Living Life in Permanent Beta

March 3rd, 2015   |    By: Dan Martell

What does beta mean? Unfinished? Imperfect? Flawed?

Not so much. Try growth, hustle, and an endless quest to be better. If you’ve ever read The Startup of You from Reid Hoffman, Co-Founder and Chairman of LinkedIn and Ben Casnocha, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Life Under Construction

Ask a room full of founders what scares the living sh*t out of them, and you’ll probably hear the word ‘irrelevance’ a lot. When you’re hustling day in and day out to change the world, the thought of being forgotten by history can shake even the most confident founder to the core.

But here’s the best part – staying relevant doesn’t mean bringing a new product to market every few years. It’s a hell of a lot simpler than that.

Like Reid explains, real, lasting success belongs to those who aren’t afraid to live life in beta. These are the hustlers who know that failure is opportunity, who ask for help, and who constantly hack their schedule trying to squeeze in more productivity.

In short, they stay hungry and are always thinking two steps ahead. They know that reading a book now (I’m reading The Lean Entrepreneur right now, among others) is building their ‘soft assets’ (knowledge, skills) today – that they can convert to ‘hard assets’ (cash, etc.) later.

One way to upgrade your competitive position is by upgrading your assets – ie. investing in yourself.
– Reid Hoffman, Startup of You

Reid explains it well: just like a growing startup emphasizes learning over profitability at first, you need to get comfortable with prioritizing your personal growth over your income for the majority of your career. Learning now, money later. It’s pretty simple.

One of the best ways to stay in beta is to constantly surround yourself with people who are pushing you to be better. People that have come before you and can teach you, and people that you can teach, yourself. Valuable people and information won’t always fall into your lap, and it’s your job to get out there and find them.

The Founder’s Achilles Heel

The mind-numbing complacency that comes from arrogance is the achilles heel that can take down even the smartest entrepreneur. Investors, partners, and clients won’t care how great your product is if you constantly give off the vibe that you know everything and have nothing left to learn. A know-it-all attitude basically announces to the world that your growth has peaked, and there is nowhere to go but down.

That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that some of the most brilliant minds of our time work with coaches and mentors. From Steve Jobs to Eric Schmidt, the best leaders are the ones that know without a single shred of doubt that it is impossible to know it all.

Reid argues that by investing in yourself, you are giving yourself and your company a competitive edge by remaining in a constant state of beta. Your competitors are always innovating, and your ability to stay ahead of the curve depends on your willingness to grow up, drop the ego, and accept that you will never, ever know it all.

Plan for Chaos

As a founder, it’s your responsibility to stay ahead of those competitors by anticipating chaos and being ready to adapt. I can personally guarantee you that the world will change, you will change, and that the markets you are working in will change. Hell, PayPal started off as a multiplayer game.

Like Hoffman explains in Startup of You, your ability as a founder to lead your team through the fire is 100% dependent on your ability to be “flexibly persistent – always ready to adapt, but also persistent in driving towards goals.”

The best founders are the ones who can manage the chaos by staying one step ahead of the curve. They get that they can’t know it all, and so they hustle until they track down the resources and advice they need to fill the holes in their business. They are constantly iterating and reiterating. They test, they talk to their customers, and because of that they are able to pivot on a dime and run miles ahead of their competitors.

ABG: Always. Be. Growing.

Brian Wong is the youngest person ever to receive VC funding. If anyone is allowed to sit back for a moment and bask in their founder glory, it’s probably him. But Brian knows better than that.

Brian actually summed up the concept of eternal beta pretty well in a recent Clarity interview about fundraising. “Once you’ve gotten the money,” he explains, “the internal perception should be that you’ve now enabled a new chapter in your company – it is not something to be popping bottles about… it is just another rite of passage that has helped move your company in the direction of greatness.”

As an entrepreneur, good enough should never be good enough. Like Brian knows, even when it seems like nothing could be better and the world is your oyster – you could always do more, and you could always do it better.

Nurture Your Tribe

Opportunities do not float like clouds in the sky, they are attached to people.
– Reid Hoffman, Startup of You

If I’ve learned anything doing Clarity, it’s that Hoffman is bang-on in his conclusion that people control information, opportunities, and resources. They are the gatekeepers of your growth. Which means that you need to get off your ass and be an active part of your community and your industry – you need to nurture your tribe.

But that doesn’t mean you need to be best friends with everyone (in fact, you definitely should not waste your time doing that). Like Hoffman explains, there are two types of people: your allies, and your acquaintances.

Allies are your confidants, your colleagues, your partners, investors and mentors. You defend, protect, and promote each other. When it makes sense, you work together towards shared goals. These are your most powerful connections – the ones you can call at 3AM when shit is hitting the fan, and the ones that you can trust to call you out on your crap.

Weaker ties and acquaintances are the people that make up 80% of your 500+ LinkedIn connections. You know their names and faces, and you have an idea of what they do. You might only see them once a year, but you enjoy keeping in touch. While these people may not be as powerful as your allies, don’t discount the value that they bring to the table. Not only do they keep you in touch with industries that you would otherwise have no connection to, but they open you up to thousands, if not millions of second and third-degree connections.

At the end of the day, regardless of your degree of closeness, it’s the strength of your relationship that counts – a relationship with an acquaintance that you’ve maintained can be more powerful than one with an ally that you’ve neglected.

What Is Your Beta?

With Clarity, I am unrelenting in my goal to help 1 billion entrepreneurs over the next decade, but it is my job to make sure that I am always doing that in the best possible way. That’s why I spend hours every single day knee-deep in UX mockups and customer feedback. I live in permanent beta because I know that, as a startup, it’s the only way to stay alive when the earth is shifting underneath your feet. I constantly ask questions and seek advice from people who have successfully done it before me. I am in perpetual beta.


About the Author

Dan Martell

Dan Martell is the Founder and former CEO Clarity, Angel Investor, and Speaker. Dan Martell is an award-winning Canadian entrepreneur who previously co-founded Flowtown, which was eventually acquired by Demandforce in 2011. In 2012 he was named Canada's top angel investor having completed over 33 investments with companies like Udemy, Intercom and Unbounce. He believes "you can only keep what you give away" and is heavily involved in many charitable organizations & community events.

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