In startups, we're hyper focused on metrics -- measurable, objective data. And it makes sense. 55% of startups fail by year five. You need cash, you need customers, and you need growth. And when reporting results to investors or pitching to partners, you need cold, hard data.

From revenue run rate, to customer acquisition cost, to gross margins, marketing spend, there are many ways to measure financial performance.

But what about the less tangible? The things you feel day to day, whether in your startup culture, morale, or overall well being.

From a financial perspective, we had a great year with 55% growth. But it hasn't all been easy, and there have definitely been other successes and failures.

Here are a few different ways to evaluate your 2017 success.

1. Creative (and risky) experiment outcomes

The only way your startup will ever really grow is through creative ideas, trying new things, and taking some risks. Sometimes, they go wrong. But sometimes, they lead to amazing things.

For my team, that meant a new product. In addition to our array of small business marketing products, we wanted to go one step further. To compete with the big players in the website space, we built a do-it-for-you website service. We hired copywriters and designers and invested product management hours into it.

But it's been successful so far. We went from a one-man website show (literally, there was one guy doing it all) to a team of over 10 people supporting hundreds of customers.

We're still working out a lot of kinks in our processes, and it's far from perfect. But it's been hugely rewarding to see a risky experiment work.

Did you launch a new product? Test a new channel? If you tried something new and saw results, that's success.

2. Team morale

What's the day-to-day like for you and your team? Do you work cohesively, or do you butt heads? Is your team excited to be in the office? Morale is one of the most important "intangibles" to reflect on at the end of the year.

Before 2017, I hadn't had an employee quit in nearly three years. We were a tiny tight-knit team -- more like a family than a company. But in 2017, five of my full-time employees quit. Two moved to new cities. Two wanted career changes. One had an unbearable commute.

I know they all left for specific reasons, but it's been tough on me and the rest of my team. Reviewing resumes, interviewing, onboarding, and picking up the leftover slack has been exhausting for all of us. The rate of change has been a strain on morale.

One the flip side, our team is growing and we've brought in some great new hires. The website team I mentioned above (our largest team) has outstanding retention. And we're positioned to have an exciting and inspiring 2018.

Remember to think about your team. 

3. Visible customer impact

Take a step back from retention numbers for a minute. Think about your customers as real people. Your business exists to solve a pain point for customers. Have you made their lives easier? If so, that's a win.

We get online reviews about our products and services all the time. But with our do-it-for-you website package, we're directly in touch with customers every day. We get emails and calls from delighted customers psyched about their new website. Our team actually prints out these emails and hangs them up on our fridge as an encouraging reminder.

One of my favorites is, "I will look more closely tomorrow, but I LOVE THE LOOK OF THE PAGE. You have done a GREAT JOB." The capitalization cracks me up.

Are all of our reviews glowing? Of course not. We have our share of unhappy customers; all businesses do. But we're making a direct impact on our customers and helping them launch their businesses.

If you're delivering on your customer promise, that's yet another form of success.

4. Mental and physical health

Last, but certainly not least, mental and physical health play a huge role in success. Are you keeping stress levels in check? Getting enough exercise? Allowing enough time to cook healthy meals? Staying connected to loved ones?

It's amazing how easy it is to forget about health. Stress has occasionally made us a little testy with each other, and a cold went around like the plague this fall. But at the end of the day, we've seen no major illness -- mental or physical -- and we're all in good health.

Because of our health, we've been able to make our best contributions to the company, driving our 55% growth.

But success in life is more than just business growth. When reviewing your year, think holistically and take into account how you and your team are feeling. After all, your team is what moves your business forward. 

Published on: Dec 27, 2017