Growth Takes Sweat and Money

What to outsource, and what to do yourself.

Launching and growing a startup is not for the faint of heart. As Randi Zuckerberg once tweeted (now to much notoriety):

The entrepreneur's dilemma: Maintaining friendships. Building a great company. Spending time w/family. Staying fit. Getting sleep. Pick 3.

Juxtapose this with how popular Tim Ferriss’s book “The Four Hour Work Week” is, and you can see there is no magic formula for success as an entrepreneur. (Although I suspect selling a book that makes people think they can work a mere four hours per week and accomplish what they need to accomplish has made Tim very successful.) One thing is certain, though–putting in the time needed to know what makes your company tick (or not) is absolutely necessary.

Many startup founders try and do it all. They try and build a product, handle marketing and operations, and pay all the bills. While this is feasible for some, it is extremely rare. Some tasks need to be outsourced, and some need to be handled in-house. How do you decide? Here’s an overview of sweat equity, what it is, and when/how to weigh DIY vs. outsourcing.

If I have the resources, why should I invest my time vs. just outsourcing?

In terms of what makes you a good entrepreneur, there is a balance between doing it all and outsourcing. If you’re truly bootstrapping, you are likely doing all of your own administrative work. Depending on who you talk to, outsourcing busy work when you could be spending that money on work that truly builds the company product is not wise. But if you’re the developer or the person who is actually building the product you’ll one day be selling, it likely makes more sense for you to spend your time building while you outsource the things that take a ton of time to do, all in the name of serving to support the company.

Making these decisions is hard. You don’t need the world’s most expensive accountant, and you should still be looking at everything that is coming in and going out very closely. Keeping your finger on the pulse of everything–every expense, every minute spent working on growth, every tool being used–is imperative to knowing how the company is operating.

Why is sweat important if I can afford to outsource most of the work?

As previously said, outsourcing tasks that aren’t in your wheelhouse can make your life easier and give you more time to do the things you really need to do to grow your company. However, you do need to know exactly what is happening in the company at all times. Be careful not to add too many layers, processes, or even staff before you have validated your MVP. Having a pulse on the product, revenue streams, customer acquisition strategies, and product roadmap is imperative at this stage.

What if I have (a) co-founder(s)?

Of course, if you have a co-founder or two, you’re splitting the high-level, business building day-to-day duties. You likely talk to this person more than you talk to your family, so hopefully you’re communicating the important stats regarding product growth, as well as sharing important decisions that have been made. Of course, what you plan to outsource should be agreed upon by your founding team, and since there is more labor being spread around, you will likely need to outsource less.

At what point does it make more sense for me to begin to outsource tasks for my startup?

OK, so if you’re in growth mode, yet not quite ready to hire someone in-house for specific duties, you’re likely ready to outsource. Even though you’re outsourcing these tasks, you still need to spend several hours per week (to even per day, if the task is as important as helping build the product) reviewing the work.

Basically, if you have the skills and ability to work on the items that are truly growing your company, you should be doing the work yourself, regardless of your definition of bootstrapping. Putting in the sweat is what gives you the strong foundation for a lasting product, allowing you to make well-informed, high-level decisions later on while you’re building your product into to a full-fledged company.