This year, in May of 2017, that same company was named a finalist for "Startup of the Year" by a tech community in Omaha.
Oddly, both of those sentences are true.
This company was described as a real breakthrough. An overnight success story, and was lauded for its blast onto the core banking software scene. So what happened between 2005 and 2017? Twelve years. Twelve.
Well, we raised 5 rounds of capital and 2 debt rounds. We signed a deal with a big partner. We expanded the platform well beyond the initial vision. We hired a new CEO and moved the company to Omaha. We hired a bunch of people and fired a few. We upgraded the board and upgraded the offices.
And after all that, all of those dollars and people and pivots, we were named a finalist for "Startup of the Year." An overnight success story indeed.
But, this isn't really that unusual a story. I've had one other solid success that toiled away for 6 years prior to hitting its stride. On my current thing, we've been at it since 2014 with no end in site. Even the pillars of modern American commerce, Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo, Google, and Amazon, took between 3 and 12 years from inception to prominence.
And still we're hooked on the shortcut. We want to believe not only that the overnight success story exists but is attainable through the simple execution of a list or a program.
Can you turn your great idea into an overnight success? Of course. Should you plan on it? Never.
Most companies start as good ideas, some great ideas. But in many of these successes it just takes time for the market to come around or for the business to figure out its real value, best market segments, or right pricing. And all of those learnings come through little tests and trials. Little market experiments where you get it wrong a lot and then finally get it right. All of these little failures are what takes time. Until finally, it all comes together. The product, the people on your team, the market, and your understanding of the value you really bring.
Boom. Overnight success.
So then, how do you best navigate these early choppy waters? What do you do in the early years of your very own 12 year overnight success story?
Here you go:
Conduct Small Experiments
Too many startups bet the farm too early on an invalidated hunch. Unnecessarily. The track record for most success stories reads differently. By conducting smaller experiments on potential market segments, price structures, marketing messages, and solution sets, you can test your assumptions in the wild. Resist the urge to go all in until you see a winner amongst these competing bets. You'll learn more about your real value. Prepare for some surprises.
Patience might be the most underrated quality of the startup hero. Take time to observe and analyze. The quick moving, nimble startup is a thing, but saving your powder for the shot that matters is a bigger thing. There are graveyards of startups that moved too quickly on a hunch that wasn't quite right. Or, a market that wasn't quite ready. Be patient.
Supporting Data is Your Friend
What part of your business plan do you know to be true? Answers found in spreadsheets can be the ultimate validation of your closely held assumptions or the markets in-writing version of lane lines, begging you to course correct. Ambiguity isn't necessarily your enemy, but data is definitely your friend.
Embrace the Grind
Test, measure, adjust. Test, measure, adjust. Test, measure, adjust. These are your 3 keys to the overnight success story. Test, measure, adjust. Most of the highflying biz success stories in the headlines today (and in the future) have gone through the meat grinder of the market. And, this is a good thing. It's made better products with better features. The pricing schemes have been honed and the market messages perfected. But, it requires mistakes. And the humility to move off of closely held and very personal ideas. Read this slowly. Mistakes and misses must be swallowed whole as part of your company DNA. It's the only way to learn enough to make it.
Now, Pounce on Opportunities
As an entrepreneur, patience is important. To a point. Once you sense an opportunity, it's time to pounce. Opportunities occur when prospective customers are willing to give you money for your good or service. En masse. It happens at the crossroads of the right product, with an effective message, pointed at the right market at the right price. When you sense that window, it's time to move.
Early success in startups is more about little wins than big wins. It's more about learning than cashing checks. Avoid the carnival barkers out there who promise you the easy path.
Embrace the process. Find your own overnight success story.