Defining Success

Defining Success

I’m a parent, husband, friend, entrepreneur, boss, vendor, and follower of Jesus.

Each of those have a metric for defining success. But in reality we need to define failure in order to truly define success. It’s my belief that there is a significant space between success and failure that we spend most of our time in. This space can both help us and harm us.

Define-Success-Spectrum

Using the illustration above, we can chart our actions and inactions on a spectrum of success and failure. I’d argue that most people are wired to look at this as black and white, the arrows on each side, not the line between. Either I lost 50 pounds or I didn’t. Achieving a goal is success, anything short of that is failure.

This is what I’m currently struggling with right now.

I want to be the father I never had. My goals include specifically: not abusing my kids, caring for them, encouraging them, and more. When I loose my cool and give them a harsh consequence, or yell at them I feel and tell myself I’m a failure. Because I didn’t achieve the goal. However if I were to define failure first: something like abusing my kids. Then even when I don’t attain the perfect father behaviors I’m still not failing.

Defining the land between Success and Failure

So what do we call this land between?

It’s not success and it’s not failure. Life is not black and white.

I don’t know, but I can give a couple more illustrations.

My service/consulting business took a 90% hit in revenue this summer. I’d call that aspect alone a failure. But is the business a failure? Am I a failure?

I’ve run a great business which has employed various people for 4 years. I’ve helped others experiment and live dreams they never thought they could. I did too for 6 months. I’ve been able to work from home, coach my kids’ soccer teams and experiment with new business ventures along the way. Frankly I built a cool business that afforded me the luxury of not working 80 hours every week, some weeks I barely worked 20 hours.

So that’d be a huge success in those aspects.

But I failed in bringing in enough new clients to handle the natural churn in the industry I’m in.

Failures Define Success

yin-yang

One cannot have success without failure. And like the yin and yang, there is a spec of failure in our successes and a spec of success in our failure. To illustrate this I’ll dig into the startup scenes current philosophy of failure. Basically they’re cool with experiments (businesses) failing as long as there is some learning happening. The spec of success in the failure of a business is the learning that happened. So Dodgeball sold to Google and later the founder Dennis Crowley left Google to found Foursquare. Dodgeball was a success in that it was acquired, but a failure in that Google killed it. The learning that Dennis acquired is partially not to sell your dream to Google, but more importantly he wanted to not sell at all.  I’m certain there were significantly more learnings that were acquired during his time watching dodgeball fizzle at Google, but the lesson is that Dennis felt a sense of success and failure at the same time.

So in startup world failures can be successes as long as you harness the learning to propel you to a new success in the more traditional view of the word.

There’s no In-Between

Is this possible? Could everything that’s not achieving success be a failure to achieve that goal? The phrase that surfaces: “you’re either growing or you’re dying”. Could it instead be like the largest organ of the body, the skin. It’s both dying and growing at the same time. The skin’s goal is to keep a semi-permeable separation from the inside to the outside, sometimes it lets the wrong stuff in (radiation), or the wrong stuff out (hernia). Would we consider the skin a failure for 99.999% of the time keeping stuff out?

But in other conversations, a 0.001% failure is unacceptable. (That’s 5-6 minutes of downtime per year).

Life is too complex to be that black and white. the middle, the grey, the in-between is where we find ourselves most days. My faith heritage refers to this as working out your salvation, the belief is that we’re saved not based on what we do, but we need to improve while still here on earth.

So are we called to live in a constant state of discontent? Of not-quite-failing, but not-quite-achieving? It’s not directionless, we’re always trying to hit the mark of success but will we ever hit it?

We cannot call this part of the spectrum failure can we, are their degrees of failure? If so then there are degrees of success. I’ve failed to maintain a location independent sales funnel, but I have succeeded in providing value for my clients while location independent.

Has Zuckerberg hit his mark of success? Sure he’s a billionaire, but I doubt his goal was to become a billionaire. Very few people ever have the satisfaction of success especially in the entrepreneur camp. We seem to always be striving for something, some problem to solve. With Facebook as a public company Mark’s success could be wrapped in the current stock price, but that’s a fickle measure of success. If your business made it… if you IPO’ed and made a multi billion cash out. Would you cash in, call it a success and walk away? (plenty have) Or is there something more to achieve?

Success is a moving target

I once defined career success as making $50k in a year. This was way better than what my family grew up with, I figured that’d set my family up for future success and a life of living fine. However other factors come into play, and it’s not just inflation. And $50k is no longer enough to define success.

Lifestyle matters, and I’m not looking to own a boat and a fleet of cars, no I enjoy living and immersing myself in different cultures. Career success is now defined as can I live the lifestyle I want?

Yet it’s constantly a moving target. If success if defined by achieving goals and each time you achieve a goal you set a new one success while attained will never be obtained.

We define success by defining goals, achievable or not. these goals become the measure of success and conversely the measure of failure. So whatever word we use to define the middle it must have a directional element to it, not just an aimless middle. A moving, a growing, a heading. We need a word that describes the motivation, the struggle, the push, the drive.

I like how Jammer Hunt breaks failure down into 6 failures:

Abject failure

This is the really dark one. It marks you and you may not ever fully recover from it. People lose their lives, jobs, respect, or livelihoods. Examples: British Petroleum’s Gulf oil spill; mortgage-backed securities.

 

Structural failure

It cuts — deeply — but it doesn’t permanently cripple your identity or enterprise. Examples: Apple iPhone 4’s antenna; Windows Vista.

 

Glorious failure

Going out in a botched but beautiful blaze of glory — catastrophic but exhilarating. Example: Jamaican bobsled team.

 

Common failure

Everyday instances of screwing up that are not too difficult to recover from. The apology was invented for this category. Examples: oversleeping and missing a meeting at work; forgetting to pick up your kids from school; overcooking the tuna.

 

Version failure

Small failures that lead to incremental but meaningful improvements over time. Examples: Linux operating system; evolution.

 

Predicted failure

Failure as an essential part of a process that allows you to see what it is you really need to do more clearly because of the shortcomings. Example: the prototype — only by creating imperfect early versions of it can you learn what’s necessary to refine it.

So what if we put descriptors on Success as well? Eugene Eric Kim started that here.

Minimum Success

The bare minimum indicators of a successful project.

 

Target Success

I also call this “stretch,” because these scenarios should be hard, but attainable. These are the scenarios for which you aim. They should have about a 40-70 percent likelihood of happening if you do your work diligently.

 

Epic Success

Success beyond your wildest imagination. You are not expecting any of these to happen, but they are within the realm of possibility, and you are overjoyed if they do.

So is there room between Minimum Success and Common Failure?

In the illustration of my business, the Minimum Success would be to pay myself a wage that allows us to live at our minimum budget. the Common Failure would be to not have a location independent sales method in place. I could argue that it is more of a Structural Failure. But I still think the middle is where we spend most of our days, avoiding Structural Failures and fixing them when they occur. Dealing with Common Failures as par for the course and all at the same time achieving minimum success.

I nominate that we use the term insistent middle.  Insistent Definition: “earnest or emphatic in dwelling upon, maintaining, or demanding something; persistent; pertinacious.”

I live in the insistent middle. I demand success, movement. I am persistent. I am earnest in this.

My success is never giving into failure as the end.

Image Source and here

Jumping off of the Page

I’m the co-founder of ThingShare, a peer to peer rental system where anyone can participate in the sharing economy by listing your things and then renting them out to strangers. It’s a form of Collaborative Consumption currently focused on the video gaming industry.

Since ThingShare is a new business which needs scale to succeed we’ve gone the route of pursuing funding for our idea. Part of that journey might take us to an accelerator. We’ve applied to a bunch and are still applying to more accelerators. TechStars is the biggest accelerator we’ve applied to and the one that we’d benefit the most from.

In preparation for applying to TechStars I did my research, and figured out that while some funds/accelerators give priority to the business model/idea, TechStars puts a large emphasis on the team. Essentially they believe in raising/supporting great entrepreneurs no matter what the current idea/business is that they’re working on.

We’ve applied to both Boston and now NYC TechStars. But I’ve learned something in the 4 weeks in-between each application. The lesson I learned came from the movie 21.

Lessons learned from “21”

In the [based on true facts] movie the main character Ben had denied himself the pleasures of this world to seek after one goal, getting into Harvard Medical, the only thing in Ben’s way is finances. He has all the perfect scores, has everything lined up, and even is accepted into Harvard Med, and now he’s competing in a full ride scholarship. The professor explains to him that Ben’s life and in turn Ben himself is boring. In Ben’s final essay he needs to “Jump off the page” and the professor needs to be dazzled.

Dazzling TechStars

Like Ben needed to explain to the professor why he was impressive, I needed to explain to TechStars how I and my teammate are incredible  It’s like filling out a form on a dating website and needing to sound attractive, rich, etc. You shouldn’t lie. But you need to sexy up the stories a bit.

So what do I have that is impressive? What would make an indivitual going through hundreds or thousands of applications see our application and say, “Wow I want to meet these guys!” or “Holy cow, Bob did you read this application?” In short, How do I Jump off the page, or how do I dazzle the TechStars team?

The Basics

On the surface these details don’t make me jump off the page, but they should.

  • I’m from the midwest
    • I’m outside the Valley Echo, and I have the midwestern work ethic.
  • I live in the woods, 40 miles away from the nearest city and that city isn’t very large either.
    • While city life provides connections, life in the country is significantly more healthy – and I raise as much of my own food as possible
  • I went to a small unheard of college, got a degree in youth ministry
    • All the successes I’ve had in IT/Business have come from bootstrapping and being self taught.
  • I have a wife and four kids
    • While some assume that makes me tied down and less fundable, having a family makes me connected with our target audience
  • I’ve worked for various small and medium businesses that TechStars has never heard of, and do not directly apply to ThingShare
    • I know how to run small teams well and to work hard with nothing given to me.
  • I’m 32, that’s 4 years older than Mark Zuckerberg
  • We convinced a billionaire to invest $25,000 in ThingShare
    • While that seems low, everyone has to start somewhere, and a $25k convertible note is a form of validation.

But I’m not bitter, I’m just trying to show you how on the surface I don’t dazzle, I’m not the Stanford educated former Google employee who is connected to every VC in the valley, instead I’m  an average hard working midwesterner dad/husband who is pitbull-like in my pursuit of an idea that I get behind.

But let me try it again, what follows are the parts of my story that do jump off the page. And are all true.

Jumping off of the Page

In this list I am not trying to brag or promote myself, but I put it here to let you be the judge. The ultimate question is at the end of the the list.

  • I traveled around the world when I was 13, without my parents or family.
  • I hand wrote html in vi on a Sun UNIX box in 1994 (aka started “coding” at age 14)
  • An insurance company gave me $5,000 for a car that wouldn’t run.
  • My wife and I were deported from Kazakhstan, and we returned a week later.
  • As an english-only speaker I taught algebra to a woman who only spoke korean.
  • I walked away from an incredible job to pursue the Startup world two years ago.
  • I’ve sung in a funeral processional for a South African AIDS victim, in South Africa.
  • I built a training application… in Microsoft Access, prior to Visual Basic.
  • I turned a 2 week temporary job into a 9 month long engagement which I then left.
  • My wife and I delivered our son at home. Alone. Unassisted. Unplanned.
  • I built a Facebook page fan base of 60k in 2008.
  • I’ve built a digital marketing agency that has billed a quarter million. Annually. Every Year.
  • I chose to parent another man’s child cause he wasn’t willing to do it.

So, did I dazzle you? Did I Jump off of the Page?

The problem with a Lean Startup: the Minimum Viable Product.

The problem with a Lean Startup: the Minimum Viable Product.

I’ve been struggling lately. I’ve discovered that others are struggling with the same problem too, so I needed to write about it, for me, and for those whom I’ve discussed this with.

I’ve been reading, discussing, and learning the Lean Startup Methodology for the last 3 years now. When most people hear the concept of Lean Startup, they think bootstrap startup, ya know lean on funding. While this isn’t always true it’s suprisingly still prevelant thinking. Perhaps Eric Ries should have done an MVP of the movement’s name and received some user feedback on it before writing the book.

The basics of the lean startup philosophy are to get user feedback, do user testing, and discover if people are willing to use (and pay for) the product you are creating both before and throughout the creation process. It’s called lean not due to lack of funding but due to efficiencies inherent in the process. It’ll cost well over $60,000 to build anything of value (app or physical product). Most often ideators (co-founders) will donate their time to the development which brings down the hard costs, but does not effect the cost of those hours given. Lean Startup philosophy asks: What if you found out that people didn’t want this product after only spending $500 versus spending $60,000 (in time and money). That’s where the lean (efficient) comes in. Lean Startup: Minimum Viable Product

So the theory of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is born. We all understand what Product means, and Minimum makes sense: what is the bare essentials that you can get away with?

But Viable. That is the issue.

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