The life of an entrepreneur is filled with so much stress and work, punctuated by roadblocks and failures, that the feeling of success might feel like it will never come. However, with enough perseverance, calculated risk-taking and care, even the most daunted entrepreneur can rise above and achieve success. For those that do, almost invariably have a moment where they knew or felt that they had, in fact, “made it.” Seek Capital spoke with 13 entrepreneurs to find out how they knew they had found success.
1. Another Company Seeks Your Product
“My startup, Thaut, provides app-supported strategic thought leadership marketing. I knew it was going to make it when a credible associate took a sales job at a large company and reached out insisting on finding a way to bring it to that company,” said founder and CEO Chris McNeil. “The signs included this person’s experience and credibility, along with him having no possible incentive other than the conviction we have something they need to transform their marketing. His enthusiasm and energy in that conversation was exhilarating and comforting. Finding ways to explain an intricate process to non-technical business people was wearing me thin. The validation from a non-technical, experienced, credible businessperson brought the needed encouragement.”
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2. Recognizing Your Skills Will Always Be in Demand
“I reckon a lot of people will reference their passive income exceeding their bills or perhaps never having to work again as their very first feeling of having made it. For me, I experienced that exhilarating emotion when I realized I had acquired a skill set — marketing and advertising — that will literally always be in demand and that I truly loved doing it,” said James Pollard, founder of The Advisor Coach. “This guaranteed that I could live a life doing what I loved to do. Sure, the financial rewards and recognition have been nice, but nothing comes close to that feeling of security once I put those two things together.”
3. Competitors Come to Your Business for Help
“My mission was to put the world’s shops in one place but people I told in the early days about my business idea said it would never work. I knew I made it when we amassed more than 160,000,000 products from over 39,000 retailers,” said Sam Dean, founder and CEO of Pricesearcher. “More specifically, it was when a well-established competitor called me and asked for access to our database as they knew we had grown far beyond their own database. Now was a moment I’ll never forget.”
4. Seeing Your Product on TV
“I knew I had made it when I saw the first major campaign we made for our biggest client ‘in the wild’ — mindlessly switching channels then suddenly seeing an ad campaign that my team and I had conceptualized, designed, casted and produced. It felt like an out of body experience considering at the time we were a relatively new boutique agency with a very small team,” said Aly MacGregor, president of Reicura. “Aside from the pride, I also felt an odd sense of responsibility to ensure the ads and other public-facing work we develop for clients has at least some sort of positive impact on society since so many millions of people would be viewing and influenced by them — just like I was that day.”
5. No Longer Begging for Clients
“I knew we had made it when we had retailers reaching out to us directly because they were interested in carrying our products in their store. When we first launched the company, it was the opposite,” said Jacob Edwards-Bytom, co-founder and the director of e-commerce at Made4Fighters. “We had to knock on doors and hustle just to make a small sale or develop a partnership. Now, we have a flywheel going. So, the business has momentum without our team needing to constantly push it forward. It’s a great feeling.”
6. When a Customer Truly Loves Your Product
“You know, the moment I felt like I made it couldn’t have been farther from that reality, but it felt good all the same. It was the first custom home I built — and the homeowner loved it,” said Joshua Carlson, president of Treasured Spaces. “It felt right, I made someone’s dream home a reality, and made money in the process. While I had many hurdles to beat down the road, that was the moment I knew my business was going to be alright.”
7. Opinions of You and Your Business Change
“The signs that really embodied ‘making it’ were when my peers reverted on their opinion of me. From parents to those we shared an office space with, to close friends outside of the business we were building, being looked down upon seemed to turn into being brought up positively in conversations,” said Craig McGlynn, COO of Showingly. “As an entrepreneur, it’s easy to get stuck in that lifestyle of self-made and working for yourself, but really at the end of the day, it’s about taking something and making it your own, regardless of if your name is on it, and improving the lives of those around you. It’s not hard to see the impact your businesses will have on others, and that was a bigger driving force in the end.”
8. When You Can Buy Quality Equipment for Yourself
“I think it was four months since we started. We were starting to get decent revenue for our business. It was just three founders working at the time from our own laptops. My then MacBook pro was almost four years old. My second business partner was working on his wife’s laptop,” said Antti Alatalo, co-founder and marketing director at Cashcow. “I remember the day when we finally decided that it was time to get proper computers for all of us. When our business was finally making enough money that we could upgrade our laptops, that was the moment I knew we made it.”
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9. Realizing You Can’t Run the Business on Your Own
“When you are building a company from scratch, you go through all the possible growing pains and obstacles, including gathering people around you that would believe in your vision. Successful companies are built of people with similar values and the same mission in mind. For me, the moment I knew I made it was when I realized I no longer run this company on my own or with my business partner and co-founder,” said Kuba Koziej, co-founder of Zety. “This was when others got inspired and believed so much in what we do, that they started tearing the steering wheel from my hands. I was no longer riding solo, and my dream turned into a dream of others that knew we would make it big. And we did.”
10. Reaching the Breakeven Point
“To me, there have been two signs that clearly signaled that ‘we’ve made it’. In a single week, 50,000 job seekers registered with Transformify purely organically which signaled strong brand awareness and high adoption rate,” said CEO Lilia Stoyanov. “The second signal was more pragmatic — we reached break-even and became profitable meaning that the business was already sustainable and not dependent on external investment.”
11. When Your Business Can Run Without You
“The most challenging period was the first few months of running a business. I was trying to establish a system in which every person was capable of working independently, without my constant supervision. Our business was doing well, but I was still taking too many tasks,” said Igor Mitic, co-founder of Fortunly. One day I got quite sick and couldn’t work for a week. During that time, everybody stepped in, took responsibility and made two deals that significantly benefited our business. At that moment, I knew I succeeded, even though we still have a long way before we become top leaders in the industry.”
12. When Your Gender Doesn’t Matter
“Being a female entrepreneur in the tech industry can be challenging at times, especially when you’re first starting out. There were several meetings and pitches where I felt like I had to overachieve to fill this preconceived idea of who or what a tech startup founder should be,” said Andrea Loubier, CEO and founder of Mailbird. “I knew that I’d finally made it when it became obvious that it was all about what I had to offer as an email client, and that gender was irrelevant.”
13. Your Side Business Makes More than Your Job
“I knew I made it when my day job fired me, and my business was already making double what the job paid. And the biggest sign was me never going back. It felt extraordinary. There was a second or so of fear, no one wants to hear ‘your fired,’” said RJ Bryan, co-founder of Credit Reps. “But I remembered what I’d been working on and how I’d have even more time to work on it. I was also, very quickly, reminded about how disposable I was to the company. Most positions in big companies are like that. So, keep building your business — on the side, full-time or otherwise — it might save your life.”
The Bottom Line
An important point to keep in mind is that just because these entrepreneurs know they “made it,” does not mean they’re done. Achieving the level of success that signals that your business is viable and can thrive does not mean it’s time to go on autopilot while counting your money. Following such a path has marked the beginning of the end of many up-and-coming businesses. Instead, you should use the feeling of making it to reinforce your efforts and motivation, and work towards expanding on the vision of your business for the future.
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