Nick Holzherr
Published in

Nick Holzherr

Overnight success can take years

Unless you’re lucky, it takes a lot more time than you and maybe your investors first think in order to get a tech startup to become highly successful and begin on the path of hockey-stick growth. When you leave behind the opportunity of a highly paid job you’ll get both family and friends, however much they love you, question your decision. From worried expressions on friend and family faces, to forwarded articles with titles like “how founding a startup f***ed up my life”, or articles about how your competition just raised $100m arriving in your inbox, you need thick skin and a lot of belief in your idea to keep at it.

“It took me 17 years & 114 days to become an overnight success”

Lionel Messi

Most successful people will tell you that prior to their success they had to put a huge amount of work into learning how to make their idea work. Take Dyson as an example; In the 1970’s, frustrated with his Hoover, Dyson invented the cyclonic vacuum cleaner whilst being supported by his wife’s art-teacher salary. It took more than 10 years after his idea to see success.

The same is true for a lot of tech companies. After 14 months, AirBnB had $200 dollars in monthly revenue. The founders of AirBnB funded the company on credit cards at the start of recession. After launching mid 2008, they couldn’t raise any investment. They soon became more successful after joining the YCombinator accelerator, but even in December 2010 there was no hockey stick growth.

Source: Google Trends for AirBnB term

Don’t fall into the ideas graveyard

Many company founders are creative and love the energy and excitement of new ideas. Steve Belsky in his brilliant book “Making Ideas Happen” writes about how when people first work on new ideas they have loads of energy and excitement — working late into the night. But, as the work of making a business work starts to become real — the energy and excitement starts to dip. At this point, most people start to think about new ideas, giving up on their former idea. This cycle repeats, creating a graveyard of started ideas that never quite get to done.

Idea Curve from the book Making Ideas Happen by Steve Belsky

Choosing which idea you work on carefully and then focusing on that idea with perseverance is so so important to heighten your chances of success. After a lot of hard work (and maybe a few pivots) ideas will start to become successful and success and money brings the excitement back. An apparent correlation between your work and the success of your startup is a great motivator.

Ben Horowitz in his book The Hard Things About Hard Things describes how the difference between mediocre CEOs and brilliant CEOs is perseverance (I think he calls it “never giving up” — but he means the same thing).

Hard times are good for making you lean and focused

Paul Graham of YCombinator designed a chart he called The Startup Curve which has been widely shared around Silicon Valley. Fred Wilson, a VC from San Francisco wrote “Many people think startups are up and to the right all the time. But more services exhibit this “startup curve” than any other growth pattern. Of course, some never get past the trough of sorrow. But many do. Mostly by staying focused on the problem they are trying to solve and working diligently to get to the promised land.”

It’s entirely worth it

Tech startups are hard, but once you start to become successful it’s an incredible feeling. As I said in, the real attractive thing about tech startups is the fast growth once you crack the model.


Originally published at




Nick is an entrepreneur. He’s the CEO of food tech company and HR software company Air ( He’s an BBC Apprentice 2012 finalist, received an honour doctorate from Aston University in 2016 and sometimes does some guest speaking.

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Nick Holzherr

Nick Holzherr

CEO of, acquired by Samsung.

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