Is starting your own company worth it? Definitely!
Usually, it doesn't work. More startups fail than succeed. Only a small percentage of startups will become unicorns--the rest will be donkeys.
But when you do achieve success--creating a profitable, sustainable business--it's remarkable. I've had the good fortune to learn this first-hand at WordStream, the company I founded.
Success will look different for everyone. But here are 21 signs of success you will experience on your startup journey.
Once you start seeing these 21 things you'll know that your company is well on its way to success--or maybe you'll realize you've actually already made it.
1. Hiring Employee #1
I knew my company was on its way after I hired my first employee and began a period of serious business growth. In the early days, nobody wanted to join my one-man show. But life became much easier after establishing some early wins and communicating a vision talented people could buy into!
2. Series A Funding
I knew my company was on its way when I no longer had to spend all of my own money building it and work in a Panera Bread for the free WiFi. A Series A Round is the first real validation of your vision. Someone thinks your company is worth millions and is willing to give you money to get a piece of it. Little did I know that this was merely the beginning of a long journey!
3. Consistent Sales Performance
I knew my company was on its way when we started making 2-3 sales per day. Early on, it was very uncomfortable when halfway through the month there were zero sales or maybe one sale. People were super stressed when a week went by without a sale. But reaching this point of consistent sales performance was so great!
4. $1 Million Per Year in Revenue
I knew my company had made it when we were making $83,333 per month, or $1 million per year. This was a BIG deal--we hit this milestone within our first year or so!
5. Your First Award
I knew my company had made it when I won my first award. In 2009, the MITX Technology Awards named WordStream a finalist in the online advertising category. We didn't win. I was bummed--but disappointment quickly turned to elation when we won an unannounced award category--the MITX Promise Award at the end of the evening for being a promising early stage startup. Now my company wins so many awards it's kind of ridiculous!
6. Industry People Know You
I knew my company had made it when people in my own industry came up to me and knew who I was. I didn't have to introduce myself. This happened at the first marketing conference I ever attended--SMX East--in 2013. It was at this point I realized the millions of people who read our blog were people in real life and knew about my company--a great feeling!
7. Joining Inc. as a Columnist
I knew my company had made it when I became a regular Inc. columnist. Up until that point, the whole process of publishing was difficult. It involved pitching editors to get their attention. Now things are reversed--editors of various publications pitch me on why I should write for them!
8. Appearing on Television
I knew my company had made it when a Fox Business News producer emailed us an interview request. They wanted me to appear on national TV after I published a timely and newsworthy article. Success means making your own luck - it's amazing what a lot of time and hustle can do!
9. Your Drink Deliveries Are THIS BIG!
I knew my company made it when we got a drink fridge and soda deliveries were this big. Twice a week!
10. You Don't Know All Your Social Media Followers
I knew my company had made it when I didn't personally know most of the people who interacted with our social media accounts. It used to mostly be industry friends, my mom, and my wife who would engage with our stuff on social media--now I have no clue who half these people are!
I knew my company had made it when, just over two years ago, we finally started making more money than we spent (EBITA!). Most businesses--even massive companies--have yet to make a dime. Until you get to this point, you have to worry about your burn rate (e.g. you're burning $200,000 to $300,000 a month more then you brought in for the month). Now we're making money every month!
12. A Ping Pong Table!
I knew my company had made it when I discovered we had a ping pong table. What a great surprise!
13. You Hire an In-House Recruiter
I knew my company had made it when I looked at my 2015 budget and it required the hiring of one employee per week--and an in-house recruiter to find those people. I was like "whaaaaaat?" But it was totally worth it. Hiring someone in-house was 4x cheaper than paying outside recruiters!
14. You Have In-House Training Staff
I knew my company had made it when we hired people whose entire job was to train the people who handle our sales and customer success. It's kind of like being the Battlestar Pegasus from the TV show "Battlestar Galactica," which had self-contained production facilities for new Vipers and Raptors to make up for any combat losses. Yes, we basically have an entire training company within our main company!
15. Who Are These People?
I knew my company had made it when I no longer knew everyone who was working for my company. I know most of them, of course, but once we grew past 100 employees (we're currently 200 strong and growing) and started having offices on three different floors, and people starting every week, and me traveling for business, it became almost impossible to know everyone anymore!
16. Team Building = Renting an Island
I knew my company had made it when we rfor a company party. This team building effort would have seemed pretty kooky a few years ago, but when you have 200 employees (and if they each bring a guest or two) then it starts to make more sense! ented a Boston Harbor Island
17. Your Company Doesn't Need You
I knew my company had made it when it got to the point that my company no longer needed me. My company doesn't skip a beat if I'm not in a meeting or, more importantly, when I'm on vacation with my family!
18. Spending Millions for Office Space
I knew my company had made it when we started spending millions for office space in Boston. My Series A round was just $4 million and I thought that was an unfathomable amount. Now we spend almost as much in rent.
19. 26 Conference Rooms? Seriously?!
I knew my company had made it when I counted the total number of conference rooms at the new WordStream offices: 26. What!?
Holy moly! I think the new wordstream offices have 26 conference rooms!
20. Random People on the Street Recognize You
I knew my company had made it when one of my Uber drivers said he recognized me. He told me he reads me all the time on Medium--how crazy is that?!
21. Getting Acquired or Going Public
No, this one hasn't happened yet for me, being acquired or going public is a sure sign your company has made it.
Building a startup isn't just about making tons of money. As a founder, it's about creating value in terms of the utility you provide to customers, the jobs you provide to your employees, and the promises you made to your investors.
I might think I've created a lot of value, but I'm biased. Being acquired is a really strong validation from an external perspective. In the case of going public, it's even more valuable because your value isn't being decided from a single perspective--it's the market's perspective of the value you've been able to create!
Have you seen any of these 21 signs of success? What other signs of success have you experienced during your startup company journey?