Paul Graham And Buster Benson On Why Slogging And Schlepping Are Key Startup Values

Don’t let the real hard work scare you. Everyone has to do it.

Paul Graham And Buster Benson On Why Slogging And Schlepping Are Key Startup Values

If you’ve ever let a crosstown friendship wither because of the travel involved, you may have fallen victim to schlep paralysis. And whether you’re speaking Yiddish or not, you’re talking long, hard work.


The schlep, also known as a slog, is as crucial as it is unsavory, if you listen to Twitter software engineer Buster Benson or Y Combinator founder Paul Graham. Each recently spelled out why you need to learn to love to toil.

The personal slog

Writing on his always-interesting SVBTLE blog, Benson says there are different modes of work:

  1. Introspection: Finding yourself.
  2. Exploration: Finding everything else.
  3. Goal-making: Based on values found during introspection.
  4. Strategy-making: Hypotheses about how to achieve your goals.
  5. Experimentation: Trying things, playing, iterating.
  6. Finding fit: Person/universe fit.
  7. Slogging: Executing. Doing the work.

Each draws on different moods, states of mind, and brainwaves, Benson says, and we tend to excel at some and suck at others.

These processes don’t happen sequentially; they’re simultaneous. If your workflow is a startup, its organization is flat: Each mode is strongest when the others are strongest, and neglecting one hurts the others.

And it’s the slog that’s getting things done.


“The first six modes are inputs,” he writes. “The last mode is the only true output.”

So what, exactly, is a slog? A slog is a schlep.

An inquiry into human schlepping

Paul Graham is Silicon Valley’s godfather who defines what makes a startup a startup (growth) and what a founder really is: an economic research scientist. Part of that research is schlepping.

“One of the many things we do at Y Combinator is teach hackers about the inevitability of schleps,” he writes in a recent post. “(They) are not merely inevitable, but pretty much what business consists of.”

We don’t like schleps, Graham says, and that dislike provokes an unconscious blindness. We are, unknown to ourselves, pulling away from doing hard stuff (like seeing your friend in Queens).


Graham riffs on “schlep blindness,” playing off of Stripe and the idea behind the developer-payment site. Thousands of people had to know how hard it was to process online payments, but the founders kept launching recipe sites and local event aggregators.

“Why work on problems few care much about and no one will pay for, when you could fix one of the most important components of the world’s infrastructure?” he asks. “Because schlep blindness prevented people from even considering the idea of fixing payments.”

It’s a lot more intimidating to launch a payments site–with the dealing with banks and money and potential fraud incurred–than to do something with recipes. But because everyone’s scared of the schlep, the toils are doubly valuable.

So keep calm and schlep on.

[Image: Flickr user Anoldent]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.