What is Success?
Over the last few weeks, several events and discussions got me thinking of the nature of success. What exactly is it?
I was interviewed for Enterprise World magazine about the Pipit story and one of the questions was about what achievements we had made. Where had we succeeded?
I also started the Finance Forward Europe Accelerator run by Village Capital VC, which is the worlds biggest Impact investor. One of their questions that we have to present to the cohort was on our Purpose. Why had we gotten involved in a Social Impact Enterprise?
I also had a conversation with Elena Rossi, CEO of Profit with Purpose (Ireland) about their work with companies who are trying to figure out how they can make an impact in the world and not just make a profit.
We tend to think of success as being getting the big contract or the big exit, but we need to think of every day successes and recognise them for what they are, as they are the steps that lead to those big events. We also tend to think of success in monetary terms as opposed to the Impact that our achievements make.
Focusing on the ‘big exit’ as the eventual proof of success leads to burn out. If your plan has only one big finale as an achievement, what you achieve today does not motivate you to keeping going and achieve more tomorrow. Every day has something you can take from it, even if it wasn’t a particularly good day.
Focus on the day to day successes along the way, like:
Building a product that works. Actually, making something that works is in itself a success. Be it a physical or virtual product or a service, getting through the design/development/testing/refining process from an idea to a product is a huge success. It is not easy so recognise what you have achieved.
Getting to market. Once you have your product, getting it to market is the next success. I have been through the process of getting a physical product from being manufactured through to a distributor and finally onto a retail shelf. It is not an easy process, especially for a new company. Digital products are perceived as being easier to distribute, but often have dependencies which mean getting to market is not a straightforward as you might think. Getting a customer to use the product is the next step. Your first customer is a massive milestone. However, at the time of your first customer, you will be in the middle of a million decisions/deadlines/deliverables, so its’ a moment that can be missed! At Pipit, myself and the other two cofounders were having a meeting when our CTO said, ‘someone just made a payment’. That was our first. As we were in the middle of a meeting it did not hit us how big a moment this was. It was several hours later before we realised, we had something to celebrate!
Getting funded. Most entrepreneurs and inventors think their idea is the best idea ever. Getting someone external to the business to agree and invest in the business is a huge success. This repeats at different stages of the business. It starts with the ‘family and friends’ early stage investment which often is down to a belief in the entrepreneur as opposed to the idea, but that is still an achievement. Someone believes enough in you to put their money on it.
Funding isn’t a one-off event for start-ups though, each level has its own challenges. At PiP iT, we have gone through the Seed Round and then what we have called a Pre Series A round in which we had a US VC, Enterprise Ireland and Angels in Ireland, UK and US participate – that’s a lot of moving parts! Getting that round signed off and funds in the bank was massive success. At the first board meeting with the VC attending, the first question I was asked was what my plan for the next round was… Despite the fact it never finishes, each step in funding is a success.
Getting your company name out there and recognised in your industry and by customers is tough. Setting up a website and social media is pretty easy, but getting engagement is a different story. From my consultancy days, entrepreneurs always thought their idea/product was the best ever and expected everyone else to think the same. I have seen reactions from disappointment to raging anger when journalists didn’t pick up on a press release, but what you are promoting needs to be interesting to journalists before they publish it. Seeing your company in the media is a great validation of your story and how you are presenting your company. Cutting through the noise of all the online/social media/regular media and getting attention, is a real success.
The image with this blog is FinTech Ireland’s map of the industry. There was a great buzz in the office the day Pipit made it on the map with these great Irish companies. Recognition from the industry is success.
Getting through a crisis. All businesses go though crises along their journey. In the age of Covid 19, that doesn’t need to be explained. Facing into a crisis, as opposed to hoping it will go away and coming up with a plan to get out of it, in itself an achievement. Implementing that plan might be difficult and require unpalatable decisions, but making those decisions brings a sense of success. Knowing that you can react to difficulty as opposed to wilting in front of it motivates you to continue. As a leader, your determination both comforts and inspires your team.
I believe that successes based on a Purpose are the most motivational. PiP iT is a Social Impact Enterprise, we are a Financial Inclusion company and our Mission is to support migrants in helping their families at home. We are a for-profit company, but we are here to make a real difference, an impact on the world. That Purpose drives the team. From the early days with just the three founders bootstrapping the business, through to having a team who are aligned with the Mission, the sense of Purpose gets you through the hard times. Everyone expects to have bad days, what you might not expect when starting a business, that those days can come one after another, for months.
You need more than an end goal to get you through those times. If you link your definition of success to your sense of purpose, you will find something truly motivational.
Take regular time to reflect. Recognise your achievements, where you have succeeded. The more you focus on the Purpose in your life and how it applies to your business, the more you will really see what you have achieved and how successful you actually are.
Traditional measures are still important
The measures of success that are traditionally considered are the P&L, sales, profit etc. These are all key metrics and should of course be KPI’s for your business.
What I am suggesting is that there is more to success than many people consider, with Purpose being the most important driving factor.