Failing to understand that success is the exception to the rule

Apr 04, 2012

The technology industry is has been polarised by huge breakout success stories that have come to categorise how new entrants and even established companies are perceived. From Apple and Microsoft to Facebook and Twitter, meteoric success has seen to be an achievable goal by anyone. That is one of the reasons of the dot com bubble and burst at the turn of the millennium and why today consumer Internet companies are seen to be the best route to global success. On hearing the success stories of the founders of previous and current great technology companies, today’s founders idolise the people who walked before them and aim to emulate their actions and characteristics in order to reach their level. Technology media like TechCrunch and industry titans like Kevin Rose or Robert Scoble are plagued with requests to talk about products in order to to reach the mass market. Whilst it certainly is true that TechCrunch or Kevin Rose does have the ability to add large amounts of users to a service over a short period of time, I think it is about time it is accepted that success is the exception to the rule.

For each success story there are many multiples of others that failed to ever gain the same amount of traction despite having equally as good founders and technology. As is often the case, the story of the breakout success is idolised as a miracle story of hard work, determination and natural ability that is credited to why the company was successful. You don’t have to look very far to see evidence of this. For each Facebook or Instagram, there have been plenty of competitors that didn’t quite make it.

Of course much of the success of these companies should be attributed to the founders and the early designers and developers who make the company possible. An idea is worthless without execution, and it was that execution that propelled the company to the dizzy heights of success. But to blame outside forces for the lack of traction for a company is just an excuse. Not every game will have Angry Birds’ success and not every social website will be as big as Facebook.

Whilst success is the exception, there are ways you can give yourself much better chance of breakout success. If you take one shot at having a huge product, the odds are stacked against you to have any kind of success or gain any kind of traction. But if you repeat the process of creation and shipping again and again, you increase your chances of success a great deal. Angry Birds was the 52nd game from creators Rovio and Twitter was born out of failed podcasting company Odeo.

You can’t just put all of your effort into a single idea and take one shot at success as you will more than likely fail. Being successful is about having more than one good idea. It is the ability to execute better on multiple ideas and then iterate down one of many paths that define truly great Entrepreneurs.

You can never expect to have success with anything you put out into the world. Don’t complain if you don’t get media coverage or you feel the reason for your lack of traction can be blaimed on something external to your work. Keep learning and iterating and constantly put things out their again and again. This is the only real way to achive breakout success.

Philip Brown


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