Are You an Essentialist? Why this is Important for Entrepreneurs
By Katie Mishra
September 18, 2017
This article is by Katie Mishra, LaunchX alum and cofounder at Wearibly.
Are you an essentialist? Think about it. It’s possibly the most important question you’ll ever answer.
If you have no clue what I’m talking about, go read Essentialism by Greg McKeown. That book changed my life.
As a student at LaunchX, my cofounders and I built Wearibly—a 21st century medical wristband that can be accessed with the tap of a phone in emergencies for kids with severe conditions. My team consisted of Brandon Musa—“Code Money,” Wilson Spearman—the Jack-of-All-Trades, Andre Nascimento—our hardware guru, and myself—our team’s networking expert.
I firmly believe that Wearibly has grown and will succeed long-term because we are essentialists. We weren’t originally and that’s what held us back. I’ll teach you how to be an essentialist from the very start of your company.
According to McKeown, essentialism “is a systematic discipline for discerning what is absolutely essential, then eliminating everything that is not, so we can make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.”
Remember—entrepreneurship is not about how many hours you put in, but the quality of those hours.
To focus on the quality of your hours, I challenge you, as an entrepreneur, to answer this question: what are your top three priorities?
Priority #1: Taking Care of Yourself
The first key point is that essentialists prioritize their health. I’ll have to admit, I wasn’t very good at this at LaunchX, and I paid for it when I got back home. It’s so easy to put health on the backburner when there are so many exciting things to do and people to meet. But trust me, ignoring your health comes back to bite faster than you would think. All I ask is that you don’t be like me when starting your company. In LaunchX, I got at most five hours of sleep per night, barely exercised, and ate terribly (one day I survived on just oreos). Later in the month, I paid the price when I fell asleep everywhere (MIT Sloan, other people’s dorm’s, even dinner), and got sick. I challenge you to be different—prioritize sleep and health.
Priority #2: Your Responsibilities
I’ve already outlined that your first priority is your health. Don’t try to argue with me. At LaunchX, our second priority was mandated—we had to go to class. This only leaves you with one priority to designate for yourself. Now don’t try to be tricky and say your priority is your entire company. A priority is a specific, actionable item that can be accomplished in less than half a day.
Priority #3: One Actionable Goal
For example, one day at LaunchX, my self-designated priority was primary market research. So that afternoon, my teammate Wilson and I hunkered down and called tons of parents to learn about their needs and habits. Soon enough, we got into a rhythm. We learned what follow-up questions to ask, recognized response patterns, and became more efficient with our calls. If, instead, we had done only a few calls per day while working on other things, we would’ve wasted a lot of time and gleaned less insights from our calls; we wouldn’t have as readily recognized what questions to ask.
Bonus—Priority #4: Have Fun
Then, because we finished in less than half a day, we had that night free to do whatever we wanted.
A lot of entrepreneurs fail to recognize the importance of having fun. The quality of the hours you put in decreases as you spend more time working. If instead, you take breaks to have fun, not only do you reset your brain, but that white space allows you to subconsciously think about problems so you can later approach them in more creative manners.
How to choose your priorities
Part of being an essentialist is not just recognizing priorities, but knowing which priorities to personally take on so you’ll contribute the most value to the team. For example, one of our biggest needs at Wearibly has consistently been designing the wristband. Now, I could’ve taught myself 3D modelling and tirelessly toiled to design a pretty awful-looking band. Or I could let Andre, who is pretty much a 3D modeling expert, take over every aspect of that part of the company. Andre could design 10x faster than me and complete an innovative design, so the first option was never even a consideration. While I didn’t contribute to our product’s design, I became our networking expert instead. Andre and I are both essential to the team, just in different ways. Don’t forget to prioritize according to your strengths.
The prioritization lesson of Essentialism cumulates in the “90% rule.” The 90% rule states that you should only do things you want to do 90% or more so you can prioritize your time to make the biggest impact possible. Let’s look at this in terms of LaunchX, where it’s manifested in the little things. For example, I could’ve gone to the networking event at Venture Cafe and made the impactful connections that my peers found there. But, personally, I needed help from specific types of people, so I decided to skip the event and focus on cold emailing instead.
For another example, Brandon and Wilson could’ve worked on every possible aspect of our website until it had all the features necessary for every user case. Instead, they focused on the most important aspects—the ones we thought would make the most impact. By implementing the 90% rule in nearly every situation, we became more productive and built a better product.
This rule extends far past LaunchX. In order to build a successful company in the real world, you need to apply the 90% rule to your entire life. Over the years, I’ve gone through that process and never regretted it once. Since last year, I’ve quit volleyball, piano, and robotics, all of which were previously some of the most important activities to me. Now I only focus on three extracurriculars, Wearibly, Code Circle, and inspirED’s Youth Advisory Board, so I can put my energy where I believe it’s most valuable. So if your startup is really important to you, before diving in, you have to think about what major activities you’ll quit so you can focus the majority of your time on building your dream.
So here’s a few takeaways towards being an Entrepreneur Essentialist:
Prioritize your health
Remember that “sleep is a weapon” (quote Jason Bourne)
Focus on one priority a day
Play to your individual strengths
Apply the 90% rule to everything in your life
I hope this helps you in your journey to becoming an entrepreneur! Just remember, if you want to be an entrepreneur, you first have to be an essentialist.