Getting Zapped

Andrew Wilkinson
2 min readJan 21, 2015

When you’re a kid, you learn not to do stupid things by hurting yourself. You fall. You get zapped. You scrape your knee. You figure out not to do things because they hurt, and over time, you stop doing them.

The same thing happens in business, and it holds a lot of people back. When you first try something new, you suck at it and it hurts. I’ve met tons of entrepreneurs who get stuck because they try something new — like scaling up and hiring employees or incubating a new product— and they get hurt in the process. When it doesn’t work out the first time, they give up on it and it becomes part of their muscle memory. They say things like “it’s impossible to build a product in a services business”, “you can’t create a good company culture with a remote team”, and “you can’t launch a successful product without raising money”.

One of the most common speed bumps that I see over and over again is hiring a team for the first time. I talk to tons of first time entrepreneurs who lose their nerve when they start hiring people. Some of them push through, but others end up getting stuck as a one-man-band and burning out, or give up completely and take a job.

When I first started MetaLab, I sucked at hiring people. I’d hire someone because I liked them, not because they had the right skills or experience. Once they were on board, I wouldn’t give them feedback. I’d expect them to magically figure everything out and teach themselves. I’d constantly think “I wish I could just clone myself, nobody else gets it”. For the first couple years that I had employees, our work actually got worse instead of better. I was terrified that I was going to ruin the company, and I fantasized about a simpler time when it was just me doing everything myself.

Fortunately, I resisted the urge to put out other peoples fires and do it all myself, and over time I figured it out. I got better at hiring the right people, I built a bit of process, and I learned out how to train people properly. Now I have a world-class design team that consistently creates amazing work. I know for a fact that I never would have gotten here if I hadn’t waded through years of frustrating design reviews, over budget projects, and chaotic management.

I’ve had this same thing happen with all sorts of stuff. Hiring executives, investing in other businesses, incubating products within our agency. Every time I’ve blown it, I’ve come back with a slightly different strategy and usually — sometimes after years of trying — I figure out that if I push the fork into the socket just so, I don’t get electrocuted.

Sometimes getting zapped a couple times is worth the pain.