Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5
Subscribe

Rethinking Success: What It Means to 'Make It' as an Entrepreneur

What I've learned in my career as an entrepreneur about how to measure true success.

By
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

What does it take to become a successful entrepreneur and what does "success" even mean today? These are questions worth exploring, especially if you are just starting out.   

Shutterstock

You can never be fully prepared for the slings and arrows of entrepreneurship. Starting a new company from scratch is one of the hardest things you can do. Every obstacle and challenge will come your way, especially in the early years.

Let’s start with first principles: An entrepreneur’s job is to innovate, create jobs and grow revenues. But before you can do that, you need to determine if you really have the drive, dedication and confidence to fight for your dream every day, despite the obstacles. If you don’t have that hunger and perseverance, then entrepreneurship may not be for you.

Related: 7 Mindsets That Guarantee Enduring Success

Measure your own success

Fortunately, entrepreneurial success is not a zero-sum game. I don’t compare my success to that of Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk, nor should you. Their success doesn’t impede my own. I look to them for inspiration and ideas. I consider myself successful if I’m a little bit better today than I was yesterday.

I also measure my own success based on fulfillment. You don’t have to change the world to have a fulfilling and successful career as an entrepreneur. Owning a restaurant, bar or a retail or online store can be incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, and so can launching a niche product that creates a new and loyal consumer base. That’s successful entrepreneurship.

You should also keep in mind that success isn’t about the opinions of others; it’s about helping others. We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to share in each other’s happiness. One way to help others as an entrepreneur is to grow your business and create jobs and livelihoods for your employees and their families. Another way is to touch the lives of customers by providing kind, attentive and respectful service every day.

Rethinking success is also about rethinking greed. For example, today’s technology is now so advanced that it’s given us a lifestyle that previous generations never would have imagined. We should rethink what it means to be wealthy. We can be greedy for the things that generations before us never had — the ability to be more effective at our job and to spend more time with the ones we love. 

Related: Figuring Out What Success Really Means to You

Focus on superior products and services

The product or service you’re creating should be your focus. If you have a clear and achievable vision, and your product or service has unique value in the marketplace, then success will come from that. Your customers will tell you if you are successful or not. Everything else should come second to executing your vision and your business plans to deliver a superior product or service that’s in demand. Or creating new demand from scratch with an entirely new consumer category. That’s even better.

Forget about pedigree

I was fortunate to attend Cornell University, a prestigious Ivy League school with arguably the world’s best hospitality school. That undergraduate experience provided me the opportunity to build a stellar network of other success-oriented friends, mentors and business partners. Admittedly, it was a great place to start, but the prestige of my alma mater means very little in the real world. Investors evaluating my company don’t care. I must still execute and deliver every day. No one gives me a pass. Forget about pedigree. Focus on learning your chosen industry’s competitive landscape and what’s going to make your company stand out.

Related: 5 Secrets to Success in Business

Keep pressing on

After college, I realized I still had much to learn before I was ready to launch my own company. I took a job with a bank on Wall Street as an analyst evaluating the business plans of tech-focused start-ups. That experience was incredibly helpful in formulating my own business plans for HotelPlanner soon after. If you’re not quite ready to launch your own business, consider working a few years with a more established company. Think of it as an apprenticeship. But have an exit strategy because no job is permanent.

After two short years, I was laid off during the post-9/11 recession, but it was a blessing in disguise because I realized that I didn’t want to be an employee for others my entire career. I wanted to employ others. I wanted more control of how I shaped my future. When you face setbacks, brush yourself off quickly. Don’t dwell in the mire of feeling sorry for yourself. Keep pressing on. If you want to be a successful entrepreneur for the long-term, resilience is key. 

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks