Success is a Long Game

I had a mentor once tell me “Expect to succeed, but don’t be surprised when you fail along the way.” This is one of the most succinct and accurate sentences I have heard used to sum up the experience of entrepreneurship. To me, there are three interpretations of this quote:

In order to get anywhere with a startup confidence is paramount. When starting a business there are so many variables that are out of your control. There is so much unpredictability. There often is a great amount of risk. It takes an almost blind confidence in yourself, in your team, in the idea, and in luck to be able to put all of the unknowns out of your mind and work every day towards the goals of the project. From a psychological perspective an expectation of success and a willingness to brush off pitfalls is immensely important to keep morale high and to keep pushing forward.

Confidence is contagious. No startups were built alone. Every team has had help from outside resources. At the beginning persuading outside resources is incredibly difficult because there really is no solid proof that your idea can transition from the ether to something tangible. Convincing anyone to join your team, to partner with you, or to invest in your company, in the absence of hard proof, is left to their perception of you. As the expert on your idea an air of confidence goes a long way in lowering the perceived risk in others’ minds. “I know this will work” is always better than “I really hope this works.”

Finally, success is a long game. If we interpret this advice to mean success over a career rather than success of a single startup we dive into the reality of successful entrepreneurs: many of them have had failed businesses before they found a successful one. Personally, I am on my third project. Yesterday I was talking with someone who had eight before he had one that worked. But that is part of the process. My current venture is further than my second and my second venture made it much further than my first. The reason for this is that failing is one of the most effective learning tools. By evaluating why something didn’t work out you gain skills to avoid the same issues in the future. Embrace failure when it comes. Every successful entrepreneur has experienced it. If you look at a failure as a process to collect and hone new skills it becomes a partial success. I like to tell people that my startup has already succeeded because I have learned more from this experience than I ever have in any other way before. And though I am fully convinced my current venture is the one, if it isn’t I will continue to work on more.

Ryan Gary of emcee