Overnight Success in the 21st Century

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In the age of digital media, everyone is talking about overnight success as the next big idea. But the reality is such that in the world of start-ups where companies go from being worth next to nothing to billions, there is NO such thing as overnight success.

At times, both entrepreneurs, as well as investors, feel that a business should be successful within a very short period of time. But the reality is that to build a market leader it takes a minimum of 5 years, in most cases up to 10.  Take any of the big names: Uber, PayPal, Airbnb, Tesla, and SpaceX. All of them took at least 5 years to find success. This is also relevant to Sri Lanka where building a successful business will take some time.

Top right: Travis Kalanick (Image credits: Nymag) Bottom right: Elon Musk (Image credits: Snopes) Left: the founders of Airbnb (Image credits: CNBC)
Top right: Travis Kalanick (Image credits: Nymag) Bottom right: Elon Musk (Image credits: Snopes) Left: the founders of Airbnb (Image credits: CNBC)

This point is also reiterated by Amy Wilkinson, the author of the best-selling book on entrepreneurship, “Creators Code”. She has interviewed over 100 entrepreneurs in the US. These aren’t young budding entrepreneurs, but successful ones who have built businesses that have grossed more than $100 million. According to her, one of the key features of these success stories was that almost all of these enterprises took a relatively long time to build up.

Based on my personal experience and literature on the matter, five elements can contribute to building a company that is either disruptive or successful. These five elements are:

  • Have a plan to build something in the long-term. This may take between 5 to 10 years. Remember there is no overnight success, no unicorns, and no silver bullets. So have a long-term plan.
  •  Find a real problem that needs solving. You need to find a business that helps solve a current problem. This will add value to the lives of your consumers
  • Find the right people. This means the right team! Your co-founders/partners have to help you build solutions. Ideally, these people will think of problems in a different way.
  • The biggest threat is always internal. Most investors and first-time entrepreneur’s thing that a start-up idea’s the biggest threat are external. The reality is that the biggest threat to any business is internal. One example would be the co-founders not working together and constantly arguing. So make every effort to work as a team moving forward. This is why it’s important to find and hire team members that share common values and goals.
  • Finally don’t ever make short term decisions. Never give up your principles and what you believe in.

I believe the above elements will help in building a start-up that will last the test of time. In doing so only a business can become successful. Start-ups in the 21st century will be one of the main drivers of the economy and it will be important for both investors, and governments to support these endeavors.

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