1,000 Hours – How Much Expertise Does a Founder Need?
Surely 10,000 hours?
In the noughties, books like Blink by influential author Malcolm Gladwell explained how anyone could become an expert if they only spent 10,000 (focused) hours on a topic.
For instance, Gladwell explained, you could train yourself to spot art fakes or the accuracy of a tennis serve — if you spent 10,000 hours working on, thinking about and studying your chosen topic!
The idea caught hold — particularly in the Startup scene where many of us wanted to know, how long does a start up take to build? And, what does it mean to become an expert — such that you are both convincing for customers and credible for investors?
But, this figure — 10,000 hours is out of date! Instead, it is now 1,000 hours — if you are leveraging a digital tool, or two!
Before I explain, let me just say this — 10,000 hours is 1,000 days work if you work full time (and hard) at 10 hours per day. That means, a full time year is about 2,500 hours and hence, 10,000 hours is four years!
I know, 4 years is a lot right? Especially in the startup world!
So, 1,000 hours is about 5 months!
Why 1,000 hours
So, why 1,000 hours?
I’ve been building my Spanish Mountain Olive Oil startup — Serriana Olive Oil — and like all founders I’ve need to choose what to ignore and what to focus on.
I’ve been offered lots of advice and loads of help and tons of tools — all of which can help my startup — but, all of which ‘cost’ time.
And, given very limited budgets (we’ve got revenue, but not profit and we’re self funded), I’ve said no to far more things than I’ve said yes.
What I discovered, is that when making the decision to follow one path or another, I had no obvious frame of reference or tool to make the choice — until I hit upon the 1,000 hours idea!
That means, two things — if I am offered another channel or to take on another tool or another product — I ask, ‘do I want to spend 1,000 hours pursuing this opportunity’?
Equally, when well meaning family offer advice on how I can advance my startup, my polite response is to explain that their idea is an excellent one but would cost 1,000 hours to optimise and perfect. I then explain the current trajectory and that I am currently 500 hours into a 1,000 hour investment.
It is then obvious that I would need to abandon the 500 hour investment to take up their new path which would cost a further 1,000 hours.
So, this is why thinking of your startup as a series of ‘1,000 hour investments’ is an extremely useful way to gain focus, remove the noise and spend time optimising at least one path.
But why 1,000 hours?
So, how did I come to the conclusion that 1,000 hours is the right amount?
My simple answer is two things — Olive Oil and Amazon!
If I look back, I can see that my interest in the Spanish mountains, local agriculture and olive oil has been a ‘hobby’ for about 4 years.
However, to begin to understand and commercialise olive oil, I needed to begin reading in depth and engaging with local farmers, cooperatives and producers. I spent three months studying olive oil and how to commercialise it this summer, which coupled with the previous 4 years would add up to around 1,000 hours.
Next, I have invested another 1,000 hours into tackling Amazon — and how to be successful on its platform, shipping across borders and into its FBA warehouses.
This included the need to learn about freight and UK customs rules as well as cross border vat, alongside the need to become moderately competent in how to create /write Amazon listings, optimise Amazon ad campaigns and voucher incentives.
This ‘Amazon’ 1,000 hours has taken me from October to February — another 5 months, again, around 1,000 hours.
So, my two big decisions — get to know Olive Oil and the commercialisation of olive oil cost around 1,000 hours (albeit, I already had a head start).
And, secondly, to become moderately effective on the Amazon platform has cost a further 1,000 hours.
I’m now 2,000 hours invested!
So, what does this have to do with the 10,000 hours idea of Malcolm Gladwell?
Well, 20 years ago, it would have taken me 10,000 hours to achieve a basic level of expertise in olive oil and a further 10,000 hours to have built a shop (from scratch) and reliable distribution channel.
My point here is that the digitalisation and ‘platform-isation’ of our world has significantly reduced the time cost to become highly competent — but the cost isn’t zero!
Amazon, for instance, is a hugely complex and multi dimensional platform in which competition is (deliberately) intense. I initially expected to spend about 100 to 200 hours becoming competent. However, its complexity and size (ie the level of competition and raised expectations of customers) meant that unless I spend 1,000 hours, I would never see a return for my efforts.
Your next 1,000 hours?
This begs the question, of course, about where will I spend my next 1,000 hours?
Well, the answer is in next stage product development for our Amazon sales channel.
So, where are you currently investing 1,000 hours?
When will you reach a sufficient level of competence or expertise?
And where or on what will you invest your next 1,000 hours?
As always, I finish my posts with a coaching question. So, the question here must be this:
What development opportunity or channel deserves your next 1,000 hour investment?
If you apply this question to all that you do and all that you consider, it will empower you to focus and deliver better results, faster. But it will still take time and ongoing commitment…