We live in an era of “overnight” entrepreneurial success. Instagram launches, and within 12 months, sells for over $1 billion. Slack, the popular communication tool, took just 24 months from launch to reach a multi-billion dollar valuation. With stories like these filling our heads, it’s no wonder that entrepreneurs are increasingly impatient for overnight success, and consequently dejected when their projects fail to achieve it. If you want to keep yourself grounded, you have to realize that success takes time—even for overnight successes.
Even the famous examples of overnight success in the startup world are the result of years and years of hard work. Tweet This Quote
Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, started working in social media in 2005 when he was an intern at Odeo (the company that became Twitter). After leaving Google in 2009, he joined Nextstop, which focused on location-based recommendations. He finally founded his first company, Burbn, in 2010, after Facebook acquired Nextstop. Burbn helped people enjoy a night out on the town by providing a way for people to “check-in” to bars, earn points for hanging out with their friends, and oh yes, post pictures.
When Burbn failed to gain traction, Systrom pivoted to focus on photo sharing, and launched Instagram. Then, Facebook acquired Instagram in 2012—18 months after it hit the iTunes store. All of this happened seven years after Systrom began his social media journey.
Stewart Butterfield founded the company that became Slack in 2009. It began as Glitch, a video game company, which launched its first game in 2011, only to close it a year later. A year after that, in August 2013, the Slack service finally launched, and it raised $120 million at a $1.2 billion valuation in October of 2014. Again, all of this occurred over five years after the company was founded. Even the renowned examples of “overnight success” in the startup world are the result of years and years of hard work.
To dominate a market, you have to get started before everyone else—meaning years of arduous work. Tweet This Quote
My own career “successes” have taken many years. I first met Darrell Benatar and Dave Garr, the founders of UserTesting.com, back in early 2008. Our mutual friend Tim Taylor introduced us, thinking I could be a useful adviser to the company. Since then, nearly eight years have passed. Initially, no one was interested in funding a usability testing company, so Darrell focused on building a sustainable business. This was especially important during the great subprime recession, when investment dollars were hard to come by.
Thanks to Darrell’s hard work, UserTesting.com grew steadily, until he was able to raise $45 million from Accel in January of 2015. I’m sure that somewhere, some wannabe entrepreneur is scoffing, saying, “On-demand testing for mobile apps? That’s a no-brainer!” That entrepreneur probably doesn’t realize the App Store wasn’t launched until July of 2008. If you want to dominate a market, you have to get started before everyone else, and that means years of arduous work.
Bemoaning your lack of overnight success wastes time and energy better spent building towards your ultimate success. Tweet This Quote
Or take the New York Times bestseller that I helped write, “The Alliance.” While it took less than 12 months from when we signed the book contract to when it hit the bestseller list in July of 2014, that story of instant success overlooks most of the work that went into it. Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha first approached me in 2012 about collaborating on the ideas that became “The Alliance.” That quickly doubles the time it actually took to achieve success.
But should that really be the starting point? Perhaps the proper starting point is when I read early drafts of Reid and Ben’s previous book, “The Startup of You,” and provided my feedback on structuring that book. That would push the start date back to 2011. Or maybe the right starting point is when I contributed an essay to Ben’s first book, “My Start-up Life.” That happened in 2006. Or maybe the real starting point is 2001, when I first started blogging about these ideas!
The stories of instant success overlook most of the work that went into them. Tweet This Quote
Success takes time. If you’re constantly evaluating your life and bemoaning your lack of overnight success, you’re wasting time and energy that could be better spent building towards your ultimate (if overdue) success. In almost every instance, including mine, success takes years of hard work and persistence. Each year brings incredible growth and change.
Don’t ask yourself, “How can I be an overnight success?” Ask yourself, “How can I build a successful organization that lasts?”