Friday, July 11, 2008

New Venture 101 – Defining Success

When I was asked to blog for the NYWSE, I thought, what the hell do I have to say? Sure, I’ve started a few companies and one of them was acquired by a public company, but does than mean I have anything to offer? What if I can’t communicate what made those ventures successful? After all, I’m not even sure I know. So with that in mind, here I go: my first real blog post (I guess Facebook doesn’t count?). Many people say to me that they’d like to start their own company, go on their own, but they don’t have the guts to do it. What if I don’t make any money? What if nobody wants to buy what I have to sell? What if it’s a total failure? Well, first I say – all of those things could happen. In fact, you may not just “not make money” but you may lose money. So if that’s not something you can stomach, stop right here. But most entrepreneurs rarely think of failure as an option. They believe so passionately in what they are building that some level of success is almost guaranteed. It’s what you do with your initial success that brings you to the next level.

The most important thing is to know how you define success. All too often, success is defined in dollars – the more the better - even if you are too busy and too tired and too grumpy to enjoy that money. I have a different definition of success – it’s achieving the right combination of money, lifestyle, personal fulfillment, and contribution to society. Sounds pretty straightforward, no? Well I am constantly surprised by the number of people out there who give up the latter three for more and more money. Greed? Maybe. But it partly may be the inability to understand what one’s true goals are. You’ve all heard the story of the fisherman who lives on an island, decides to expand his fishing business to several boats, builds a big fishing company and can’t wait to retire so he can be a fisherman on an island? When you start off, and especially when you get to that critical point of taking the business to the next level, stop and think about how you define success. Don’t enter into the next big thing just because it is there and will make money. Be careful what you wish for.

Now, I am not saying that I haven’t worked my rear end off in my entrepreneurial life. Entrepreneurs are some of the hardest working folks I know. But it’s important to be clear about what you want. When my software company was making a few million dollars, I had a staff of employees that I adored and clients that kept me feeling useful and satisfied. I could have done that for the rest of my life. My business partner at the time had very different goals. It was all about the exit strategy. To that end, I engaged in activities that were neither satisfying nor close to my core. To his benefit, the company was acquired in a strategic acquisition, but I often wonder if we could have achieved the same outcome just plugging along and doing our thing. And if not, surely making a nice salary, loving what you do, being your own boss, and feeling good about daily decisions is not such a bad place in which to be.

Gia Machlin is the Founder of EcoPlum, Where it Pays to Buy Green™. EcoPlum is a company that provides incentives and information for the purchase of environmentally sound products. Gia’s previous ventures include Plan Data Mangement and the Machlin Consulting Group.

EcoPlum will be launching its website this summer.

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