Maybe you're successful

“That founder is successful.”

Successful at what, exactly? I lost $3 million on a $70 million real estate deal. That was a huge success. You doubt me? Read on.

Is SVB successful? Or was it never successful? Or was it once successful? How is that defined?

Success is static, and it defines a point in time. Success is entirely up to you and only you to decide.

Consider, how does one take into consideration force majeure, adverse, or favorable events when defining success?

I also made $4 million on a real estate development that was 1.5 years late and $2 million over budget and had a best case original pro forma of $3 million profit. Was that a success? Or was that a failure avoided because the market bailed me out of underestimated and rising costs?

Be careful. Why? Because strong mimetic desire to emulate another’s system leading to their perceived success can lead you farther from your overall goals and increase your financial and resource risks.

Growing conversations online are generating more confusion about what success is and who is successful. What is omitted from the conversation is analysis of success and a clear understanding of what success is. Bios are unusually misleading, and the content behind it often a drain on your personal resources which delay you from learning meaningful content. Social media bios that publish $ amounts with hopes of attracting founders who perceive someone as an authority of success often find non-consequential information and nothing to qualify it.

I’ve been referred to as successful many times. But whenever I hear that, I think the comment is suited for someone else. That is because the definition of success is at times entirely subjective and ill defined by the giver and the receiver.

So, what is “success”? Here is a way to think about it objectively.

The word “success”:

  • Defines a state
  • Defines objectives being reached within a specific time period

Looking at another founder’s social media profile or engaging in casual conversation with another founder does not reveal success unless there are qualifications. Qualifications like, “I set out 10 years ago to change the world with this technology and make myself $100mil in the process within 10 years, and today I proudly announce that I sold the company for $1 billion, and I own 10%. My goal has been reached.” This would be a static instance of a success.

I have never seen anyone advertise the net result of any deals. For instance, advertising in a bio a $50 million exit or $100 million of real estate transactions omit the actual results. 

I personally developed a $70 million real estate deal and lost $3 million of my equity (in addition to $6 million of outside investors). Does that scream success? Should I instead publish my net worth, or a former net worth, or what I expect my future net worth to be in 10 years? Would that confuse you nicely as to your opinion of my perceived success?

This is why success is static. At the start of the development the goal was sales and profits based on a pro forma. At the end of the project the market turned upside down, and the goals changed from profits to avoiding judgements on a personal guarantee. Containing the increasing downside risk was a huge success.

What about the initial goal? Totally unsuccessful.

Compared to other people in my position in a new down market? Wildly successful.

So, which one applies?

I think about success like slices of the space time continuum. Certain slices create the definition against a background of one’s subjective analysis of the event.

Success philosophy matters somewhere in this conversation. Steve Jobs was a successful entrepreneur from a financial consideration. He also failed at maintaining his health and failed at finding an alternate cure for his curable-with-surgery cancer. He also gets a major fail for being a father. Much of his overall entrepreneurial success is at the cost to something else regardless of the back story or reasons. What’s important to you?

This is where the philosophy of success becomes evident. Is it Jobs one wants to emulate? Or is cherry-picking what attracts you most a better option?

If you’re focused on emulating Jobs down to the black turtleneck (i.e. Holmes qua Jobs), do you want to copy or inherit all of the unknowns you think may be part of the success you believe is success? If you’re deficient in every category including lacking some logic and reason, sure you might. But I challenge you that you are your own person with your own value system that is likely incompatible with that of Jobs.

Advertised “success” is always hiding truth, and that truth is something of which caveat emptor becomes more relevant, especially online. You define what success is to you, but it may not be relevant to others as their success may not be relevant to you.

For founders, the focus of success should be reaching “continued success”… to be continued.