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Success Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be

High-profile entrepreneurs John Vechey and Ted Leonsis get real about what happens after your company is successful.

The second half of the morning at Inc. 500|5000 conference, which featured hugely successful PopCap founder John Vechey and serial entrepreneur Ted Leonsis, took a different tone from the energetic coffee-fueled morning sessions. 

The theme: Success isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Or at least, it can be hard to deal with. Both speakers talked about the little-talked-about struggles that come with a fast-growing company. 

Vechey, who recently saw his gaming company PopCap sell for over $700 million, talked to the audience of a couple hundred entrepreneurs about the "ramifications of success."

"I sat down to write some standard bullet points of success for this speech, and I just realized this isn't what I want to talk about. I'm struggling with where I am right now," he said, adding with a laugh: "This is sort of therapeutic, so thanks."

So what could he possibly be struggling with after such success? One point he discussed was finding he no longer had a place within the company.

"It's good to step down, let better people run the company," he said. "It's necessary for growth, but personally, emotionally, it's very hard."

He also talked about realizing, as a founder, you eventually are not the smartest person in the room, because you hire the best people around.

Leonsis, CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, also talked about the harder parts of success.

After building and selling a tech company in the 1980's for over $60 million, he said he had a moment of emotional reckoning when a plane he was on nearly crashed.

"It shook me. I, of course, then began to negotiate with God," he said. "I was supposed to be happy at this point in my life, but I wasn't. So I decided to continue on. I said to God, 'Get me through this and I'll leave more than I take. That was the elevator pitch."

Since, Leonsis has had even more success, making rounds as a senior level manager at companies including AOL, and sat on the boards of and invested in tech start-ups like Groupon and Google. But he, like Vechey, says to not think success comes with money. It's about personal fullfilment.

So how'd the crowd take the news? No one ran for the doors, just saw a few raised-eyebrows.



Last updated: Sep 23, 2011

NICOLE CARTER | Staff Writer | San Francisco Bureau Chief

Nicole Carter is Inc.'s San Francisco bureau chief. She was previously an editor at New York Daily News, and her work has also appeared in Consumer Reports magazine.

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