The Myth of the Overnight Success (#31)

About two years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Uri Levine, co-founder of Waze, speak to a small group. The popular social navigation app had just been sold to Google for $1.15B.  At the time, the rumor on the street was that Google had bought Waze a year into their existence. I’ll admit that when I first heard that rumor, my initial thought was, what a lucky ba***ard. But I should have known better.

From Uri’s story, it became evident that Waze was not an overnight success. In fact, it was more of a decade long struggle with several near death experiences that left the management team with very little equity. Fortunately, the company was driven by a founder (Uri) who has an incredible passion for solving logistical issues – so much so that he usually wears a t-shirt that says,” Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.”

Since hearing Uri speak, I’ve read several similar stories that continue to debunk the myth of the “overnight success,” including that of Ben Silbermann. Ben stuck with his pet project after a year of failures, declining traffic and a lack of understanding about his product from friends and family. What kept him going was a genuine passion for his idea combined with a fear of failure and embarrassment. His grit paid off and now most of us are familiar with or use what became of his pet project: Pinterest.  Read Ben’s Story.

Airbnb is another example.  The company was rejected by seven of Silicon Valley’s most prominent investors. They couldn’t even get anyone to their website the first few times it launched. With maxed out credit cards and a sense of desperation, the founders came up with a wild-hair idea involving cereal boxes, which, astonishingly led to an appearance on a national TV show and, eventually, funding from Y Combinator. Today, Airbnb is raising money at a $30 billion valuation.  Read Airbnb’s Story.

So why does the myth of the overnight success seem to perpetuate? Perhaps because it’s often easier for us to ascribe success to luck or timing as opposed to passion, dogged determination, or thousands of hours of hard work and grit. It’s similar to when someone tries to excuse laziness or underachievement by remarking in their defense that the person is “smart,” as if that entitles them to success. It’s always better to recognize someone’s work ethic, rather than their intelligence. The truth is, nothing worth doing is easy.

We should stop permitting excuses and stories that mask what it really takes to achieve success, simply because we may be too afraid to make that that investment ourselves. The next time you hear about an “overnight success” story, dig a little deeper. Most are decades in the making.

Quote of The Week

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”

Salvador Dalí

Have a great weekend!

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  1. John September 26, 2016 at 11:55 am

    THANK YOU for this message. We’ve been trying to manage through a tough issue the past few weeks and the process has sapped the energy of our team. Your note couldn’t have been more timely, and I was happy to share it with our group! Metal toughness and tenacity always wins!

  2. Scott September 27, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    While speaking with Richard Branson on his Island he shared with me that “It only took me 20 years to become an overnight success!”

    I look forward to these Friday Forwards!

  3. Kush October 20, 2016 at 5:36 pm

    It seems success comes with determination, focus, and discipline.

    Recently read about Ben Horowitz’s journey to success as a leader, recommend this book if you haven’t checked out definitely not the usual leadership type book.

    Always appreciate your thoughts!

  4. Rawwaf Alhasan October 21, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Dear Bob
    If I have not said it before then let me say thank you for these weekly msgs – truly realistic and inspirational stuff that is so well written that it always intrigues me to read to the end and more importantly I make sure that I read your emails only when I’m in that correct mindset to absorb the info/ inspiration you give me.
    Thank you Bob! Once again!

    Rawwaf Alhasan
    Bahrain Gas

    1. fridaymaster October 21, 2016 at 10:11 pm

      Thank you Rawwaf,really appreciate the feedback. Keeps me going with them.

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