Persistence

This originally ran in my company’s monthly-ish newsletter.


A few weeks ago, on a dark, frigid morning, I sat in my car and watched as guys trickled into the Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym where I train.

I didn’t want to be there.

I didn’t want to go inside.

I wanted to go home.

I wanted to hang it all up.

I was so tired … from work, from kids, from a million aggravating and enervating pinpricks that I felt like quitting more than jiu-jitsu.

And in that moment, I thought about the fine line between stamina and stupidity.

It’s right to praise persistence, but shouldn’t we persist in things worth doing?

* * *

Most of the founders who read this newsletter probably started 2020 by defining their goals for the year; and they’re probably throwing themselves at their work with commitment, ingenuity, and optimism.

Honestly, I’ve been stuck in the starting blocks. The near- and long-term objectives are inchoate, and after several years of optimism, the entrepreneurial journey is feeling like a merciless slog through the Sahara. I suspect I’m not alone.

Yes, Portico’s still here, and we’re busy fielding inbound demand. The data suggest we’re on the right track, with visitors to our website growing at a CAGR of 88% since year one, and our audience expanding from 35 to 93 countries.

But still, the azimuth toward a recurring revenue model remains unknown, and the odds of bootstrapping to scale seem long indeed. There’s no discernible Portico Pivot™ on the horizon.

Some people illustrate the benefits of persistence as an exponential growth curve — small efforts compound over time, leading to large returns at time t. As if our lives are money-market funds.

It’s an intuitive concept when applied to one’s own knowledge and capabilities: put in the work, get in the reps, enjoy the gains.

However, it misses the context of industry or market conditions. The latter can dictate the shape and slope of the curve.

For example, you can buy the best surfboard, learn from the best instructors, and have supreme balance and fitness, but there’s no point in surfing on a pond. You need waves.

The tide has been out for a long time in EM private markets. The surf conditions have been poor. I’m scanning the horizon for signs of a swell.

The industry needs an upcycle.

* * *

My dad once gave me framed copies of a prayer and a poem. The prayer was General Douglas MacArthur’s “Build Me a Son” and the poem was John Greenleaf Whittier’s “Don’t Quit.”

Their words become more meaningful as the years tick by and the cinders burn hotter in the furnace of adversity.

My dad injured himself pretty badly when he went through Marine Corps Officer Candidates School. He tried to persist through the program, but he fell during one of the evolutions, tearing most of the ligaments and tendons in his ankle. It was about 10 days before graduation.

He was given a choice: return to civilian life, or wait for the next OCS class and start over from the beginning.

He chose to start over.

One time, he let me in on a secret.

“Buddy, sometimes you have to take it a day at a time, sometimes it’s a meal at a time, and sometimes it’s a step at a time. Just keep taking the next step.”

So, on that cold morning, with an aching body and melancholy in the ascendant, I turned off the ignition, opened the car door, and took the next step.