Learning from big & small startups successes

Just as you and your startup needs to learn from failures you should also learn from success. This is not as easy as you think. The vast majority of startup successes are small and subtle incremental steps. The startup that hits upon a instant meteoric rise to fame and fortune is rare. These are the ones we hear about in the news. We can learn from the small incremental successes within our startups, from our competitors and from the well publicised successes of others to build greater success with our businesses.

Reach for the Stars

Startups reach for the stars (Source)

Five sources of learning from success:

  1. Others successes – Learn from other startup founders, business managers, sports people, etc. Much of  where, when and how they succeeded will probably be different from your situation. Success is  often anchored to a  time and a place. However the fundamental principles of success remain the same. Understand these and use them. These principles are all around us: in books, the Internet,  at conferences, etc. Listen and learn from them.
  2. Successful startups – Where are other startups in your industry succeeding and growing in the current market? Understand their strategy: offering; route to market; and messaging. I’m not necessarily suggesting copying them. Use and adapt their successes to your own startup and target market.
  3. Investor advice – They are often brutally harsh but also honest. Get out there amongst the investment community. Speak to Angel’s and VC’s. Their opinions are based on experiences of what  they’ve seen work successfully. They may tell you your strengths and how you can play on them.
  4. Successful competitors – What’s working for your direct competition? Find out where they are  achieving success and improve on what they do or how they work. This could be their messaging, channel, pricing, etc. If the market is growing fast and big enough you could even simply copy them and share the success.
  5. Your own successes – Startup successes are often very small and subtle. Listen and look out for them. These small successes need to be connected to a startups overall goal and purpose. In this way they can be  built upon, nurtured and grown into much bigger successes.  Experiment with new ideas from others and learn from where they work.  Jason Fried of 37 Signal fame believes rather than just learning from failure “you should put most of your energy into studying your successes.”

In the classic book Good to Great Jim Collins refers to the flywheel analogy. The flywheel is slow and heavy to start and requires many small pushes. But once moving it has powerful momentum. This idea also applies to startups. Understand the fundamentals of small successes. Build momentum through each successive achievement towards your startups overarching goal. These early successes can easily be forgotten or missed. Look out for them and be persistent. Also be patient and keep focused on moving forward. As Benjamin Disraeli said “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”



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2 Responses to “Learning from big & small startups successes”

  1. Matt Stocker Says:

    Hi Nick

    Interested to see you’ve been reading Good to Great too! I just posted a book review of Good to Great yesterday! I thought the fly wheel analogy was a good one, and as long as it is not used prescriptively, is a useful model to generate ideas, planning and patience.

    I think the whole concept of trying to work out how and why a business works is an important, yet difficult task. It can be tempting to end up falling for what I’ve (just now!) called ‘gym magic’.

    When I went to the gym today there were a number of people there who obviously worked out a lot, and took their physical fitness seriously. The fact that they were in the gym and strong might lead you to conclude ‘I go to the gym therefore I will be strong’. In reality it’s not quite as simple as that. Yes, they go to the gym and work out, but it doesn’t tell you how they work out, or how often. Or what they eat, or that they compete in triathlon, play other sport at the weekend and don’t drink lots of lager!

    Looking at the visible aspects of success tells you only part of the story. People are never quite as interested in the aspects of character, determination and patience that facilitate the transformation from ‘here’ to ‘there’, both in the gym and in business!

    I would very much agree with your conclusion about patiently working to build up momentum and developing your business one small step at a time, each one building on the last. In my own experience of setting up Matt Stocker Ltd I think the biggest thing I’ve been learning is patience. I’ve realised I tend to judge myself on where I want to be in 6 months time! It’s encouraging to be reminded by someone else to be patient and take heed of the small successes along the way.

    Keep up the great blogging!


  2. Nick Barker Says:

    Hey Matt,

    Good to Great is an amazing read. BTW I liked you review. Did you read Jim’s other book ‘Build to Last’. I shared emails with Jim a while back about an entrepreneurial type Good to Great. Now that would be really useful for start-ups.

    I think sports people are always great a teacher. They’re continually looking for ways to improve their measured performance. I remember Lance Armstrong saying in his book ‘It’s not about the Bike’ performance is about those little 2%’s that make the difference.

    To really performance well at something I believe you have to make sacrifices. Sports people often do this. Less or no alcohol, more sleep, good food, etc. As you say the physical nature of things is only half the story. Mental attitude has a massive impact on performance in both business and sport. What drives and motivates you?

    They do say patience is a virtue and Rome was not built in a day. We often only see the end result of something that has taken many years to improve and perfect. Being patient does not mean being complacent. You have to be under some pressure to perform.

    Thank you for you thoughtful comment and your kind remark about my blog. Glad you enjoy it. I appreciate the feedback. Jeffrey Walker would have been pleased I kept blogging.



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