Given that Elon Musk’s first company Zip2 was shut down by Compaq without ever earning a profit, would that be considered either a lucky dot-com era sale or a failure?

This is one of the great questions you will have to ask yourself as a founder. If your company does not live on, is it a failure?

  • What if you make $1,000,000 or even $10,000,000 (!) on a sale, but the acquirer shuts the product down in 24 months? Is that a success or a failure?
  • What if you make almost nothing on an acquisition yourself, but the product itself is beloved and lives on for decades? Is that success or failure?
  • What if you sell for $1b (!), and the product lives on, but the name is changed, and no one even knows it was the company you started?
  • What if your company is a success, but it is so hard on your family, you lose them?
  • What if you IPO, run it for 20 years, then merge into another company, with a different name, and no one even remembers the name of the company you started?

This is complicated stuff, defining “success” and “failure”. Perhaps in the long-run, the only true win is getting to Mars.

I think one great thing about being a founder is you don’t really think about a lot of these questions until much later. The existential questions wait until after you’ve had a bit of a win, a chance to reflect.

Until then — it’s just so hard even to bring a new product into the world that actually gets any material number customers as all. That’s a success in my book right there. Getting to $1m+ in ARR and not going under is my definition of success, at least the first stage of success.

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Published on April 15, 2018

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