How to prepare for wild success

This article is the final one in the Startup Series on FirstPost’s Tech2 section and first appeared on September the 11th, 2017.

Even if the widely accepted statistic “8 out of 10 startups fail” is wrong, it is true that a vast proportion of startups are likelier to fail than to succeed. As a result of hearing about it often, somewhere in our subconscious, we are perhaps better prepared for failing than we are for wild success, both the road to it and handling it.

But wild success can come to founders, and often does.

Many things go into the making of a successful business. The founder brings an idea, strategic focus, extreme discipline, execution abilities, ability to hire, inspire and retain people, integrity, and bus loads of luck. Luck is, of course, a funny thing because it cannot be “modelled” or otherwise made into a 2×2 matrix for others to emulate. Luck can be anything from being in the right place at the right time to having the right networks but also having the courage to call on people, uncommon resilience, finding a match between own risk appetite and the actual risk involved, and many other factors. It is also worth remembering that on the way to big success, most founders have given up control of the company.

But what does success look like? IPO? Millions in the bank? Including myself as a former founder, few founders spend time visualising what they will consider “success”. So external metrics often rule.

So the first tip to prepare for success — visualise it.

What does success mean to you? What is its form? What does it bring? What impact will it have on you?

Amongst good things, success may bring wealth and opportunity, and with it, the opportunity to use wealth to do more good or multiply the wealth itself. Wealth can buy material comfort, and offer greater choices in daily life.

On the flip side, success can bring loss of control and, sometimes, of privacy. While building the business, many founders rightly seek publicity for the venture. The scrutiny can expand into their personal lives, something very few are prepared for. Fewer still are ready for the loss of control and the demands on their limited time success can bring. The humbler ones, who have not let success go to their heads, can ironically suffer more. A successful founder in Delhi, who is a friend, is often unable to take any time to relax in one of his oldest hang-outs. I joked with him once that I saw him there and wanted to say hello, but he looked like he was in a business meeting. He sighed and said, “Please, Shefaly, next time, come and rescue me, because all people want from me now is venture funding, and please let’s not even mention the sycophancy I get.” Oops! Another founder in London told me how she was baffled by constantly being asked to “collaborate” or invited to events, by people who had never given her time of day during her hardest slog. I asked if she realised they were trying to borrow her brand equity and her social capital to advance their aims. She had not, and was surprised by the realisation.

The second tip to prepare for success — now that you feel less beholden to others than you were, be prepared to exercise much greater discretion than before.

The visualisation also helps generate options for the inevitable question, “Now what?”, especially if you as a founder are not engaged any longer in an executive capacity with what you created, and sometimes even if you are.

This is the last column in the series. We end with Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, wisdom that is good throughout the founding journey:

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!