It is rare to hear executives admit that success is more than money. Perhaps it takes someone trained in mathematics to make an accurate accounting of what defines success -- putting building, learning and developing ahead of money.
The CEO in question is Dave O'Flanagan who runs Dublin, Ireland-based "customer intelligence" startup, Boxever.
O'Flanagan is smart. He holds an MSc in Computer Science and a BA in Mathematics from Trinity College Dublin. And he worked as a telecommunications consultant before honing his skill at building teams of people who could develop systems that analyze consumer purchase data to boost revenues by recommending the right product at the right place and time.
That idea of figuring out how a traveler's past buying behavior is likely to influence future purchases is the key to Boxever's success. The company -- which counts airlines like Air New Zealand, RyanAir and Singapore's Tiger Air among its customers -- now has 50 employees and raised $6 million in a Series A round last year.
If you are a builder by nature, here are four principles that will drive you to success.
1. Success Does Not Mean Being Satisfied
Every person has a different idea about success. For some, it is about feeling happy most of the time and for others it feels more like the never-ending drive to keep climbing higher.
O'Flanagan is very driven and is uncomfortable saying that he feels successful. In a recent interview he said, "When you use that word, I swallow because I am hard on myself. There is always another mountain to climb."
While he is able to enumerate reasons to feel successful, he does not seem to have taken that feeling to heart. "We have grown the company from zero to 50 people, I am married with three young children. Life is good. But I've always got to do more and do better. Even when I am at home I can't relax -- I work on the house. I like doing and building. You need friends and family to remind you of the positive things," he said.
2. Success Is Defined By Your Role Models
You can learn a lot about someone's definition of success by looking at who and why he picked his role models.
O'Flanagan has an impressive trio of role models who share a devotion to going their own way, creating a vision that others want to follow, and working hard to turn the vision into a reality.
"I admire Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and Salesforce.com founder and CEO Mark Benioff. They both went a different way -- they both have truly remarkable visions and they convinced people to come along to make those visions a reality. I also admire Michael Jordan because of his talent, understated personality, and willingness to work hard to achieve his goals," he explained.
O'Flanagan has asked himself whether he could be as successful as these role models. When he started Boxever, he had what he thought was a "disruptive vision, a crazy idea -- Could we do for retail what Amazon had done for e-commerce?"
Despite the uncertainty, O'Flanagan decided to take a chance on his vision. "I needed to validate the vision and to be far ahead of the industry. I decided that I was going to start a company without that validation as Bezos and Benioff did," explained O'Flanagan.
3. Success Depends On Knowing What You Like, What You're Good And What You Dislike
To be successful, you must be good at many of the things that matter to making your organization a success -- and finding partners who can do the other important things you hate to do.
It's essential to get someone objective to let you know what you are good and bad at.
O'Flanagan has a clear idea of what he likes to do and what he is good at. "Before I started the company, my bosses told me that I was good at building and motivating high-performance teams. When I started Boxever, I wrote the code. I have hired people to do that as the company has grown. I am good at building and selling a product," argued O'Flanagan.
He also knows what needs to be done that he does not much like. "Throughout my career, I have not liked and not been good at regular reporting, formal processes, and making things run more efficiently," said O'Flanagan.
4. Success Is Controlling How You Spend Your Time
Ultimately, you can't be successful unless you love the way you are spending your ever-evaporating time allocation.
Perhaps O'Flanagan's most interesting choice was walking away from a high-paying job because it was too comfortable. "Before I started Boxever, I had a well-paying nine to five job. I was really unhappy because it was slow and not challenging. Now I come to work every day and I learn, I am challenged, and I grow," he said.
Running Boxever is "pretty close to the ideal job" for O'Flanagan. As he said, "I am CEO of a fast-growing company. I am iterating to make the company more effective. I spent the first 18 months writing code. As the company grew, I hired a leadership team -- VPs of HR, finance, marketing, sales, engineering and a CFO. It is becoming more about setting goals and making them responsible for achieving them," he says.
This lets O'Flanagan focus on what he likes best. "I provide product input, add to the company's talent, and do the fundraising. The job keeps changing and I focus on the bigger questions. I am learning and growing. And I love building," he explained.