My radio show co-host Susan McMullen wrote a children's book years ago about bullying. She shopped it to several publishers--but no one bought. When she lamented the fact that no publishing house would take it, her sister provided some sage advice about how Susan should define the book's success.
Success, Susan's sister insisted, can come in many forms. Instead of being published by a big publishing house, imagine the reward from printing out a few dozen copies and taking it to the local children's hospital to cheer up the patients. That's success.
This simple advice is a lesson that all entrepreneurs should take to heart when building our companies: Success comes in many forms. We need to recognize that and define what success means for us.
Here are some ways I have heard entrepreneurs define success:
Jobs Created--Lives Touched
You may define success in the number of jobs your company has created. Think of all the lives an individual job touches beyond the person who is receiving a paycheck. If you pay anyone, you should view that as a success and be proud of the fact that you are contributing to the economy. Small businesses and entrepreneurial ventures are the engine for new job creation--you play an important economic role.
Of course every entrepreneur wants to make money at their venture, but I've found for the vast majority of them, it's not about wealth. Revenue, and by extension income, serves as a measuring stick and the ultimate validation that your idea is worth something to someone else. A true entrepreneur sees money as a way to further fund their next big idea--a resource to be capitalized on. If you are focused on watching your bank account grow, you may not truly be an entrepreneur.
Entrepreneurs start companies or launch an idea typically to fix something they have identified as a problem in their own world. Some of the greatest ideas (Facebook, for example) came from an entrepreneur's own personal experience. While Zuckerberg wanted to find dates, the desire to "change the world" is especially true for company founders that start ventures in categories in which they know the monetary reward will never equal the level of effort required. I have interviewed entrepreneurs with a heart for making sure the world has clean water or that underserved children gain equal access to education. These entrepreneurs see a problem and they figure out how to fix it.
Entrepreneurs tend to get bored easily. We look for the opportunity (sometimes defined by entrepreneurs as "freedom") to get to do things that others usually don't. We relish the opportunity to meet someone we admire, attend a special event or tell others our story. And it's not about the recognition, it's about the experience.
One of my favorite quotes that sums this up is, "Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won't, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can't."
Which brings me to my most important point determining success:
It's About the Journey
Entrepreneurs really don't like to make it to the goal, because once we do we are looking for the next climb. All too often we focus too much on "making it" and don't take the time to enjoy the journey. It's in the journey and the creation that an entrepreneur is truly the happiest. This we must all be reminded of often.