Founder Success: We Need a Strict Definition of Personal Success

“Every moment we spend pursuing an undefined goal is a complete waste of time — especially personal goals.”

December 5th, 2022   |    By: Wil Schroter

As Founders, we spend an inordinate amount of time setting and pursuing goals, yet the ones that truly matter — the ones that affect us personally — are often amorphous. If we're spending every waking moment working toward a goal, it stands to reason that our goals should have an insane amount of fidelity.

Where Does it all Start?

I remember my early years as an entrepreneur. I had a lot of ideas about what success meant for me and for the company that I was building. But, it wasn't until I had spent several years working on my business that I finally realized why felt unsatisfied.

I didn't have a clear definition of success.

This is a problem that plagues many entrepreneurs who want to build something great, but don't know how to define success in their industry or business. It's easy to get caught up in all the hype and excitement around startups, but without having a clear definition of success, you'll never achieve it.

A successful startup founder is only successful but their own definition. Angel investors, venture capitalists, friends, or family's opinions matter not.

What Is Success?

The first step to defining success is recognizing that there are different types of success — both personal and professional — and that each type has its own set of criteria for measuring progress toward your goals (or lack thereof).

When I started thinking about this topic, I realized that I have never really defined what personal success means to me. And I think that’s because it’s such a slippery term.

I wrote down all of the things that come to mind when I think about what it means to me:

  • Being happy with my life and the choices that I make

  • Making progress toward my goals and reaching milestones along the way

  • Being in a relationship with someone who makes me happy and supports my goals

  • Having fun with friends and family and having fun in general

  • Not having to answer to anyone but myself

It's not easy to define because there are so many factors involved, for example:

  • Psychological factors like confidence and inner peace

  • Financial factors like net worth and income

  • Social factors like popularity and social status

  • Spiritual factors like purpose in life and self-awareness

  • Physical factors like fitness level and health

  • Relationship-related factors like marriage and kids

And various other factors weigh in how we view what success is for ourselves as Founders, as well as human beings.

When you have a clear idea of what success looks like for you personally, then it becomes easier to achieve that success. You can focus on those things that will help you get there faster.

Having a clear vision of your personal success helps you create an environment in which you can live this way every day.

Most successful startups by definition will see business growth but most successful founders will feel that way

We Tend to Suck at Goal Definition

If you ask a startup Founder what their goals for the startup are, they may say something like "To sell for a billion dollars!" But that's a pointless goal unless that Founder needs exactly a billion dollars (or a percentage of it) to achieve their goals. Also, if you have a plan for spending a billion dollars please call me — I want to hang out.

A better goal would be "I need $281,520 to pay off my student loan debt, put money down on a house, and put $50k in the bank for emergencies."

That type of goal has a specific definition and a deliberate purpose which allows us to make tons of decisions based on that outcome. For example, we probably don't need to take on a ton of investment to achieve that outcome or build a giant company. We can hit that goal with way less complication.

Aside from business partners, no one else has the initial vision of the business owner. Never giving up on that vision is what makes a successful founder.

Goals Should Be About More Than Money

Money is a very binary goal, but we should also be specific about what our non-numeric goals are. For example, we all say that we want "more freedom" (it's why we started a company!) but do we ever really define that freedom?

That freedom may mean that we don't ever want to answer to anyone ever again (my favorite), but we should be specific about who we don't want to answer to. Are we talking about investors, customers, employees (all of the above)?

I personally never wanted to answer to a Board again (so we don't have one). I didn't want to deal with huge enterprise customers that could crush my business (so we don't have those).  The list goes on. By making goals very specific we start to create a tight roadmap toward real success.

Is there a "Secret Formula"?

I've been fortunate to have many great mentors and advisors over the years, and what I've learned from them is that there's no single formula for success. There are many factors that go into building a company — from finding product-market fit to hiring great people — but if you're wondering how to make it as a successful startup founder, there are two things you need:

1) A clear definition of success (personally)

2) The willingness to work hard and hustle for it (possibly every day!)

The first part is easy — define your own version of success and then make sure you're working towards it every day. In fact, I think it's so important that every founder should have their own definition of success in writing. For me, my definition looks something like this:

"If we can build a sustainable business with happy customers who love our products and services, then I'll consider myself successful."

That may seem like an obvious statement, but the truth is that many founders don't have a clear idea of what makes them successful — or what they want out of life in general. So starting simple is what many successful entrepreneurs do while they're still "finding their way."

Successful founders successful founders Successful founders successful founders

The More We Tighten Up Our Goals, The Easier They Become

This is counterintuitive because we normally think that goals are supposed to stretch us, to make us reach beyond what we can do at first. But when you take a step back and look at successful startup founders' lives, you'll find that this isn't true.

It's actually the opposite: The more clearly defined and specific your goals are, the easier it becomes for you to achieve them.

It turns out, the hardest goals to reach are those with the least definition. It's like when we say "I want to be happy" — because in and of itself it lacks definition. On the other hand, as we distill our goals into highly specific outcomes, it turns out they are often way easier to achieve.

A great method I've personally found is to not only make them highly specific but make them incremental. Instead of saying "I want to lose 40 pounds" try "I want to lose 1 pound by Monday." Smaller, focused goals have the highest chance of success. And if we're going to be spending an insane amount of time pursuing goals, doesn't it make sense that we invest some serious time refining them?

In Case You Missed It

How Do I Design My Startup Around My Life? There’s very little preventing us from designing our startups around our life goals. It starts with us being very clear about what we want to achieve and then taking clear, small steps toward those outcomes.

7 Habits Of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs From ice cream powerhouses to e-commerce pros, here are some traits from great founders that I’ve observed and tried to emulate throughout my 20-year career as an entrepreneur.

How Much Should I Be Working? (podcast) While there's truth to the assumption that more hours equal more growth, we'll explore how it benefits to think quality and not quantity when it comes to your weekly punch card.


About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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