By Dillon Kivo, Founder and CEO of Kivo Media Group.

Everyone wants to be the exception, but building a multimillion-dollar company in 12 months simply isn't the case for the majority of businesses. Even those companies that seem like overnight success stories flew under the radar for several years before finding their big break.

So what's the secret to building a successful startup? You have to be passionate, committed and willing to work for the long haul. Many startups don't fail. Rather, their leaders just tend to give up too soon. Be hands on, set realistic goals for growth and development and take your startup journey one step at a time. Understanding the steps and principles below can be the difference between a failed startup and a successful one.

Solve a problem you are passionate about.

The first step in starting a business, while challenging, is arguably the easiest. You need an idea. The best companies were formed by people who solved a common problem, created convenience or discovered something missing in their field or society. And often, they were willing to commit all of their time and energy to this discovery because they were passionate about it. Without passion, those hard, early years will seem unbearable and leaders will be more inclined to give up.

Find validation.

While this is not advice you want to give to your teenage son or daughter, finding validation is an important step in building a successful startup. The purpose of starting a business is to solve a problem or fill a need or void. Without affirmation that there is, in fact, a market and a need for your product or service, you may as well move on to your next big idea. Perform stress tests, talk to everyone in your network and get others on board.

Decide on how you will fund your business.

Focusing on development is crucial, but remember to set aside funds (up to 50 percent) for marketing and promotions, focus groups and building your business. If bootstrapping, it's important to know that you don't have to have everything at once. Many startups go years before hiring departments that to some may seem critical (like marketing). Instead, employees and founders wear multiple hats and support each other in new endeavors.

Create relationships with your customers.

Once you have officially launched your company and promoted it, the key to building a successful business is building customer loyalty and happiness. The cost of acquiring new customers can be high. Instead, follow up with users and create ongoing touchpoints. Serve customers by sending out surveys and listening, learning and sincerely caring about them.

Be flexible. 

Take criticism graciously and make changes where appropriate. It's important to trust your original idea, but don't be too proud to listen to your customers or accept change. Be willing to flex and change after listening to your customers and analyzing your target audience. Carefully prioritize and debate which feedback is most useful and beneficial to the customer and to the company's future.

Don't get comfortable.

If the enemy of progress is comfort, then learn to enjoy being uncomfortable. Make big goals for yourself and your team. Try building your customer base by four to five percent each week and oversee these goals by having an active management role.

Always play an active role.

Founders are pulled in a thousand different directions with funding, recruiting, partnerships and strategizing, but the most successful companies have hands-on leadership (not to be confused with micromanagers). Create a positive culture in your company by learning to manage your people and to set aside specific time for them. Happy employees lead to happy customers, which will lead to growth.

Be patient.

Success certainly won't happen overnight, and it won't happen for a couple years. Companies that are investing in themselves and carefully and strategically planning ahead for continued efficiency can expect to achieve profitability around their third year in business. But every company is different, and true success may take decades. Steve Jobs established Apple in 1976, but it wasn't until 1984 that Apple got on the map with the advent of the Macintosh computer. And even then, Apple struggled until the arrival of the iMac and consumer products in the late 90s.

As an entrepreneur, as a leader and as a startup founder, it's critical to know the difference between a great idea and great company. So decide now that you're all in, and don't give up when the going gets tough.

Dillon Kivo is the Founder and CEO of Kivo Media Group. He is an internet entrepreneur who has played an integral roll in helping thought leaders, millionaires, and major corporations bridge the gap between their brands and online consumers.

Published on: Feb 23, 2018