Whenever people hear that Interact is ten years old and struggled to get off the ground for the first five years of our existence, the next question is usually, “Why didn’t you give up?” And then the question after that one is almost always, “How do I know if I should give up?”
Let’s talk about it.
Caveat: It’s totally normal to have fluctuations in how you feel about your business from day to day. Every founder we’ve worked with experiences this, whether they’re just getting started or doing millions in revenue.
Know your short-term needs
Companies die because founders burn out. If you work long enough and hard enough toward a goal, you’ll reach it, but there are costs along the way. People idolize the creative-genius founder who gives up everything for their business, but is that actually what you need in your life?
Instead of working for your company, make your company work for you. The irony here is that most people’s goal is freedom, but businesses often create so much struggle and fear that freedom flies right out the window.
There isn’t one right answer on what your short-term needs should be. For some people, a short-term need might be that their work is enjoyable. If it’s not, they’ll stop working on it. For others, a short-term need might be that their work fits into a two-hour time block each day.
Whatever your short-term needs are, stick by them. If your business works well, it will take many years to develop, and if you set yourself on a path toward burnout, you won’t reach your dreams.
Key Takeaway: Set yourself up for success by knowing what you need in the short-term while you work toward your long-term goals (Gray background)
Remember your long-term goals
One of the more detrimental patterns we’ve observed in ourselves and other companies is the propensity to panic when challenged with difficult timelines. Honestly, over the last 15 years, I’ve seen so many great companies fail because they tried to go too fast and just couldn’t make it happen.
On the podcast, How I Built This, host Guy Raz asks every founder what percentage of their success is attributed to hard work and what percentage is attributed to luck. Most give luck a percentage north of 50%, even when they’ve built huge companies over the span of decades.
In the end, we’re all at the beck and call of luck and timing. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, there are some crazy statistics about this, like the fact that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were born within months of each other, and the timing of their rise into technology aligned perfectly with market conditions for growth.
You can’t manipulate time, customer interest in products, or societal shifts. Those things will always be out of your control, and founders who try to push against the grain end up failing because they run out of money or energy.
However, companies that know and live by their long-term goals persist through the tough times. Paul Graham, a famed investor behind DropBox and AirBnB, calls these companies “Cockroach Companies” because they just don’t die. And in his observations, cockroach companies eventually figure it out, even if it’s not when they thought it would happen.
In his book, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, Patrick Lencioni tells a fable about two different companies. They are competitors, neck-and-neck in a big market. One company chases trends and goes after every shiny new opportunity. The other company’s CEO writes down his company’s values on a sheet of yellow paper and spends all of this time reminding people of those values.
Long story short: The company that sticks to its values skyrockets over the long term, while the shiny-object company falters and sells itself off. Researcher Jim Collins backs this point in his book, Great by Choice, which is about companies that choose to build greatness into their culture. He says a common trait among companies that reach long-term success is sticking to values—not following trends.
Key Takeaway: Business is like a balance beam. If you look at what’s right in front of you, you’ll fall off. If you look at the end of the beam, your goal, then you’ll maintain your balance and reach it. (Make section background gray)
There is more than one way to build a company
In our interview with small business owner Keshia White, she shared her journey of building her side hustle for seven years while holding a full-time job. I was shocked when I first heard this because most media makes it seem like you have to quit your job and put your life on the line if you want to build a successful company.
On our podcast Creator Stories, we’ve now interviewed more than 100 people who have created their own businesses—no two stories are the same. There’s a huge variety of pathways to the long-term goal of economic freedom.
If your goal is to build a business that you enjoy, the path you take should be enjoyable as well. When people say “in the long run,” what they’re really saying is to enjoy the process. When you go on a long run in real life, it’s not about reaching the destination, but if that’s all you think about, you’ll give up because it might take hours to get there.
Your business is the same: The joy is in the journey. The destination is just a cherry on top. Those who make their businesses something they’re truly passionate about and wake up every day to build will find that the ups and downs of daily business ownership don’t hit so hard.
Key Takeaway: Just like no two people are the same, no two businesses are the same. Find a way to build that feels right for you, that brings joy. Be honest with yourself if that’s not what’s happening. You don’t have to be the same or better than everyone else. (Gray background)
Conclusion: There are no right answers
There’s a famous Russian novel called The Idiot about a guy who chases the wrong woman, passing on another woman who would have been a much better fit for him. Sometimes, people chase the wrong business, which usually means it’s time to rethink things. But other times, chasing the “wrong” thing is the right way to learn and grow.
None of that matters so much if you know what you need in the short-term to take care of yourself. If you know where you’re headed in the long term, you can assess your current path against your overall ending place.