A few weeks back I was watching The Queen of Versailles, which is an independent documentary about billionaire timeshare mogul David Siegel and his quest to build the largest house in America. At the beginning of the movie, the director interviews Siegel about how Westgate Resorts got it's start. He talked about how he founded the company when he was young and naive, worked like hell, and managed to grow the company to billions in sales. What struck me about his description was how similar it is to the way I describe working on my first startup, with one critical difference: Skritter is a tiny bit less less profitable.
This got me thinking about the nature of effort vs reward. It's a common misconception among entrepreneurs that the harder you work, the more successful you become. This workaholic mentality causes people to sideline important aspects of their lives to maximize a perceived chance to make it big. I believe that effort and reward are correlated. If your goal is to become a millionaire, you are far more likely to reach your goal working very hard on a bunch of ventures than if you stay at a job that allows you to relax and coast. The age old motto "God helps those that help themselves," seems true.
But the the amount of reward you enjoy for your effort is randomly distributed. If it weren't, David Siegel of Westgate fame would have had to work a thousand times harder/longer than someone whose startup makes $1M/yr. Since that clearly isn't possible in a normal human lifespan, I'm forced to conclude that there is a big component of luck involved in the rewards anyone reaps from their efforts.
Having a deep understanding of that fact is important because it helps workaholics like me from over-investing in work. The truth is that I probably stand about the same chance of retiring early from a new venture whether I pace myself or work 100 hour weeks. Effort is important for success, but marginal effort is just that, and it seems a horrible waste to labor under the delusion that another few hours of work will be the difference between a decent living and early retirement.