What Does Being a Hustler Really Mean?

Written By on May 5th, 2011 | Category: Marketing | 37 Comments

Mark Pincus + Mike Arrington

Among my business friends, being called a hustler is a good, even noble thing. While “civilians” may have a negative view of hustling, in the start-up world, being a hustler has a totally different connotation.

Here’s what being a Hustler means to me.


When you have something really important to do, even if it scares you – you have no choice but to do it. Cold calling investors, pitching yourself to speak at an event, or emailing A-List bloggers to cover your company, what have you.

You just do what you have to do.

In the early days at Flowtown, I realized it was super important for Ethan, my co-founder, to build a strong network of advisors. This meant creating a list of people he admired and reaching out to them, one by one. We called it the 100 list. One hundred amazing people who’ve been successful in the SaaS space that Ethan wanted to connect with and befriend.

He dove right in, too. He just started researching and building his list of best prospects. Then he sent short, focused emails which outlined his situation and asked for advice.

Did he get a 100% response rate? Heck no. But he did get nearly 15% of the 100 people he contacted to respond. He now has a network of smart, successful advisers he can turn to for good counsel. Many have become personal friends.

What’s the takeaway? Ethan didn’t “think” it to death. He just did it.

No excuses

How many people do you know who have an excuse for everything that goes wrong with their lives? Beyond just being annoying, I wonder if they ever realize that their defeatist attitude is 100% related to the success – or lack of success – they’re enjoying.

Real hustlers don’t make excuses. They own their actions and results completely.

If you haven’t heard of Jon and Storenvy, take some time and give it a read. Jon is a straight up hustler!

Even after he got kicked out of Y-Combinator, he owned his situation and took the the next logical steps to move himself forward. He stayed in San Francisco, networked like crazy, and got a great group of guys to believe in his vision. Jon eventually raised $1.5M for his start-up. He had every reason to make up excuses why his co-founders failed him, why Y-Combinator treated him unfairly, or that he should pack it all in and move back to Austin.

But he didn’t. He hung tough. He didn’t make excuses, he found opportunities. He’s a stronger, more savvy entrepreneur because of what he went through.

Picking yourself up after failure is really what separates the men from the boys, and the stuff he went through gave him a chance to prove it.


Hustlers are great believers. They believe first and foremost in themselves, and they believe in their ideas. It’s like a religious self-belief in themselves to just persevere.

Demonstrating this deep level of personal conviction for your ideas act like a gravitational force for other amazing people. People are attracted to others who possess a strong belief in themselves.

I’ll share a personal story to show you what I mean.

I’ve always been impressed by my brother. By most people’s standards, he’s done extremely well. In just four years, he learned how to build a house, started a home building company, and is now considered the top home builder in all of Atlantic Canada. He builds nearly 70 custom homes per year and his business is growing 30% annually.

What amazes me is that even though we come from a small town (100,000 residents) and everyone told him he was too young to be a home builder … that his marketing approach to use only social media wasn’t going to work … and that his well-established competition would crush him, he was never deterred.

Despite the naysayers, my brother said, “Screw that.” and launched his business anyway. He believed in himself. He listened to what others had to say, but didn’t internalize it. He kept the good advice, and ignored what didn’t serve him.

Believing in yourself when most people expect you to fail is incredibly hard. I always look to him when I things get rocky and tell myself I have no right to let anything slow me down.


Hustlers have the unending, relentless energy that if harnessed, could easily power small towns. You feel it when you meet them. They’re like a ball of energy that’s just exploded in the room. All the hustlers I know bring a level of intense energy that most others only dream of possessing.

One of my good friends is Neil Patel. If it was possible to stockpile energy, Neil would be the first one to try. I love talking to him about business to watch his eyes light up, crack a big smile, and listen to him talk which is fast, really fast. A chat with Neil and I’m plugged-in! I want to jump from the table, make a few phone calls or hit my laptop right away.


Speaking of fast, here’s another thing. Hustlers love speed. You might even say they’re addicted to it.

They love to take an idea or project from conception to completion as fast as possible. Nothing moves them more than to see things moving quickly in the right direction. There’s a concept called the “knowing, doing gap” which describes the big gap between the knowledge of something and translating that knowledge into action.

Hustlers simply don’t struggle with this gap. They know, they do. That’s it.

A few months ago, I met the founders of Summify, and man, was I impressed!

What impressed me wasn’t the fact they asked great questions (which they did) or were super-focused on their product (which they were.) What actually impressed me was the speed of their iterations from feedback.

After a single conversation, they followed up with an email detailing the changes they had already made to incorporate the ideas we discussed. That trend continued with more emails, more changes in the product. They moved FAST. It was impressive to watch the exchange unfold. I can’t say too much at the moment, but for now let’s just say they should be announcing something very big. very soon. ;)

Can You Learn To Hustle?

Maybe. If you’re willing to follow the steps above, focus more on your actions rather than getting lost in the ideas, move quickly, and most importantly, believe in yourself and your success with energy and conviction – then maybe soon someone will call you a Hustler. Wear it proud. I do.


  • http://twitter.com/vijayanands Vijay Anand

    Great Post. Thanks for writing. Brings back memories of my time in Canada :)

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Thx Vijay!

  • Anonymous

     Nice post. Lots to learn from this…

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      If you implement / try any of them – let us know.

  • http://twitter.com/kojnp Andrei I

    Great article, made a few notes :)  

    Rgd the terminology, 1.I’m not native English speaker and 2. You can call it X, I will still know what you mean :) Let it be Hustler, I’m fine with that. The controversy around the naming( I remember Paul Newman’s Hustler, great movie) I guess it’s like the misconception around the verb “to hack”.

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Yep, and the wording around “Lean Startup”.  That’s why I wanted to write a blog post around it for my friends.  Thanks for the comment.

  • http://thinkexperience.com/ Kelley Boyd @msksboyd

    It has only been a year since I began networking in the tech space in NYC – I don’t fit any mold and am not the profile of a tech entrepreneur in todays markets – but I went from complete obscurity to being the topic of an AVC blog in 17 days.  A recent conversation surfaced up that I am a known “hustler”.  I do wear it proud.

  • http://www.josephfung.ca Joseph Fung

    Good read. Your first point (JFDI) is absolutely bang-on.

    Another characteristic that you implied, but that I think might need to be explicitly mentioned, is “Goal-Driven”. I’ve seen a lot of people that are busy “hustling” at make-work projects. Tweaking product, selling to customers that won’t buy, talking to the wrong people while calling it “networking”.

    I think a key element of hustling is being extremely goal driven, and being brutally honest with yourself when you ask the question “Am I moving myself closer to my goal”.

    Your example of the 100 List was good – someone that wasn’t focusing on the end-goal enough, could easily turn that task into a horrible waste of time.

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Joseph, that brings up an even bigger challenge of setting the right goals.  I’ll save that blog post for another day.

    • http://twitter.com/stevepyoung Steve Young

      Joe you’re absolutely right. I define myself as a hustlr but just recently I’ve been trying to focus more on the right goals.

      Dan, have you written the right goals post?

  • http://jonathanschacter.com Jonathan Schacter

    Great post Dan. I am amazed at how some people can continuously find reasons not to ship while trying to get it right. Ultimately, fear is their biggest obstacle. I have discovered that I just have to get things done.

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Jonathan, totally – right? It’s why I started doing this ;)  http://maplebutter.com/betting-against-entrepreneurs-hoping-to-lose/ #MartellMethod

      Thanks for the comment.

  • http://www.BeyondThePedway.com Tim Jahn

    I think you hit the nail on the head here, Dan.  JFDI is as simple as it gets.  Those that do are the ones that are successful.

    Great to meet you at Big Omaha and loved hearing the story about your brother!

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Thanks Tim ;) .. also, appreciate the interview and opportunity to reach your audience.  I’ll be sure to help spread your message – love what you’re doing.

  • http://www.gooddisruptivechange.com Susan Alexander

    Great post.  Very well written.  For your readers who have a little trouble believing in themselves, I highly recommend the book Mindset by Carol Dweck – http://amzn.to/mjZ2pn It's a total game changer.  Susan

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Thx Susan, will check it out.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome post. Also going to add in Prioritization. Let’s face it, even as a hustler, you simply can’t do everything, so you need to inherently understand what the most important thing is you COULD be working on, and do that! Think: agile development in your mind. Constantly reassessing priorities. 

    I also like no excuses. I remember things as simple as going for a bike ride and people complain about the problems their bike has, or their chain is stuck. Really, it’s that they couldn’t keep up because they didn’t ride enough. No excuses! Excuses will never pay the bill and politics don’t belong in a startup, since it directly affects productivity. 

    Good post and I’ll keep this in mind as I’m working on my own startup http://www.totaltab.com out here in Boston ! 

    PS: I think JFDI is my new favorite acronym of all time. 

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Thanks for the comment and glad you liked it! JFDI comes from @dcancel at Performable. Boston has some amazing entrepreneurs.

  • Anonymous

    One addition here.  Not JFDI, but JFDIADBAJ…don’t be a jackass.  I’ve seen plenty of folks with JFDI, acting like it is some calling card to excuse lots of really stupid, inconsiderate crap.  Get it done, but pause for a sec to think about what and who might be impacted along the way.

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      David, totally agree .. JFDI with some class.  It’s why I wrote this – if you start with that mind set, you won’t act like that. http://maplebutter.com/50-years-not-15-minutes/

  • @Kekatie

    Love it

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Well I love your comment ;)

  • http://twitter.com/bethebutterfly Perri Gorman

    Awesome. Love it. One thing I will add however is that  there are ways to get that 15% connection success rate higher by working on one’s style.  I have been calling people I don’t know for a living for over 12 years and my ability to get someone to meet me after one call or tweet is over 80%.  (Ok – I’m a chic – it helps) But seriously – a little extra time and research as well as dedication to your own personal brand/cred makes a huge difference in how people respond.  JFDI but do it smart.

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      Great advice and totally agree .. my response rate vs. a a first time entrepreneur are drastically different.  My thoughts, at least start and go fromt there, right? I’m assuming over 12 years you’ve gotten better ;)

  • http://www.johnexleyonline.com JohnExley

    Wow. This is a freaking awesome post. I am bookmarking this and sending it to every friend of my parents, etc., who doesn’t immediately understand the GOOD connotation of the word “hustle”. 

    I love this. 

    • http://www.flowtown.com Dan Martell

      John, glad you enjoyed – thanks for spreading the word.

  • http://twitter.com/MistyDenson Misty Denson

    Some people are born to hustle

  • http://www.lifestylentrepreneurs.com Jeff Sepp

    I love the part about making excuses and a defeatist attitude.  I know plenty of people like this and try my hardest not to let them bring me down.  Sometimes it’s tough though.  Just gotta keep success on the mind.

    Even the negative hustlers are still working hard at something (illegal, immoral, etc) instead of watching tv on the couch.

  • Preetam Salian

    The best point is that its not just an article with a lot of theory..but almost every point is backed with a suitable example.. truly inspiring..Awesome.,.!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexa.lee Alexa Lee

    Great read! Coincidently..I got in the habit of thinking about my weekend “projects” as being about the “hustle” “gotta hustle!” etc. I will definitely print this out and post!

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  • Barce

    A pro-tip I got from Dan Martell is get the person’s twitter handle within the first 5 minutes of meeting them. Ask them to follow you back right then and there. Hustle is good.

  • http://twitter.com/polishedhustler The Polished Hustler
  • Kiapi K. Freddie

    Its part of life hustling is just a slogan…..

  • Bontle

    thank you sir now i know , what it takes to become a hustler and for what ive been through i cinsuder myself as 1

  • Blackchef

    hustling is derived from not having much and doing what you can with what you have out of necessity. people who have jobs dont hustle, they go to work. to have a way to make money in conjunction with a job is called moonlighting. if your living expenses are covered for decades you cannot hustle but you can continue to work ardently. hustling is not a synonym for honest hard work. anyone “born to hustle” is disenfranchised, unprivileged, and poor for the rich are no longer at an economic disadvantage for their efforts to be considered “hustling”. too many people misuse the word. this article described leadership qualities and good work ethic. not enough self proclaimed hustlers have an adequate work ethic to be calling themselves hustlers. tell people to JFDI instead of perpetuating a misnomer.

  • Trish

    great article!

    I need to close my “knowing, doing gap”. Often get decision paralysis from overthinking things!