Seventy-five percent of startups fail, many of them epicly. Of the thousands of companies founded every year,a mere fraction survive. And, of those few remaining, only a tiny number will go on to produce a sizable and sustainable revenue stream year over year.
So, what separates a bankrupt startup from a million-dollar business? What does it take to move the needle in the positive direction?
The hard part of figuring out this trajectory is that there is no prescriptive recipe you can follow to guarantee that yours will be a successful, massive business. If there were, by now everyone would be rich and famous. Unfortunately, though, reality has it the other way around.
The reason? Expectation misalignment. Most fledgling business owners are unprepared for the long, hard journey ahead. Most startup founders have no idea what it takes to build a marginally successful business, much less a million-dollar one. But there are at least four things they should know before they try:
1. Shh . . . Build in silence.
Quiane Crews, the chairman of Stealth Performance Communications, has one crucial tip: “Build in silence; they can’t stop what they can’t see,” he cited as his advice, during an interview I had with him at a conference.
“My No. 1 piece of advice for entrepreneurs is to build in silence,” Crews said. “A common mistake entrepreneurs make is that we get so excited about an idea or business venture we have, and we start sharing our vision with people around us and close to us. The bad part about that is not everyone is meant to know your vision.
“I learned that I shouldn’t tell people my next move if I haven’t made it yet. If people don’t know what you’re doing, they can’t distract you or get in the way of your goal.” According to Crews, by telling people what you’re doing or what you’re about to do, you’re basically showing them your hand before you play it.
“I’ve had my shares of ups and downs as well as any successful entrepreneur,” Crews continued. “One of the main reasons I was able to gain massive success in a short period of time is that no one knew what I was doing, and I had an amazing team that was on the same page as me.”
2. Focus. focus, focus.
Along the same lines, realize, early on, that building anything successful will take years of intense focus. “Overnight success stories” exist only in fairy tales.
The reality of building a company, especially a successful one, is not what you see in the movies. The day-to-day life is much more in the weeds. You will be sending emails. Pulling all-nighters. Doing whatever it takes to get the job done.
The hardest part is staying focused. There are infinite opportunities out there for you to take your talents and explore. You have to learn to say no to most things. Why? Because your time, as you will quickly come to realize, is your most valuable resource. You can always raise more money. You can always hire more people. But you cannot manufacture more time.
You have 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to get the most out of your company. Everyone is competing against you. If you are serious about growth, you must be cognizant of how you spend your time, and focus on what really matters.
3. Welcome feedback.
One of the hardest parts about being the person in charge of your company is taking responsibility for everything — both the good and the bad parts. Feedback is especially hard to deal with, especially on the rough days where things are inevitably going south.
If you want to build a really successful company, you have to do two things:
- Disassociate your personal feelings from the feedback you receive. To be successful, you cannot get offended when people criticize your work or strategy.
- Make sure the truth wins out.
By stagnating or dismissing the feedback they receive, founders often hinder the truth; they imbue their own personal bias into the decision-making process. But for those businesses to be successful, the truth must win. As founder, you must do whatever it takes to remove bias from your system so that you are always making decisions as cleanly and “bias-free” as possible.
4. Be ready to adapt.
Along the same lines, ego aside, know that the best founders are those able to adapt. Building a startup is a lot like a rollercoaster. For every up, there are likely three-to-four downs.
To achieve a million-dollar business, you will have to learn how to endure both the successes and the failures. There will come a day where everything looks bad. Your employees will want to quit. Your investors will want their money back. And, it is at this moment where the best founders shine. They adapt. They are obsessed with problems, not solutions, and are able to take out all bias and make the right decisions.
To build a successful company, you must be able to change. In a world changing so quickly, founders and their companies unable to adapt to change will fall far behind.
Like many things in life, success in the startup world is a marathon, not a sprint; there are no guaranteed shortcuts. The only thing separating your company from success is hard work and luck. If you focus on what you can control, remove any bias and evolve with your market — good things will come.