My relationship with hustle

I love the word hustle.

I’ve been called a hustler by quite a few people over the years and it’s only now that I finally understand what it truly means.

My hustle has always been powered by passion and that’s resulted in a new, refined concept of hustle. In my book, hustle symbolises ambitious go-getters on a mission to make something happen. Or, if you’re like me, you probably have a vision bigger than your mission, and it’s that vision that will keep your hustle on top of its game. Nothing will ever stand in your way.

But the reality is, sometimes things do stand in your way. I’m not talking about the obvious things like cashflow and talent gaps — I’m talking about the things that look, feel and sound like no-brainers.

Sometimes a vision gets hazed by the excitement and momentum of running a business. All those ideas that keep you awake at night. All those opportunities stemming from all those conversations. It’s so easy to get distracted and sprint down a road with a dead end. I should know because it’s happened to me.

A vision should never change. It needs a relentless focus from leaders to turn all that hustle into fame.

Hus·tle

(verb). Force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified direction.

Hustle sums up today’s start-up culture in a nutshell. This theme has influenced how we evolve, adapt and move through the world with the unwavering belief that success only happens to those who graft, grind and hustle hard, and failure happens to those who are lazy.

A few years ago, I would’ve agreed with this. But after experiencing the painful effects of hustling like a loon to make my dreams come true, I’ve learnt the hard way that this doesn’t always lead to success.

Hus·tle

(noun). Busy movement and activity

I started my first company, Pink Mothballs (aka Fashionably Skint) — a clothes-swapping app for girls who hated wearing the same thing twice, back in 2012.

Being young, inexperienced and incredibly overwhelmed by the fact that the CEO, Chris Sykes, at the place I worked, believed in me and my idea, I knew this was my cue to move fast and prove that it had legs.

At the time, I didn’t really know what being an entrepreneur meant. I didn’t care either. All I cared about was building my network to help me get closer to my dream.

“If you don’t ask, you won’t get.”

For me back then, the concept of hustle meant starting a conversation with someone who (I believed) could help me get closer to my dream. I learnt pretty early on that I needed to build up my network of people in the fashion industry, so I set out to do just that.

Every week I’d scour the likes of Eventbrite and Meetup looking for fashion events to go to. But the problem was, I didn’t have a product to show or share with people yet. I just had bags full of energy, a holding page and a bunch of business cards.

Most of the events I found were blogging ones, so I decided to jump on that bandwagon and start blogging about the clothes I borrowed every day.

One event I attended regularly was called “The Only Way is Blogging”, hosted by the lovely Hayley (Carr) Hall. That’s where I made most of my blogger connections and that’s when I started to forget what I was hustling for.

Throughout my (short-lived) blogging career, I took inspiration from the likes of Poppy Dinsey, blogger and creator of WIWT (What I Wore Today). And I’m not gonna lie: I was jealous of her success. In fact (and I’m totally cool with confessing to this now), I became obsessed with striving to be a “famous” fashion blogger. I was competing with someone who wasn’t even a competitor, when I should’ve been striving to understand my target audience (who at the time I thought were bloggers. I couldn’t have been more wrong).

Anyway, when the launch of Pink Mothballs happened during London Fashion Week in September 2012, I decided to host a party in London to celebrate with all my blogging pals. I did this because I (stupidly) thought that I’d get hundreds of app downloads from all the blog posts, shares and social media shout-outs — before, during and after the event. In my mind, the outreach was huge and my dream was so close to coming true.

Living up to the true hustler spirit — “to work hard without question” — I hadn’t given any real thought to what I wanted to achieve from the launch party.

This triggered a mad busy frenzy.

I was having tons of conversations — probably with the wrong people.

I was hustling free shit for the goodie bags — that probably got chucked in the bin.

I was stressing out over what sweets to buy — pink shrimp, marshmallows or both? No one cared; they all got eaten.

I spent a silly amount of money (well, my nan did. Thanks nan — love you!) on a cake that had an iPad in it.

Sure, the cake got eaten and sure, there were a few oohs and aahs — but did it lead to app downloads? NO! Did it lead to active users? NO! So what was the point?

Shortly after, I couldn’t understand why no one was using my app. I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. But everyone else saw it as pointless gimmick that added no real value to their lives.

This realisation hit me hard when I noticed my mates weren’t even using it.

Looking back now, I barely did either.

I stopped hustling.

The effects of hustling like a loon

I stopped hustling because I forgot what I was hustling for. I was busy for no reason. I had a to-do list the size of the M25 and I had no idea why I was doing all this stuff. I was up at the crack of dawn working till midnight every single day. I was miserable. I never saw my mates. My family was concerned about my health because I didn’t eat or sleep that much. And for some reason, I felt like I had to uphold a certain level of busyness, just because I was a start-up founder. Ridiculous, I know — but true.

Looking back, and after reading (again) one of my favourite books of all time, “What got you here, won’t get you there” by Marshall Goldsmith — it’s clear why I behaved this way.

FOMOOO (fear of missing out on opportunities)

“It can be difficult for an ambitious person, with an ‘I will succeed’ attitude, to say ‘no’ to desirable opportunities.” — Marshall Goldsmith

I’ve always been extremely optimistic. When I was running my start-up, that optimism rocketed. Fuelled by the excitement of, well, being my own boss, calling the shots and being asked left, right and centre to speak at events, co-create pieces of content and meet with potential investors, I was riding the momentum wave. It felt amazing and I wanted more.

Whenever the momentum slowed, I’d throw myself out there to find more opportunities. Start new conversations. Follow up on past conversations and share collaboration ideas with people in my network. I was constantly thinking, “What next?”

Embarrassingly, I said “yes” to every opportunity that came my way. I didn’t think twice about whether it would lead to app downloads and new users. At one point, I was focusing on growing our social-media following by running competition after competition. I was collaborating with brands that had a larger following than us to increase our exposure, but people seemed to like their products more than my app. The new follows soon turned into unfollows.

Looking back now, I was basically scared of missing out on an opportunity because the thought of what that opportunity might deliver in terms of success, and saying “no” to it made my stomach churn. If it was fashion- or FashTech-related, I always said “yes”.

The faster I hustle, the faster I succeed

“Goal obsession is the force at play when we get so wrapped up in achieving our goal that we do it at the expense of a larger mission.” — Marshall Goldsmith

Goals.

Anyone who knows me knows I love setting goals.

Back in the day, however, I was obsessed with it. My bedroom walls were covered with lists of goals — business- and life-related.

One (that makes me laugh so much) was to have a “sprung” boyfriend. A year later, it happened and now we have a house. Who knew?

In terms of business though, my goals were all over the place — from reaching 100K users in three years to having my own office and speaking at high-profile events. My hustle started to spiral out of control.

This was because the speed at which I thought my business would grow didn’t happen, so instead of stopping and asking why, I felt this sudden urge to hustle faster and harder than I ever had before.

My head was saying, “Keep going and don’t look back!”

I should’ve looked back because I was going the wrong way.

“It’s one thing to pursue your dreams, but not if that pursuit turns a dream into a nightmare.” — Marshall Goldsmith

I watched a movie called “The Intern” last week, starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro.

Anne Hathaway plays a young successful entrepreneur called Jules Ostin, who’s the founder of a fashion e-commerce start-up (a bit like ASOS).

Her company’s growth has hit the roof and she’s insanely busy, riding her bike through the office to save time, obsessing over Zoom buttons because she thinks they’re impacting sales, while her PA is having a mental breakdown because there’s just not enough time in the day.

Robert De Niro plays a 70-year-old widowed businessman called Ben who’s looking for a new and exciting venture because, well, retirement isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He applies for a job at Jules’s company and gets it. Everyone loves him. Jules thinks he’s too observant.

Long story short, Ben shares his wisdom and inspires Jules to slow down and think long and hard about a big decision she needs to make for her business. A decision that would put her in the back seat.

Watching this, I couldn’t help but compare myself to Jules. Her behaviour was like holding up a mirror.

Don’t get me wrong; I haven’t built a company that’s turning over millions (yet). But I have made some decisions involving people more powerful than me that cost me my company.

So, the moral of the story is…

STOP.

BREATHE.

Look at where you are right now and ask: “Where should my attention be?”

Turning hustle into fame

Hustling is bloody addictive. Especially when we’re doing it for something we’ve dreamt about for so long and now it’s close to becoming a reality.

There’ve been many moments in my life where I’ve thought, “Is it really worth it?” and, “Am I really capable of doing this?”

I hustled hard for four years to make Fashionably Skint famous. I believed with all my heart that today, I’d have one of the most successful FashTech businesses on the planet.

When it didn’t happen, I was heartbroken. But that didn’t stop my hustle. In fact, it helped me to channel it in a direction that’s got me here — a place that reflects what fame looks like for me right now. And for that, I’ll be forever grateful for the experience I had with Fashionably Skint and the people I met on that journey.

My point is, the fame makes the hustle worthwhile.

I meet lots of ambitious start-ups who are all striving for fame. But the sad truth is, most of them won’t make it to their ultimate fame goal.

A lot of them will raise a seed round, receive a grant or two and reach critical mass, but so many will fall at the hurdles after that.

The top reason why a start-up fails, according to CB Insights, is “no market need”.

It’s so easy to lose sight of a target market and fail to adapt to their behaviours.

When I had Fashionably Skint, like the Anne Hathaway character in “The Intern”, I’d get caught up in a petty product feature thinking that our customers would love us a little bit more because we’d added a new button or changed a colour, or something.

I was making decisions to change my product without the audience insight to back it up.

Madness.

As leaders and founders, fame is something we’re all striving for and it’s constantly changing as we evolve and grow with our customers.

Turning hustle into fame is harder than it looks because it doesn’t just involve a set of actions; it involves a shift in the way we think.

This all boils down to the fact that the hustle that got us here, won’t get us there because it’s not about “me” any more — it’s about “them”. Them being “customers”.

So, what does it take to turn hustle into fame?

Patience

“Patience is passion tamed.” — Lyman Abbott

Your passion is infectious, but it will take time for others around you to align.

Have patience with those around you who are less passionate about what you’re doing. It doesn’t mean they don’t care. Their passion will grow as their understanding and responsibility grows, and that will create the momentum you need to stay on the path to fame.

Saying no

“Strategy is the art of sacrifice.” — something Carrie Osman drilled into my brain (thank you!)

Before you decide what to do, you need to decide what you won’t do.

Get comfortable with saying no to opportunities that come your way. Some people won’t be happy with this because, in their mind, saying yes is a quick win. Saying no means putting your budget against something that will make the biggest impact. It shows that you are focused on the bigger picture, which will allow you to be more creative and set new bars that will make you stars.

Humility

“Audacious authenticity and heroic humility allows us to remove our masks and be real.” — Dan Pallotta

Open up and be real about why you’re doing this, not just to your customers, but to your employees, friends and family too.

Tell your story — every inch of it. The good and the bad bits. Share your dreams, beliefs and values so people can see behind the mask and feel like you care. People are looking for motivations. Your humility blended with your admirable ambition will motivate them and give them something to rally behind — thus building your tribe.

Feedback

“Feedback is very useful for telling us ‘where we are’.” — Marshall Goldsmith

Get in the habit of asking for feedback once a week — from customers and employees. It’s a brilliant tool for measuring where you are right now versus where you want to be. Feedback will let you know whether you’re getting better or worse. It will help you make better decisions when it comes to changing your product or service because you have the insight to back it up. It will help you become a better leader because it creates a culture of openness and sharing. People feel more connected to each other when they have the permission to say it how it is.

Micro fame

“I’ve learned to be comfortable with saying, ‘You don’t have to go from 100% to 1000% growth’.” — Maria Raga, CEO of Depop

Be cool with the fact that fame won’t happen straight away. Find smaller crowds that you can inspire and make a part of your story today. Be clear about what fame looks like for you right now and think about it incrementally. Making a big impact on a small group of people and making them feel loved is 1,000 times better than making a small impact on a large group of people.

The world doesn’t need another agency — I know!

In the age of the hustler, the traditional agency model doesn’t quite align.

Most agencies just wanna look good, win awards and make a decent buck. They don’t really care about their clients’ hopes, dreams and fears.

When the opportunity came along for me to be the co-founder of Flamingo Punk, I knew I wanted to build an agency that serves “the hustler”.

I know the world doesn’t need another agency — there are shit loads out there and they all do pretty much the same thing. Some better than others, of course.

But the world does need an agency with people who understand what it takes to start and scale a business today and that genuinely care about helping businesses grow.

Born to hustle

We’re all hustling for something — whether it’s business related, lifestyle related or because we just can’t help it.

Hustle comes in all different shapes and sizes. It can take us to a good place, a bad place and an ugly place. But no one really shares those stories. No one really talks about why they felt that urge to hustle hard and what they learnt from it — the good, bad and the ugly.

I mean, it’s taken me seven bloody years to share my story. And you know what? I’m so glad I did. It feels good.

So, I’d like to invite each and every one of you to share your #borntohustle stories with us so we can share them with the world through our Medium page.

I can’t wait to read them!

Founder and creator of 5 Stories, a methodology I use to help companies tell better brand stories. I write about storytelling, branding and entrepreneurship 🙃