The 48-hour person

A handful of times in my life, I’ve come across a class of people who are able to accomplish in 24 hours what would take most people 48. I call them 48-hour people. Maybe you’ve met one—he or she makes everything they do look easy, mastering concepts while making very few mistakes implementing them. 

But, the flip side of this coin is that typically, 48-hour people see little difference between the simplicity of a concept and the ease of its execution. It looks something like this: 

Adding two numbers together by hand is easy, so adding 1,000 numbers together by hand shouldn’t be hard. 

The problem? Most people will make a mistake and eventually slow down while adding those 1,000 numbers together. What’s easy to a 48-hour person is hard for the rest. 

48-hour people often make exceptional founders because—with one brain and two hands—they can operate at the pace of a small team. They learn quickly and will find, if it’s to be found, product market fit faster than most. But then stuff starts to go downhill. 

WCGW?

When these specimens scale up their teams, hiring us normal folk, they don’t understand why we move more slowly and seem to trip a lot. A common frustration I hear from bewildered 48-hour people is that they don’t understand why someone is struggling. “It’s not hard,” they say. 

Indeed, the concept may be easy to grasp, but executing it may be difficult for most people. And saying “it’s not hard” will have even A-players searching for the emergency exit. In case no one’s told you, it also demoralizes your team. People don’t like feeling inept. 

Every now and then, I encounter the rare 48-hour founder that successfully scales with their company. And as an earlier stage investor, not much is more gratifying than seeing a founder I believe in have their thinking graduate from “everything is easy” to “easy concepts may be hard to execute.” This elevated sense of thinking erodes the notion of someone with a different working style than them being a “B-player.” 

What should you do?

Startup teams should be packed with highly capable, innovative thinkers, but exceptional founders need to meet them in the middle. Otherwise, those founders end up getting fired and replaced with managers who understand how to wield an organization full of irrational human beings with varying degrees of capability. They sit on the sidelines while someone else builds their vision. 

To avoid this common fate, exceptional founders need to internalize that the hard thing about easy things is that, for most people, those easy things are hard.

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