Judging Startup Success

Gabriel Weinberg had a post today about when a startup can be called successful. It’s an interesting post in that it doesn’t really formulate an iron-clad ‘this is what I think’ opinion. It does a good job of looking at the question from all angles. I think the gist of the post is that there can be a lot of viewpoints around a startup and some can be orthogonal when it comes to judging success. I tend to agree.

However, there’s also another angle I didn’t see discussed. First, let me introduce an old saying in business:

Never take ‘No’ from someone who doesn’t have the power to say ‘Yes’.

I’m not 100% sure where it comes, but it’s something great to internalize. It means that you shouldn’t spend your time trying to get the approval of someone who never can or will give you that approval. That lesson can be applied to many situations, especially surrounding your happiness. Never put gauging your happiness into the hands of someone else. You’ll always be chasing that persons approval, even if that person is multiple physical people.

The same can be applied to your startup. Never tie up how successful you view your startup by seeking the acknowledgement of someone else. Someone will always come up with a different goal for you to reach “to be considered a success story.” Call it the moving the goal post axiom of startups.

This, of course, is easier with less debt and fewer investors. Keeping with the theme of Gabriels post, a $10 million offer to buy your company looks very different to a company that’s bootstrapped w/ no debt than one that’s taken on eight figures in VC funding.

This isn’t a another anti-funding rant. It’s more of a plea to figure out what it’s going to take to call your startup a success. Not what will make your friends, your extended family or parents at your kids school think that it’s a success. You.