3 Essential Truths About the ‘Entrepreneurial Hustle’ Myth

June 12, 2019

By Bob Phibbs, CEO at The Retail Doctor(opens in new tab)
 5-minute read

In short:

  • The “hustle” that many entrepreneurial advice-givers tout is not the only path to business achievement, nor is it a complete one.

  • In fact, there is no singular “secret” to success. Instead, entrepreneurs should consider self-reflection as a means of routing toward business growth.

  • Starting a business also requires committing to hard work and remembering that experience is the best teacher.



We live in an age in which we are always looking for someone to tell us what to do. Entrepreneurs are often seeking “the one secret” to being successful, for advice on “how to grind,” “how to hustle” and “how to grow your business quickly.”

This quest for truth reminds me of the decades-old interest in articles regarding eggs and coffee. In an earlier era, you’d see an article that said eating eggs was the worst thing you could do … until a few months later, when another article would present the exact opposite verdict. It was the same for coffee: Either it “really helped you focus”, or it was “the worst thing since Coke.” 

The “eggs and coffee” principle holds true today (except that now, all those articles are online, so you’re likely to be confused all the time). Particularly, prospective entrepreneurs get contradicting advice on how to “hustle” to grow their businesses. Some experts advise waking up early and “doing what successful people do at 5 a.m. every day.” Others say, “Don’t wake up early and try to do those things, because you aren’t built that way. You should stay up late!” Some advise going to a coworking space like WeWork(opens in new tab) to meet other entrepreneurs, while others promote going it alone. Or setting alarms. Or doing yoga. You name it.

Today, prospective entrepreneurs get contradicting advice on how to “hustle” to grow their businesses.

None of those suggestions is bad for any entrepreneur. But make no mistake: They’re all just ideas. 

1. There is no one-size-fits-all shortcut to success.

If you think reading a couple of online articles or following a motivational Instagram account is going to give you the motivation to succeed in starting a business, I can tell you it won’t. You’re more likely to benefit from getting introspective and asking yourself five helpful questions:

  • Why do you really want to start a business?

Be honest. Maybe for you, achieving is about a way to validate your existence. For me, as a musical conductor and entrepreneur, external validation was something I felt that I needed. It’s not “bad” if your motivation for starting a business is related to personal validation, but recognizing this phenomenon will help you avoid pitfalls.

  • Did you set a goal? 

I don’t care what it is. Until you know the motivation for starting a business and set a corresponding goal, you’re just “working on” your “hustle.” For example, I knew my parents almost lost our home in 1972, and as a result, my first goal out of college was to buy a home by the time I was 24. For me, a home meant stability, and it was a stake in the ground that said I was not going to be like my parents. It motivated me to succeed in starting my business.

  • What is your level of intention?

Your devotion to your business is likely much weaker if you’re considering starting it while fairly comfortable in your current job and just wanting to “try something new” than if you’ve just quit your job and given yourself three months to determine what to do for the rest of your life. Ensure your intention is strong, and your business will have a greater probability of success.

Ensure your intention is strong, and your business will have a greater probability of success.

When I started my career, I had had enough of a salaried job as a regional manager for a large retail chain. I put in my two weeks’ notice and got out. I went to a Tony Robbins seminar(opens in new tab), and I heard him say, “You’d better come up with a brand no one else can do.” The next day, I filed the trademark for The Retail Doctor(opens in new tab) and set my intention: I was going to be a world expert on retail, helping brands increase sales and in turn helping myself. I put a slip of paper in my wallet and one on my computer to remind me what I was working toward every time I pulled out money or looked at an email.

  • Are you prepared to hold yourself accountable?

Only you can take action. Motivation comes from within. If your business goal isn’t detailed or compelling enough, you’ll vacillate on every decision because you can’t clearly see what you want your business to look like. Define your vision, and ensure it’s one that you feel comfortable holding yourself accountable to.

  • Is this business going to pay you enough to lead the life you want? 

The mantra “Build it and they will come” is not entrepreneurial; it’s reckless. Do your homework, and confirm there is a market need for your product or service before starting a company.

The mantra “Build it and they will come” is not entrepreneurial; it’s reckless.  


2. Knowledge-gathering is not learning.

Over the past 25 years as The Retail Doctor, I’ve learned that until you do the hard work of finding out what motivates you personally, holding yourself accountable, and staying focused on a goal, you can become an information junkie. 

I found that because everyone is unique internally, there is no one path to success. Many times, a tactic that hadn’t worked for one person worked for me. (And once I was on my way, the real work was controlling my thoughts when doubt crept in, as it does for everyone.) All I learned from the projects I tried -- and ultimately abandoned -- could not have been taught to me.

I learned that doing was the teacher.

All I learned from the projects I tried -- and ultimately abandoned -- could not have been taught to me.


My big break -- helping a small business go up against a second Starbucks, pitching its story to the New York Times and seeing it on the top half of the business section 20 years ago -- simply isn’t available anymore. Media has changed. You can’t follow my exact footsteps and expect success in today’s marketplace. But you can commit to hard work. 


3. You can’t work only “when you feel like it.”

I have 1,000 blog posts on my site about retailing. The thought of sitting down and writing another on how to greet a customer may not be something I want to do, but I have to write a new article each week if I want to keep nearly 2 million visitors coming each year. And the more I keep those visitors coming with inbound marketing, the more CEOs will find and hire me. 

I’ve noticed that those CEOs and entrepreneurs I work with have a few things in common: an ability to hold themselves accountable to just do the work, an ability to limit excuses and a tendency to take advice but not believe there is just one path that everyone “in the know” takes and the rest of the world misses.

So if you’re looking to start a business, do the work to get it growing. And make it your work, remembering always that doing is the teacher.

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