What does success look like? 👀

The most impressive founders have an intuition for what success looks like.

In my recent article ‘Growth isn’t Magic ✨’ I explored the idea that a startup has much greater chance of sustained growth by having the right mindset.

Whilst many people agreed with me, there were also some common disagreements:

  • Some feel that luck plays a big role in success, you get lucky or you don’t.
  • Some feel that the idea above anything else is the main ingredient for success.

There are elements of truth in those statements. However, I feel they look at it far too simplistically, and the wider point I was making has been misunderstood.

Success is hard

Things are very fuzzy when you’re starting up, and continue to be as you evolve.

You have an idea and a belief it will succeed, but you have no idea how it’ll play out.

Success is relative to what you want it to be, and to get there you need to achieve sustainable growth.

But achieving that isn’t simple.

So it makes sense to constantly doubt your idea, or feel luck has passed you by.

The most impressive founders combine grit with an intuitive understanding of what success looks like.

Knowing what success looks like

The concept of knowing what success looks like is abstract. It’s unique to your idea. Only you know it. It’s intuition.

I believe it’s about deeply understanding the behaviour change you’ve set out to create at a very individual level, and having a clear vision for how that behaviour manifests itself in the world in a way that people will want and need.

Then it’s about being able to spot the signals or conditions that means the world is ready for your product, and realising and actioning the level of implementation needed for that vision to be reality.

That means consistently showing a deep understanding of your audience, whilst continuously learning, being decisive and adapting when needed.

It doesn’t mean having everything mapped out up front, and delivering on that roadmap. The world doesn’t work that way.

A vision of success for Kahoot!

With Kahoot! we set out to create a new learning behaviour. It’s where our collective passions lay. We wanted to unlock everyone’s deepest potential, by emotionally connecting them with their learning experience together with others, through play, rather than being isolated and uninspired.

Our vision for doing that was by building a brand people love, and through a gaming platform and pedagogy that promotes social learning in any context where people come together with a shared purpose.

We saw a way to market for that through Formative Assessment, an emerging educational trend at the time, particularly prevalent in the US — with classrooms being the perfect first place to promote a more social learning behaviour! Because of this, the Kahoot! Quiz became our first game on the platform. This was the wave we rode.

But we also wanted to keep the platform “horizontal” to give us room to grow in other verticals such as corporate learning, which we also believed were ready to adopt the learning behaviours we’d envisioned, and represented commercial opportunities.

It then became about implementing on that vision through the lean, user-centric, behavioural and inclusive design philosophies we believe in, and have seen succeed before in our previous work.

The best chance of achieving the vision is ultimately with the people that create it

In the previous article I discussed grit. I purposely simplified the point and suggested that:

“Grit is about determination, willpower and leadership. It’s about making smart decisions under tough constraints. Without grit, giving up is easy. People won’t believe in your idea. And growth won’t happen”.

If you know what success looks like, you need grit to make it happen.

There are many attributes to grit that are fundamental to successful founders and the teams they build around them, and I believe intuition is the X-Factor that ultimately brings success:

1. Passion

You have to really feel the problem you’re solving. Your users need to believe in you. You need to give everything you’ve got to see it through. And you’ll only do that if it’s close to your heart. You have a burning desire to succeed.

“You have to have a passion for what you’re doing, because it’s so hard that any rational person would give up.” — Steve Jobs

2. Resilience

It won’t always go the way you want it to. You need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Embrace the unknown. Prepare to change course at any moment in pursuit of your vision.

“Never give in–never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” — Winston Churchill

3. Dogmatism

Stay focused on your vision. Ignore the critics or those that don’t understand. Don’t blur the value and bloat your products with all the feature requests you get. Be comfortable turning down opportunities in order to focus on what really matters.

“The media wants overnight successes (so they have someone to tear down). Ignore them. Ignore the early adopter critics that never have enough to play with. Ignore your investors that want proven tactics and predictable instant results. Listen instead to your real customers, to your vision and make something for the long haul.” — Seth Godin

4. Humility

Appreciate that you don’t have all the answers, that your assumption might be incorrect. Learn at every opportunity. Use quantitive data, but speak to your users every day. Hire people that are stronger than you in specific areas, and surround yourself by people who ask good questions.

“Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.” — Bill Gates

5. Intuition (let’s call this the X-Factor)

Intuition is knowing what success looks like. You can’t always explain it, but you know what’s right and what’s wrong. You know what great implementation looks like. You know when to pause, pivot or carry on. You make decisive and brave decisions. It’s as much about what you don’t release, as what you do release. You understand that real innovation is about creating new, improved human behaviours. You can see the wave coming in the market, you ride it, and you grow.

“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — you’re right.” — Henry Ford

There are so many variables, making success hard and unpredictable. But a startup’s biggest chance lies with the founders and the team they build around them.

If luck plays a part of it, then it’s because you make it yourself.

The same idea could be implemented by a 1,000 different groups of people, and each and every time the outcome would be completely different. Their vision, decision making, ability to learn, product, market perception and ultimately company lifespan will vary hugely.

“Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” — Guy Kawasaki

If you’ve got this far… thank you for reading! I’m only just starting out on Medium. Over the coming months I’ll be expanding on the themes in this article, sharing more practical tips and examples we’ve taken when growing Kahoot! and other companies.

I would hugely appreciate some claps 👏 and shares 🙌 so that others can find it!


We Are Human creates purpose driven organisations striving for social and commercial impact. We are mostly known for co-founding and incubating Kahoot!, “the world’s fastest growing learning brand”, launched in August 2013. By May 2017, we had scaled Kahoot! to reach 50 million people around the world every month, along with our co-founders and a highly dedicated team.

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