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Startup “Success” Isn’t Uniform – And That’s OK

Illustration depicting hard work versus luck.

A favorite podcast series of mine is How I Built This with Guy Raz. This weekly NPR podcast includes interviews with founders of startup companies across a variety of industries. If you haven’t listened in, put it on your regular rotation. The insights are thought provoking and inspiring. These aren’t your typical staid interviews with CEOs, either. They dig into more than just business, touching on these leaders’ personal journeys.

At the end of most interviews, Guy usually asks the founder how much they believe luck has contributed to their success. The answers vary, but most startup founders recognize that luck or circumstance played at least some small part in their success even if their definition of luck differs. The most-often recognized is the simple luck (read: privilege) of being born into a family or environment that provides a greater likelihood of succeeding.

The randomness of luck makes it important for all of us to remember that successful companies and startups take different paths. The truth is every business has its own unique arc despite the unicorn fairy tales we read about in the news. Fast success and big success aren’t always because someone was inherently smarter or better. Sometimes that luck came as a privilege or market timing another entrepreneur simply wasn’t afforded.

This doesn’t mean someone else’s success should be dismissed – you never really know the trials and tribulations that person may have endured. It just means that the world is what it is, we play with the cards we are dealt, and we find our path. The important part is to keep going.

My philosophy after having sat in a founder’s seat, and having worked at local, national, and global companies, is to stop comparing myself to others. It’s pointless at the end of the day. Define your own success in a measurable but realistic way. Be gracious and recognize that luck likely played a part in it. Most importantly, recognize that your success will most likely look very different than what you read and hear about. And that’s okay. Keep going, keep building, and simply be proud of a life’s work that at the end of the day makes you feel good about what you’ve accomplished.

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