What defines a successful startup?

Chomwa Shikati
Mar 8, 2018 · 6 min read

There is so much talk about Startup success.

Well, what comes to your mind when you hear the term “Successful Start Up”? Is it the business unicorns like Twitter or Uber? AirBnB? Or is it a small company working hard through the night, with steady growth?

Like so many things in the startup world, the definition of what a successful startup truly is and can be vague. All business owners take a different approach to determining what’s considered an accomplishment within their organization.

But if there is anything we have learned from the rise and fall of many supposedly successful Startups, it is that predicting a successful startup may not be as easy as it may seem when you are looking in from the outside.

Far too many times, have we seen companies with attractive ‘numbers’ and big investors backing them up fall and get shut down. But even when that happens, does it really mean they have failed if they are shut down?

Is it still a failure if the founders and investors picked up lessons that helped them achieve success later on, on a much larger scale (Which is usually the case)? Doesn’t that make that failure not a failure but a step towards success?

Understanding success really then does depend on one’s perspective and the length of time one chooses to focus on.

Naturally though, numbers may help to predict whether a startup is on target with respect to its specific goals at the moment. Depending on the industry and circumstances, these numbers may include gross margin, customer acquisition cost, churn rate, annual contract value, profit, free-to-paid conversion rate, net promoter score, and numerous others.

But still that is a one sided view of the definition of Startup success and other founders would agree with that.

What then is a successful Startup? Consider the following point of views and Startup definitions:

A successful Start Up is one that has impact

For most founders, profit and revenue are merely a result of their Start Ups real purpose and that is:

To make a positive impact in the world.

For the more practical minded, a successful Start Up might be measured by how much of an impact it’s had.

Possibly the coolest rich guy on the planet, Elon Musk definitely saw it that way when he said:

“When I was in college, I wanted to be involved in things that would change the world. Now I am.”

He measured his success not in terms of financial success but in terms of how he can change and impact the world.

We tend to automatically default to money when we’re talking about success, but for some founders the ability to make a difference — to truly make a positive impact on the world — is the definition of a successful Startup.

Photo by Yong Chuan on Unsplash

A successful Startup is one where people are happy with your product

If you have unsatisfied customers then that means you will eventually run out of business.

Keeping customers happy is always important, but for struggling Startups it can be the determining factor for whether or not they end up in the failed Startup scrap heap or not.

Ensuring that you build your product with your customers in mind is what will make them happy. To most Startups receiving positive feedback about the product that they built to solve their problems means success.

Founders that start out by trying to solve a specific problem will determine whether they are successful or not by the number of people who use their product and are happy with the way it is working.

Success for them means making others happy.

A Successful Startup is one that gives you time with you loved ones

For some founders, the ability to spend time with family is the definition of a successful Startup. The hustle and grind is real, whether you’re working a corporate 9 to 5 or you’re trying to get a new business off the ground that we sometimes feel like we have no time for our loved ones.

For them having a business that lets them spend enough time with the people they love is enough for them to call their business a success.

At least Jim Jacobs, President of FocusInsite, thinks that way. He says:

“Success is all relative and I used to think it was one thing: Money, I was dead wrong. I’ve watched founders lose their health, get divorced, or alienated from their kids. We have an ambitious 10x plan to grow this business exponentially, not incrementally, and we’ve tripled in the past 18 months. Not getting a whole lot of sleep, but I still coach my kids youth hockey teams. Is it the ‘highest and best use’ of my time? Yes! Family priorities teach me to hire better, faster and delegate quicker. Making your kids a priority makes running your business without you a priority. Block out your calendar and keep your personal relationships strong, and the rest will take care of itself!”

Founders who have their loved ones at the core of their entire being know that having a business that gives them enough time to work on and build their relationships is success.

A successful Startup is one that gives you freedom

Being able to have freedom is what a lot of founders want to achieve and once they get that freedom that would mean that they have found the success that they wanted.

What sort of freedom is this?

Well, it could be freedom of time, freedom of location, creative freedom, and financial freedom. Basically it is having the sort of freedom that allows you to live the life you want, wherever you want and however you want.

To the founders that really place high value on the time they spend on this planet, having a business that will allow them to do anything they want is considered as a success to them.

A successful Startup is one that makes you your own boss

Receiving orders from someone else is just not in some people’s DNA.

And well for some founders who had been striving so hard to get a ‘job’ in this unforgiving economy and have failed to do so, creating a job that allows them to do the work they love anytime they want and become their own boss is a measure of success to them.

The ability to control your own destiny — to be not only your own boss but the boss — can be exhilarating.

Others have come to the conclusion that the fact that they can move from a mere employee to an entrepreneur running their own business is a huge success in its own right.

To be able to have the power to decide whether you will succeed or fail is truly a measure of success in its own right.

Final thoughts…

We all tend to categorize success in one single form. Numbers. This can be revenue growth, gross profit margin or customer acquisition etc.

But did you notice a pattern in the examples given above?

To founders Startup Success is not usually measured by those outside factors. Instead, true success is determined by each individual. Every founder started their company with a specific aim, and if that aim was billions of dollars in revenue, then that is their startup success.

So what is the meaning of Startup success to you? Leave a comment and share your thoughts in the section below.

Thanks for Reading :)

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This story is published in The Startup, Medium’s largest entrepreneurship publication followed by 303,461+ people.

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Chomwa Shikati

Written by

A Lamp Lighter (cshikati@gmail.com)

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +540K people. Follow to join our community.

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