The wannabe hustler: How to (actually) make big things happen

by Steli Efti
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You may think you’re a hustler, but there’s a right and wrong way to get shit done.

Let me start with a story.

Not long ago, I received a cold email from a self-described hustler. For the sake of time, I’ll paraphrase his message:

Love your videos, Steli. I’d apply for a job, but I don’t want to work for you—I want to work with you. Here’s an idea for a company. Join my new venture as a co-founder. Let’s build this thing together.

I won’t get into the idea itself, but it wasn’t for me.

From what I could gather in the email, he didn’t have a track record of starting (or running) a business. He wasn’t a salesperson, marketer, engineer, or designer. He had no money. And he didn’t really bring anything to the table, other than passion and self-belief.

I told him that I appreciated his hustle, but wasn’t interested. Thanks, but no thanks. Best of luck. All that good stuff.

He did what I always advice people to do—he followed-up with me once more, but he did it by doubling down on his initial pitch: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Do you really want to look back in ten years and realize you could’ve changed the world?

I wrote back to let him know that I still wasn’t interested. Again, thanks, but no thanks.

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Guess what happened next?

I received another email, which basically said:

If you want to miss out on a great opportunity, that’s fine. But I need some quick advice. I’ve been thinking about partnering with Gary Vaynerchuk, too.

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Yeah. Gary Vee. Serial entrepreneur, digital marketing pioneer, bestselling author, investor in some of the world’s biggest tech companies. That Gary Vaynerchuk.

Back to the email (again, I’m paraphrasing):

I know it’s a long shot, but I’m thinking about taking a flight next week, so I can wait outside his office. When I see him, I’ll shake his hand and ask him to be a co-founder. What do you think?

Here’s what I told him:

Channel your energy into something more productive.

I can’t speak for Gary Vee, but that’s not a compelling offer—even if he appreciates your hustle.

Ultimately, it’s a wasteful plan. You’re channeling all of your passion into what’s essentially a lottery ticket. And I don’t want you buying lottery tickets. I want you putting effort into the work that’s in front of you.

Focusing on a pipe dream isn’t hustling. It’s lazy as fuck.

That’s like saying:

“I’m gonna cold call Bill Gates and start a software company with him. I don’t know how to write software. I don’t know how to run a business. And I’ve never created anything, but I’m definitely going to partner with Bill Gates, so we can change the world together.”

I’m not saying it’s impossible to partner with Bill Gates, but if you’ve only ever watched motivational videos on YouTube—thanks, by the way—and read posts on how to become a millionaire, the next step is not to cold call Bill Gates.

You’re looking for a shortcut. You’re not hustling. You’re not grinding away at dirty, unpopular work—the kind of work that actually gets shit done. You’re sending cold emails to people who already know how to make things happen. Just because you’re passionate, doesn’t mean your lottery number has a better chance of getting picked.

Gary Vee and Bill Gates can offer you everything. But what can you offer them? Nothing.

Here’s what I want you to do instead:

Put that passion to work today. Don’t look for shortcuts. Go out and create value. Write a blog post. Build a product. Get a customer. Earn a dollar.

Start by doing things that are within reach. Stretch your legs. Jog around the block before you sign up for a marathon.

Why do I care so much about this?

Because I was once just like this guy. Maybe I wasn’t as nuts, but I definitely had my moments. There was a time when I’d accomplished very little, but I was reaching way too far. When I sold everything I owned and bought a one-way ticket to Silicon Valley, I also had grandiose plans. I wanted to be friends with Steve Jobs. I wanted to be Person of the Year.

But I had nothing to offer. I had no tech experience. I’d never built a business that could scale. I’d never raised money. I didn’t have a visa. I didn’t know anybody.

And yet, I believed I could change the world.

I wasted five years on that pipe dream. Sure, those five years helped me build a better company, but I misspent so much energy. If I’d focused on one customer at a time—if I’d put my head down and did the dirty work—there’s no telling how things might have turned out.

Except maybe Person of the Year. That’s ridiculous.

In those first five years, Silicon Valley made me think small. You can’t just swing for the fences. You need to work hard every day. You need to do the little things. You need to attack what’s in front of you.

Think of it this way...

Elon Musk wants to send humans to Mars. Even with all of his resources, it’s going to take everything he has to get people there.

Now here’s you. You’ve got a cardboard box and a couple of batteries.

You start telling people, “In three weeks, I’m headed to space. And you know what? Fuck Mars. I’m going to Jupiter.”

I don’t care how passionate you are about this plan. It doesn’t make you a visionary—it makes you crazy. Sending Elon Musk a hundred emails with detailed plans for your cardboard spaceship doesn’t mean you’re a hustler. You’re wasting his time, and you’re wasting your time, too.

I know I’m being critical here

But I really want you to succeed, especially if you’re hustling in the right way, and for the right reasons.

Channel that passion into something that makes a difference. Do the work that’s in front of you. Create value every single day. Be confident and purposeful. That’s how you’ll actually change the world.

Want my best advice on how to hustle the right way? Click below to download my book The Follow-Up Formula: How To Get Everything You Want By Doing What Nobody Else Does.

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