Harvest is a multimillion-dollar, fantastically profitable, growing business that boasts thousands of customers from freelancers to Fortune 500 companies. The company has grown to over 30 employees and boasts one of the most beautiful tech offices in New York City.
But it’s how they did it that’s most impressive — over the course of 10 years, without a dime of outside investment, 100% bootstrapped, and in the city of New York.
In an age of tech celebrity, high-profile fundraises, and billion-dollar acquisitions, it’s how Harvest founders Shawn Liu and Danny Wen’s achieved success that you’ll find incredible. What Shawn told me was their secret ingredient is something you’ll never guess.
How Harvest Got Started
Out of the ashes of the dot com bust, Danny and Shawn started working together in 2003 as a two-man web design studio. As their consulting business grew, they found themselves needing a way to easily track time and invoice their clients. But they couldn’t find applications that fit the bill. Out of this frustration, Harvest was born.
If you’ve ever suffered the painful experience of using time tracking solutions built for corporate administrators, you’ll know that time tracking and invoicing has never been an appealing aspect of life. Harvest is the complete opposite — clean, intuitive, and a joy to use.
They built the product, launched in four months, broke even within a year, and they’ve run at a profit since. Within four years, they became a fast-growing, multimillion-dollar company. And that was four years ago. Their path, though, was nothing like your typical startup success story.
“The thing is,” Shawn said, “when we started in 2003 in New York, there was nothing going on.” New York didn’t have anything resembling the tech scene it has today.
You’d think that this would be a huge disadvantage. There were no investors to pitch, no parties to attend, no acquihire prospects. In retrospect, though, having nothing going on turned out to be one of the most important drivers of Harvest’s success. When there’s nothing else to do, you can focus on what’s important — building a product that solved a problem and making money.
The Power of Having Nothing Going On
To psychologist Daniel Goleman, having nothing going on means the freedom from distraction that allows you to do your best work.
In a study of 1,000 children born in the same year in Dunedin, New Zealand, psychologists administered a battery of tests that measured willpower, IQ, and more. They followed these children for 32 years and what they found out was surprising. The number one predictor of financial success wasn’t “IQ, social class, or family circumstance,” it was the child’s self-control.
Your ability to focus holds the key to self-control. Goleman explains, “three subvarieties of cognitive control are at play when you pit self-restraint against self-gratification: the ability to voluntarily disengage your focus from an object of desire; the ability to resist distraction so that you don’t gravitate back to that object; and the ability to concentrate on the future goal and imagine how good you will feel when you achieve it.”
What focus amounts to is the ability to exert cognitive control so that your attention isn’t easily scattered by social media, the goings-on of scenes around you, and any new idea that pops into your head. When you’re building a company and have a million things on your plate, you have to regulate your limited amount of focus against a multitude of tasks, goals, and lofty ambitions. How you manage your focus will be critical, and having nothing going on can be a powerful advantage for your ability to control yourself.
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For Shawn and Danny, focus was not just a byproduct of starting a tech company in New York in 2003. You can recognize it in their collective voice, infused in the people of Harvest, its values, office, and, product.
Learning what’s important and stripping out the extraneous is how you achieve an economy of motion to hone your thinking to a point of effectiveness and expressiveness. That means getting closer to a place where you have nothing going on.