Why I Stopped Reading Articles about Success

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No-SuccessLately, as I’ve been getting all kinds of experiences trying to raise money for my startup the PAR Program, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes people successful.

Sure I’ve sold a few companies, and I wrote a lot about this topic, but I don’t think there is one single successful person that thinks about this topic when they hit some snags. If you’re trying to hit new level, you’re going to hit new challenges. As a wise man once said “new level, new devil”.

But one thing that really pisses me off are these articles about what makes people “successful”. For example, Techcrunch wrote an article about the “billion dollar club” and the patterns they were able to extract about what made these companies successful.

I don’t read them. Why? Because these articles are basically circle jerks – articles written to please the readers, not to actually tell it like it is.

  • Companies fall somewhat evenly into four major business models: consumer e-commerce, consumer audience, software-as-a-service, and enterprise software.
  • It has taken seven-plus years on average before a “liquidity event” for companies, not including the third of our list that is still private. It’s a long journey beyond vesting periods.
  • Inexperienced, twentysomething founders were an outlier. Companies with well-educated, thirtysomething co-founders who have history together have built the most successes
  • San Francisco (not the Valley) now reigns as the home of unicorns.
  • Ninety percent of co-founding teams comprise people who have years of history together, either from school or work; 60 percent have co-founders who worked together; and 46 percent who went to school together.

Remember, this article was written by a venture capitalist who lives in bay area and is writing for tech people, who mostly want to be in tech & in bay area.

But if you were to read this, you would think.

  • oh wait, i’m not that young
  • oh wait, i ain’t in consumer-anything
  • oh wait, i don’t live in SF
  • oh wait, i work alone

Result? You’d think you can’t be part of the billion dollar club.

That’s why I don’t read these articles either. They don’t talk about the one guy toiling away and ends up makeing it. They don’t about that guy in Nebraska building a kick ass marketing software. They don’t talk about anything that doesn’t resemble what they want to see.

I’m not going to lie. When I read these articles, they make me think for a second, “do I have what it takes?”. Then I realize these articles were written not for their true substance, but for entertainment purpose. One of the ways is to give them what they want to read so that they’ll keep reading and buying more of their shit, so that these media companies can sell more ads.

So, I say .. screw them.

Let me tell you a contrary point of view.

1) “You can’t build a huge business without co-founders”

Yeah i would agree that it’s definitely easier to start a company with people. It’s like workign out – your chances of losing weight and getting in shape is exponentially higher when you have a workout buddy that you’re accountable to, not to mention it’s way more motivating.

But at the same time, I wouldn’t necessarily make a prediction that solo founders won’t be successful just because they work alone.

For example:

  • Amazon (Jeff Bezos)
  • Walmart (Sam Walton)
  • eBay (Pierre Omidyar)
  • FedEx (Fred Smith)
  • Spanx (Sara Blakely)
  • PlentyOfFish (Marcus Frind)
  • ClickAgents/BlueLithium (Gurbaksh Chahal)
  • KFC (Harland Sanders)
  • Wendys (Dave Thomas)

Yeah, these guys did alright.

2) “Starting business with your husband/wife/family is a bad idea

VCs are notorious for being anti-family business (here’s why).

I think these families did alright:

  • Cisco Systems (Leonard Bosack & Sandra Lerner)
  • McDonalds (Richard and Maurice McDonald, granted they sold to Ray Kroc)
  • WebMethods ( Phillip & Caren Merrick, acquired by Software AG)
  • Clif Bar & Co. (Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford )
  • Fiji Water (Lynda and Stewart Resnick)
  • VMWare ( Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum)
  • Flickr (Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake)

Yeah, you get the point.

I don’t know if I would recommend to anyone that they should or should not recruit their family members as co-founders or partners of a company, but think of it this way. What are the odds that your wife/brother/sister would walk away from you when things go bad? Probably not as high as if they were complete strangers, especially if you’re not funded and your personal cashflow isn’t very stable.

3) If you’re not in Silicon Valley or NYC, you have no chance.

If “billion” is about the only measure of success, I would say people outside these two areas did alright:

Ok, you want US? Statistically speaking, Connecticut or Nevada seems like a better choice than California (where all the “innovation” is happening)

By the way.. the richest (or 2nd richest dude) isn’t even American. Carlos Slim Helu lives in Mexico!

What is success to you?

Dollars and cents can’t be the ONLY measure of success because I would classify Nelson Mendela or Mother Theresa (neither of which were “rich” materially) as wildly successful. So I say, go for how YOU define success to be in your own life.

12 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Reading Articles about Success

  1. Michael Streko

    Jeremy, great post. It has been 5 years last Sunday since the launch of KnowEm (Our post about building our brand just went live http://pbl.sh/1A ) I can remember after we launched 3 months later we started to get contacted by VC’s and private angels. All of them said the same thing “You will not survive unless you move to San Fran” – Well 5 years have gone by and we are still boot strapped, have amazing growth & we are about to launch a new product line which is amazing and what I consider the next evolution in our company.

    I appreciate your transparency with raising a round for the PAR program. Also, when it comes to Family run biz, don’t forget the “Hot or Not” guys, I remember reading a post saying one of the founders had his mom and dad screening photos for naked people before they went live on the site.

  2. Leo Cornell

    I think you can only read some much fluff about sucess before it just stops being helpful and just become detrimental.

  3. Trent

    Tech Crunch I used to see as a helpful tool for keeping me in the know with things, but now I’m feeling like they’re selling out and just publishing whatever they get paid to do or some cheap bullshit guest blog shit.

  4. Melissa

    Yes! They are total circle jerks, let’s congratulate ourselves on being awesome so that other people will come and worship us.

  5. Ragin' Major

    They’re total entertainment pieces, you’re not taking anything REAL away from them. I’m glad you’re calling it out. There’s a new article like this each day.

  6. Nikola

    Oh my God, i could never go into to my business with friends or family it would be so hard to separate personal from professional, my business would fail or so would my friendships/family relationships or both!

  7. Zak

    people generally measure success by how much you do have in your bank account, but still many wise men who believe that success is to achieve your goals whatever is it.
    I hate it too when I find articles trying to motivate me with a silly story of an already rich guy who did it, aw great.. fuck that!

  8. Brian

    Hey man, I like you a whole better after I read this. Great article for the struggling man who thinks he’s going to make it big (but gets discouraged sometimes because those new challenges are mind boggling)… but you keep going… Fuck it, keep on grinding!

  9. Dilip Shaw

    Success means differently to different people. When I was in school it meant passing with good grades. Then success meant getting a good job – salary did not matter – the quality of job did. Then success meant marrying the girl I loved. Then a home… you get the point.

    Barak Obama is a successful person but he is not a billionaire.

    Definition of success will keep changing with time.

    Maybe when we grow old it will mean remaining healthy.

    However I want to share one post by Ramit where he asked his readers how much they make. You will be stunned by more than 1000 responses. $100k a year seems like a joke and it looks as if everyone in the US makes that amount. If you have time Jermey please do read:


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