What Tucker Max taught me about hard work

November 5, 2021
Estimated reading time:
6 minutes

Here's a marginally edited version of a Slack conversation I had with my then-boss, Tucker Max, back in 2015. Tucker was just returning from a tech conference he'd spoken at in Amsterdam, which was about 6 months after I'd started working for him, and about a month since I'd returned to the UK from Austin, TX.

tuckermax: @andrewlynch: By the way, spending time in Europe helped me understand you more. Compared to even the aggressive entrepreneurs in Europe, you are at the top in terms of motivation. It’s just that “aggressive" in Europe is like, barely even “normal” speed here.

You need to start thinking like an American, at least in terms of how much you work, how effectively you work, and how to really go after things. If you can do that, it won’t make you stand out in our company, but will put you in the top 1% in Europe.

andrewlynch: Spending 3 months in the US, I genuinely appreciate the american entrepreneurial spirit. I thought it was just a lie you guys all told yourselves to make you feel high and mighty, but it’s generally true

And yeah, I totally agree.

So imagine what european corporations are like

tuckermax: Seriously—I think if you can benchmark yourself against Zach [Obront, the other Scribe Media co-founder] and Kevin [Espiritu of Epic Gardening, the other employee at the time], and think to yourself, “How hard do they work, how do they think about solving problems, how quickly would they get this done, how would they add to this situation” etc, then you will not only get better yourself, but you will be able to CRUSH in Europe

Just adding the things they have that you are lacking (but developing), like work ethic, aggressiveness, ingenuity, resourcefulness, self-motivation, and self-drive, you will add the only things you’re missing.

Yeah, I can see why you are lacking in those areas. You have NO role models in Europe.

I was at THE conference about start-ups and entrepreneurs, and was shocked at the level of intensity and work ethic. All really smart, nice, genuine, people, but it’s like they just run at such a slower speed.

And I don’t even mean necessarily pure hours worked. It’s also thinking about to effectively and quickly get work done. And about how to make the most out of effort, maximize resources, etc, etc. They just don’t think that way.

Honestly, I felt like a tiger in a petting zoo.

andrewlynch: On that last bit, how do you mean? Is that the sort of stuff you were talking about last week or something, with setting good working habits, working at the right times of the day, that sort of stuff?

tuckermax: Yeah, exactly. The stuff you are not good at yet, but working on.

I mean, the thing you sent about calling clients more is a great example of something you wouldn’t have thought about at all 3 months ago, and weren’t thinking about 3 weeks ago. Now you are.

Or systematically thinking about how to set up a process so you maximize the amount of work you do, etc.

andrewlynch: Now the next step is quickly fixing the process, coming up with a way of doing it, and implementing it this week, rather than this month

tuckermax: Exactly. Speed the loop up.

Or even—implement it today.

That should be your default: once you identify that something needs to be done, then your DEFAULT should be to do it immediately.

Of course you may be busy with something else, but there should be an active reason to push it off (you have other work that is more pressing), as opposed to always scheduling stuff later by default.

Do you get that?

andrewlynch: Yeah, absolutely.

And I know you’re totally right about my lacking aggression, speed, resourcefulness etc - I know that I’m not good at those things, which is one of the reasons I wanted to join BIAB, because I want to develop those skills. Although I was also pretty nervous about leaving behind a big company because I was afraid that at a startup I’d get “found out” because I don’t have those skills. I’m basically trying to force myself into a do or die situation. (edited)

tuckermax: Well—you were found out. You don’t have those skills. Zach and I understood that. And? Now what?

andrewlynch: time to learn

tuckermax: You bust ass to develop them.

Exactly. You push yourself to develop them, and if you’re REALLY smart, you push us to point out where you are falling behind.

Great example from the conference: Remember the MC, the comedian guy? I talked to him later that night, and got him to give me feedback on my speech. I did’t want to know what I did right. I wanted to know what I did WRONG—especially the joke beats, the pauses, etc—so I could fix them.

An amateur looks for praise. A professional seeks out criticism, in order to improve.

Honestly, before this trip, I wondered if you weren’t a bit lazy or a bit of a wantrepreneur. Intelligence and people skills you are golden at, but I wondered about your true motivation.

But now I get it. You just don’t understand what it means to actually work hard, and to actually get shit done in a serious manner. You don’t know what it means to have a professional work ethic—because you never had anyone show you. You aren’t lazy, but you also aren’t going to figure this out on your own. You need examples.

This is natural man. Almost no one gets this on their own. You kinda have to see it. It took me years to understand the difference between a professional and amateur mindset—and I’m in America.

You seriously might want to think about moving to America. If you are serious about making that leap in your life, it would be much easier to do it from here. Being around Zach and I all the time would create profound changes in your work ethic, your approach to business, problem-solving, etc. It would accelerate the creation and solidifcation of the habits you really need to build, the ones you are starting to build now.

You can do it in England. It’ll just be harder for you, and require the exact attitude you don’t quite have right now, the one you are trying to build.

Does all of this make sense?

andrewlynch: Yeah, 100%, I’m just thinking about it - moving to the US permanently isn’t really an option right now, but might be in 2-3 years. In the meantime I need to think of ways to make sure I can do all this while I’m still in England. I need to find some similar people to me and try and surround myself with them.

or, rather, not people similar to me, but people similar to the situation I’m in, who can be good role models

tuckermax: What you want, are people who already ARE where you want to be, and are WHO you want to become.

You have two good examples in the company, two guys about your age who have made that “work ethic” leap—Zach and Kevin.

But yeah, local in England would help you, no doubt

andrewlynch: In the meantime I’ll keep my copy of Turning Pro next to my bed and re-read a section every morning.

That sounds like a joke but I genuinely mean it

tuckermax: haha—motivation is great, but there is no substitute for putting in the hours. At your stage of development, putting in time will help.

Then, start unpacking your work beliefs. Like I talked about above—you think getting it done this week is fast. I think if its not done today, that’s slow.

You can think like I do. You just have to unpack your assumptions

And then rebuild them

One other big important thing: Making sure you actually care.

Great Mark Cuban quote: “Everyone wants to be a star. No one wants to put in the work to do it.

Do you actually want to be a pro—enough that you’re going to put the work in?

Or do you just want to have it—you don’t acutally want to do what it takes to earn it?

I think you can and will put the work in—but YOU are the only one who’s opinion on that matter actually counts

Bc you have to get up every day and do it. Not me.

One more point about thinking, and the sermon is over:

You need to improve your self-direction and your initiative. You know this. Very simple habit you can build to do that: EVERY DAY you can challenge yourself to make at least one improvement to the Book Process. Either improve a doc, or write something, or find an efficiency. It can be something really small, but they accumulate, and in 3 months, that is a TON of work you’ve done.

Just one example of how pro’s work—they constantly push themselves to improve.

And by making that a habit, you are training your mind to look at things and think “How can this be better?”

Which is like, the HALLMARK of how entrepreneurs think

I was just reading about this—the ability to see things clearly as they are, and still be able to imagine how they can be different, and figure out how to actually make them different—that’s like, the one unifying factor between all people who have created billion dollar companies. It is MUCH HARDER than it looks (edited)

andrewlynch: Alright—I understand everything you’ve written, and totally agree, 100%. Can you think of a good way for me to track or measure my improvement in these areas?

I feel like this is one of those things where it’s REALLY easy to have blind spots or fail to see progress. It’d be easy to kid myself that I’m working harder, being more resourceful, etc., and also easy to be doing better on a lot of those things but not really appreciate that I am improving.

One thing I can do is build habits that lead to those qualities—like you said, something like “make one small improvement to the process every day” is a much better item on your to-do list than saying “I’m going to be more resourceful today"

tuckermax: Of course. Dude, haven’t you been paying attention to the quarterly goals thing? Do you see how I set them up—there is NOTHING vague anywhere on that list, is there?

Being resourceful is an result, not an action.

We want to build an amazing company here, right? Is that on our to do list?

NO. Our to do list are the ACTIONS we think we need to take in order to achieve that result.

andrewlynch: yeah, that makes perfect sense

tuckermax: Here’s how you can take tangible steps to improve. Ask yourself these questions:

1. What skills do I need to build? (note: we listed most of them already)

2. What actions can I take in my job that will build these skills, and show I am developing them? (note: that idea about improving the process is one example of an action that both builds the skill and shows results)

3. What are my assumptions about work?

4. How could those be wrong? Or limiting?

#3 is going to be harder to answer. You have to look for it—assumptions are, by theiur nature, buried and hard to see

tuckermax: OK, I have to get back to this damn editorial calendar.

But good job on realizing this—that’s the first step to improving.

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