The Hustle Quotient

At a startup, HQ > EQ + IQ


While emotional intelligence (EQ) and IQ are both important measures of a person in predicting their performance, there is something far more important to look for in the startup world: the hustle quotient, HQ.

EQ has been something lauded by business mavens since 1995. Even as recently as this year, new books addressing the topic are being published. The thinking goes something like this: to be a truly high performer, smarts are helpful but not enough. Raw intellectual horsepower can be beaten out by the ability to use what intelligence we have to make good decisions, interact with others, and develop relationships that can pay big dividends. And this makes sense. I know several people who did not live up to their intellectual potential simply because they did not understand themselves and others. But to stop here and say that EQ is the single best predictor of the benefit someone will bring to an organization of any type ignores that good relationships aren’t enough, particularly at startups.

Hustle is the willingness and ability to identify problems, work with people (or appropriately ignore them), creatively approach these challenges, and deliver solutions without much guidance or many resources.

Hustle is a loaded term, though. When I say hustle, I mean the ability to get sh*t done against tremendous barriers, sometimes on force of will alone. I mean to use every tool at your disposal to do things for which they were never intended. I mean to rely solely on your own willingness to work, creativity, and lack of ego to deliver something great. This is hustle. It is also not just a version of EQ. While EQ can over time lead to results, hustle is the willingness and ability to identify problems, work with people (or appropriately ignore them), creatively approach these challenges, and deliver solutions without much guidance or many resources. Equally important, they will not stop until they succeed.

http://xkcd.com/1428/

Facebook was perhaps the best known example of the hustler ethos. “Move fast and break things” said the signs on the walls there, but today even that has changed. Looking at earlier stage company job descriptions leads to descriptors like: scrappy, get sh*t done, hustle, and hacker. These descriptors have become the norm of the startup recruiting world like free food has become a standard benefit for anyone who has raised series B. But the fact that companies are touting hustle above a need for, to quote an IBM job posting, “basic knowledge in Leadership, team collaboration and communication skills” shows a marked change in priority for these new enterprises.

Let me suggest a reason why this is: most of us don’t really have any idea what we are doing, and we need help figuring it out. I don’t mean this as hyperbole at all. In my company, Citrine Informatics, my cofounders and I know our domain very well. Our technology is solid. Our investors are helpful. We all believe at our core that this business will succeed. But that is where it stops. We had to scrap through fundraising, learning as we went. We hustled to figure out how to file taxes, administer payroll, and keep books. We have grown a team of advisors to help us fill the gaps. Even as we begin to engage customers, we are learning how to define a project well, how to set up agreements, and how to provide a high quality product without wasting time. None of this comes easy, and sometimes it means we need to take nonstandard approaches to problems.

Finding Hustlers

So how does this affect our hiring, and why do I say that HQ is far more important than EQ at this stage? I want to get along with my team, so there is a minimum bar for EQ. Beyond that, I am looking for someone who is not afraid to get her hands dirty. How has she solved problems previously in creative ways with limited resources? I remember talking to a PhD student about a project he was doing on the side, and he had hacked together a tool to get people to put data in for him on mTurk. He spent $50 to get many hours of tedious work done on his project within a few days. That is the kind of cost I can incur: completed project for $50.

…when I go into an interview or have coffee with a candidate, I look for the hustler story that knocks my socks off.

As I think about the idea of hustle, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries jumps to mind. The thesis of his approach is that completely building technology before getting it into the hands of customers presents the largest single business risk to a startup. Instead, hustle. Build an MVP, or even better a concierge MVP. Do the legwork behind the scenes. Make sure you are going to build something that people will love before you spend the huge number of hours required to build a mature product. Steve Blank would say that a startup is an organization in search of a business model. To find a business model requires hustle. For this reason, when investors talk about “looking for great teams” hustle is very clearly one of the things they look for.

EQ Long Term, HQ Today

None of this is to discount the documented value of EQ. Surely, all else equal, I want someone who has a higher EQ over a lower one. But today, when I go into an interview or have coffee with a candidate, I look for the hustler story that knocks my socks off. I don’t know when this will change. Maybe one day we will have systems in place that allow us to hire people who have really high EQ but only work within a system, but I really hope that doesn’t happen. The day that we stop being able to hustle is the day that we have turned into the companies that we are trying to outperform. I get my inspiration from hustlers, and I hope to never stop being one myself.


Are you a hustler interested in science? Come join us working at the intersection of hard scientific breakthroughs and data science. Email me at greg@citrine.io.

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