It happens all the time. A company comes out of seemingly nowhere to capture our attention. Companies like Facebook, Pandora, Uber, Walmart, Snapchat, Airbnb, Virgin and SpaceX go huge, and everyone is dazzled by their rise. People can't believe their "overnight" success.
Well, the fact is, that success didn't happen overnight. These companies were built over many years by people who put their blood, sweat and tears into them 18 hours a day, seven days a week. They faced challenges that were hard to overcome, and they conquered them. These companies also faced rejection for funding and skepticism of their business plans. At times, many of them were hours away from failing.
The “ten-year overnight success” is a sarcastic term that I hear very successful people use. Over and over again, people work a decade or more building their companies with the end goal of becoming an "overnight" sensation. We see the greatness in those companies that achieve renowned success, but we rarely look back to the journeys they took to the finish line.
Yet, there is much to learn from the stories about those journeys and the challenges that these companies faced on their way to “overnight success.” Here are some of my favorites:
Success stories don’t get much bigger on a global scale. But what most people don't realize is that Sam and Bud Walton, Walmart's founders, risked it all to start their company. They had a fairly successful chain of dime stores that they sold to start the company. Sam Walton even mortgaged his house to raise the startup money.
At one point early in the company’s history, Sam Walton was turned down over and over again by banks for desperately needed loans to grow and scale the company. That’s right: At one point Walmart couldn’t get a loan. However, we know the rest of its success story. Eventually, a bank believed in the Waltons enough to invest in the future of the company, and now it’s one of the largest corporations in the world. It seemed to happen overnight, but it didn’t. The Waltons' success took years of hard work and dedication.
2. Space X and Tesla; Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic
I enjoy watching interviews of successful entrepreneurs. And one of my favorites was a Google Hangout with Elon Musk and Richard Branson. Musk, who founded several companies, is most famous for SpaceX and Tesla. Richard Branson is known in particular for Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic.
Both of these very prosperous entrepreneurs shared how years three and year four after they started their companies were quite a challenge; they likened those times to eating nails. The survival of their companies hung in the balance.
In my past experience, I relate to this year-three and year-four pain point. I experienced pain with both of my companies, but especially with my first. We remained in the red or surviving on thin margins and barely got over the hump.
In Musk’s and Branson’s cases, each said he came within 24 hours of being shut down because of being out of money and unable to find financing. Yet, when you see their global success now, you can't imagine them having any kind of business trouble. Everything they touch seems to turn to gold.
Turns out that that wasn't the case. They came very close to failure, pushed through and became well-known and phenomenal successes. Those successes took hard work and dedication, plus years of just getting by.
As a sales guy, I particularly love this story. Tim Westergren, founder of Pandora, was turned down for financing more than 300 times. Think about that. The story of Pandora is a good example of a founder who had a true commitment to an idea. It is also an example of how, sometimes, the conventional view is wrong. More than 300 (we assume) smart, savvy investors, for multiple reasons, made the wrong call. But Westergren persisted.
How many people have had great ideas but quit after the first, second or third "no"? When I started my company, smart advertising players turned me down for investment money. And they were wrong. I was committed, and pressed forward. Fortunately, I didn't have to hear "no" 300 times.
Time after time, when you're in sales and pitching your company or service, you will face rejection. You should get used to that. Just remember, hearing "no" is no reason to hang up your gloves and quit. You need to make decisions based, not on others' beliefs, only on yours.
The thing is, some of the biggest successes can come when you see what others don’t. It might take 10 years to prove them wrong, but hang in there, because when you do, your success will be all the sweeter.