The new hustle

This week in The Extraordinary Business Book Club I interviewed Patrick Vlaskovits, co-author of Hustle (with Jonas Koffler and Neil Patel) and The Lean Entrepreneur (with Brant Cooper).

The name of the book itself raised a question about the meaning and value of words: when Patrick told his father, an old-school, first-generation Hungarian immigrant to America who’d thrown out the TV as a Bad Influence when Patrick was a child, that he was writing a book entitle Hustle, his father was baffled and dismayed. ‘Why would you write a book about stealing?’

But as Patrick points out, for millennials, the word has lost its negative connotation: today, it’s not about a con, it’s about moving fast, making money, finding a way. It’s about discovering your talent, working it, making a difference, not waiting for permission from anyone, not waiting to be asked. It’s about agency in the philosophical rather than the literary sense, ie the capacity to act.

That’s an interesting semantic shift.

And it underlines something that’s happening in publishing right now, and which Vlaskovits himself illustrates beautifully.

The Lean Entrepreneur was born in a chance conversation in a coffee shop. In Pete’s Coffee Shop in Emeryville, California, to be specific, while they were discussing Steve Blank’s brilliant but dense book on lean entrepreneurship. They were passionate about the ideas in the book and recommending it to everyone they met, but it was so hard to read that very few people ‘got it’.

‘[Heaton Shaw] said, “Someone should write the Cliff Notes,” and then Brant and I just looked at each other, like, “Why don’t we do this?” To be honest, there’s actually quite a few reasons why we wouldn’t have been good people to write the book. I don’t think we had necessarily the credibility or the experience, but what I’ve learned is, it doesn’t matter. It’s not necessarily the winners who write history. It’s the people who write history are the people who write history.’

Hustle, see?

And they didn’t just write the book, they did interesting stuff with it too: they formatted it landscape for easier reading on a screen, they made it freely available as a PDF download, they commissioned the mysterious Fake Grimlock to create cult cartoon illustrations. It sold pretty well, and still does, six years on, but as Vlaskovits acknowledges, the book sales weren’t really the point.

‘If you trace back the revenue that we generated from that book, not only from book sales, but from speaking and workshops, it’s probably in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.’

Patrick Vlaskovits is a great example of the new breed of authors, who will work with traditional publishes when it suits them but are happy to publish for themselves if it doesn’t. The book is part of something bigger for them. They’re not waiting for permission, or acceptance. They’re just doing it. And they’re writing history in the process.

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