Startup Grit

Last week I wrote a blog post about “Teamwork” and I used a word that I don’t normally use…grit.  It felt natural while writing the post due to the connotation of an old tough westerner but I wasn’t sure if I was using the word correctly.  So I googled “grit” and Wikipedia gave this explanation:

Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective. This perseverance of effort promotes the overcoming of obstacles or challenges that lie within a gritty individual’s path to accomplishment, and serves as a driving force in achievement realization. Commonly associated concepts within the field of psychology include “perseverance”, “hardiness“, “resilience“, “ambition”, “need for achievement” and “conscientiousness“.

Wow.  How spot on in describing startup founders and core team members!  So I then googled “Startup Grit” and much to my surprise there was no content around this personality trait.  So let me kick off the discussion.

First off, I believe this word perfectly describes the best trait of startup founders and the core team members of the startup (and to further level set, I’m defining startups using Paul Graham’s definition of any company designed to grow fast).  So the term “Startup Grit” is the personality trait I believe every successful startup must have in their core team, and especially in their founder(s).  Why?  Because in the nature of growing fast AND creating something new, there are constant challenges that are faced.  Some big, some small, but all the time.  It’s a grind and it takes as special type of thinking (grit) to focus on the long term goal and power through and ultimately, persevere.

Are you wondering if you have Startup Grit?  Here are some examples I came up with that would describe you or your team if you have Startup Grit:

  • You worry intensely about your product(s) and your customers 99% of the day.  You don’t worry about ping pong tables, dogs at the office, or if the fridge is full of beer.
  • You don’t believe in the 4 hour work week right now.  Sure that would be nice, but you have to get sh*t done for you and your team day in, day out.
  • You dream in the future but manage the chaos that exists now. You’ve accepted this reality –
  • You tell your friends about what you’re doing and they think you’re crazy or don’t understand… and you know they’re a little bit right.  But you’re not trying to impress anyone right now with your “startup”, you’re just trying to build something valuable.
  • You step up when the team needs you. You don’t clock in / clock out or get to things “tomorrow”.
  • You read and learn constantly but you know reading Techcrunch and about who raised the latest round of funding doesn’t count.  You seek out the real stuff from the noise.
  • You worry about competition but you don’t obsess about them.  You get pissed off when they beat you and it motivates you to work harder.
  • You face challenges that are overwhelming, that keep you up at night, that don’t allow you to focus on anything else but them….and you somehow don’t let them control you.
  • You believe in Unicorns but really you want to build a thoroughbred horse.
  • You love your customers, you love your team, you love your product but you’re not afraid to make tough choices and cut bait when customers aren’t profitable or your team isn’t performing.

Those are a few examples of what Startup Grit means to me.  What does it mean to you?

If you’re interviewing at BrightGauge, expect a question about your grittiness.  Or better yet, come prepared to talk about a time where your gritty personality showed through and where you took care of your team first.  That’s the people we want to hire.  There are a lot of smart people, but not a lot smart people have grit.


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