdom.
Since having his success with WP Curve (his WordPress support business) and more importantly his 7 Day Startup book, he’s also gained an incredible amount of confidence in his own ability.
When you combine all of those things – a tenacious person, who reads the temperature of situations well, that can promote themselves in a way that doesn’t make them look like a tosser and confidence and self-belief, you have a recipe for a person that can be successful on a regular basis.
But when you combine all of those things, you have something of a unicorn.
I want to touch on the frustrating comment I made earlier. Dan ran a web design business for a long time, I wouldn’t be insulting him to call it mediocre. There’s a whole bunch of reasons for that, but he hung in there because conventional wisdom was to keep at it.
From there he moved on to creating a dashboard product that I always thought was pretty good and had some potential, but it just wasn’t happening at a pace Dan could afford and to be fair, he probably wasn’t too passionate about the product.
At this point, Dan started shifting gears pretty rapidly and a bunch of people, myself included told him to pick something and work on it. He ignored everyone and conventional wisdom and did his own thing. I was pretty vocal with Dan that he needed to focus on something and do the idea justice – it was frustrating to watch.
But then he got a hit with WP Curve and things took off for him. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I sat there quietly wondering when he’d get bored and do something else, but he built out that business in a way that allowed him to do that without compromising that business, it was very clever.
Now, back to his Medium post (which you find by clicking here).
In his post, Dan talks about how people told him to focus and not get lost in “Shiny Object Syndrome”. His thesis is that because he tried so many different things, that’s how he hit onto a winner. He sites Twitter, Instagram and YouTube as other businesses that were started and built in short order as side gigs by entrepreneurs who were flipping between ideas.
I think with respect to Dan’s personal journey, there’s an element to what he’s saying that makes perfect sense. On the whole, I think that vacillating between ideas on a frequent basis is not a good long-term strategy for your business.
Normal people don’t work like that and some of that stuff, the instinctual parts, you can’t teach people. On the other hand, we’re all capable of focus and hard work. We’re capable of constant iteration and tweaking of what we’re doing.
And most successful businesses are built over time by doing just that: sticking at something, constantly making it better and not getting distracted by things that might be more fun.
The overarching lesson though comes back to a word I used earlier – tenacity. To be successful, no matter the path, strategy or direction you take, you need to be tenacious, you have to want success and you have to be willing to persevere when things don’t go your way.
Interestingly, that’s the convergence between what Dan is talking about and more conventional wisdom. Dan was tenacious and persevered at establishing himself a business that he could grow quickly. He iterated through a bunch of different ideas, business models and concepts to get there, but then he found one that worked for him.
In many respects, the same underlying thing is happening when you work at your business over time to try and make it better.
Success isn’t about doing things one way or the other, it’s about being a tenacious person with a strong focus on a desired outcome.