It’s going to take five years

People Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10’000 hours of practice to become an expert in something. That’s roughly ten years.

Knowing that it takes ten years to reach the expert level can be liberating. It makes the size of the effort crystal clear. For example:

  • There can be no doubt that you have to love doing the thing you want to become an expert in. 10 years of forcing yourself to do something just won’t happen. You won’t make it.
  • There can be no doubt that it will require hard work. Ten years of it.
  • There can be no doubt that you will make mistakes. Over a period of ten years, of course there will be many moments when you will fail.

Launching a startup doesn’t have to take that long. Still, many entrepreneurs are too focused on the next milestone. They don’t see the full distance.

“If we can only get this release out the door, we’re safe.”

“If we can only close this round of funding, we’re home.”

“If we can only add this missing feature, we’re OK.”

This makes failures much harder to cope with. “We missed the deadline – we’re DOOMED!” No, you’re not – or, you don’t have to be. Because just like the path to expert-hood is long and filled with obstacles, the road to startup success is paved with failures and misfortunes – and that’s how it’s supposed to be because that is how you learn.

It also makes it much more likely that you burn up all your energy, money, stamina, mojo, whatever it is that you run on, before reaching take-off speed.

Don’t believe me? Ask the experts! Read the interviews in Founders at Work. What are they all saying? The key ingredient in a successful startup is persistence!

So, before you start or whenever you’re in doubt, just take a deep breath and repeat these six words:

It’s going to take five years.

Ah. Feel better already, doesn’t it?

(Thanks for reading. Now follow me on Twitter.)

11 comments

  1. Jason Roberts

    We actually talk quite a lot about how doing a startup is a marathon and not a sprint in our recent podcast interview with the founders of Central Desktop (TechZing podcast – Episode 34). Check it out if you get a chance.

  2. Cullen King

    It’s been three years on my current venture, and this seems to be spot on. We are just getting to the point where we can be excited to see some potential success, but there is still a considerable ways to go! At first I was jealous of these one month success stories that were popping up, thinking I didn’t have what it took. I finally realized these stories are the rare exception; the rest are 5-10 years of solid work and persistence.

  3. Randy Cox

    I agree that it takes about ten years to become a genuine expert, but when there is a vacuum, a question, and no one to break the silence, then the first voice that rises becomes the authority.

    It may not last long, but if the answer it correct why should that person not be the “expert” at least until he is wrong.

    Have you ever noticed how often the talking heads are wrong, but they always get another chance to unload their worthless opinion on the world.

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  5. Ben Page

    Good post Erik. With my own startup it’ s temping to anticipate a fast exist, but I have to remind myself that building value is a slow process. As for becoming an expert, at least as Gladwell defines it, I wonder how often such a feat pays off. Working smart vs working hard in my experience has usually been the best move.

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