Eric McDonald is the founder and CEO of DocuTAP, where he guides sales and product development, setting the vision for the software design and company’s direction.
In the startup world, unicorns — an almost laughable term that compares successful startups to mythical creatures — are often part of the dialogue, particularly if your company has taken private equity funding. Private equity firms are constantly looking for the next unicorn, and it can give new CEOs an inferiority complex. The Ubers and Airbnbs of the world have set an incredibly high bar for the rest of us starting companies, and it makes you think about the definition of success.
So, what is success? Is it wealth, respect, or fame, as the dictionary states? For me, success as an entrepreneur is about positively impacting people, and setting and achieving milestones. For venture capitalists, success is finding and then cashing in on that next unicorn company. How can we as CEOs and founders keep from getting caught up chasing unicorns ourselves? Here’s the advice I try to follow, which has helped me find balance as an entrepreneur.
Keep Your Blinders On
This applies to everything in life — don’t compare yourself to others. It’s natural to look at others and feel envy. As entrepreneurs, it’s easy to look at a fellow entrepreneur and feel like a failure. But, if we live our lives or build our companies focused on others, we’ll continually be unfulfilled. Figure out what’s best for you and your company, and then focus on it.
Define Your Own Success
I remember having 50 employees and thinking that we needed to have 100 in order to feel like a real company. So early on, it became important for me to set benchmarks and then check off each item as a form of measurement or progress. I continue to set benchmarks. The markers remind me to celebrate our successes. Without targets, I don’t get a good feel for what we’ve accomplished.
Set Goals Early and Review Them Often
In 2014, we grew more than 60 percent, but the target was to grow more than 70 percent. It was easy to get caught up in the numbers and feel as if we had failed. If you take funding, you have a board of directors with incredibly high expectations for your company. This board often pushes you and your company toward financial achievements you didn’t think were possible. This is great; however, it’s important to set company goals early and keep those year-over-year goals in front of you and the board.
For us, revenue and the number of clinics we have under contract are our biggest markers. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been preparing for a strategic planning session with our board. I looked at our goals from three years ago, and we’re on pace to achieve them. Most entrepreneurs and venture capitalists don’t want to settle for small, incremental achievements, but having targets in place keep everyone’s expectations in check.
Remember That You’re Good Enough
Entrepreneurs often strive for goals that are outside of our grasp. Often, I don’t feel successful because my goals are constantly changing and they’re typically stretch goals. By trade, I’m a computer geek — yet somehow I’ve built a small enterprise. If I’m being honest, many days I don’t know what I’m doing. This leads me to believe that I’m not good enough. In reality, we all need to do a better job of stopping to see what we have accomplished, counting the wins we have secured and recognizing that while it might not be perfect, we are good enough.
Revenue, a giant sale and “unicorns” don’t tell the full story. Success should also be measured by how many lives we’ve impacted. At the end of the day, we have to learn that business is far greater than the money we’ve generated or the dividends paid to investors. How many lives have you touched; how many positive relationships have you built; can you look back and say you’ve built a legacy not based on numbers, but based on lives impacted? Those are the metrics I’m most interested in, and what success really means to me.