I’ve recently watched an interview with Adam Wathan, the creator of Tailwind CSS. He talked about his struggles of defining and finding success for himself at his own company, despite it being very profitable and growing. This inspired me to define how Martha and I define success for us.
This thought process was helpful as it’s easy to lose track of your own goals in daily business. Plus, there is no universal definition of what a successful business is. Most often companies announce some big number they’ve reached to show how successful they are.
Success is not a random number
Simon Sinek gave a talk about business from the perspective of game theory: »Business is an infinite game. Infinite games have known and unknown players. The rules are changeable and the objective is to keep the game in play.« Therefore it doesn’t matter when a company announces a random number as success. There are no rules in an infinite game like business. So companies just make the rules up to be in their favour and then announce to be winning.
Companies can have millions of revenue, but still make a loss. They can hire hundreds or thousands of people, but still have a toxic working culture and exploit their employees. They can raise a huge amount of funding or make a lot of profit, but still create a net loss for society by circumventing regulations or destroying our ecosystems. Or in Adam’s case, profits and everything else is good, but he still didn’t reach a point where his work truly fulfils him or allows him to take time off.
Motivation and success
Defining success turned out to be quite easy for us as our motivation to start this journey was initiated by wondering if companies could be run differently and how we’d approach it. This already included how we want to set our goals and how we define success.
Keeping Adam’s struggles in mind we not only focused on how success looks like for our company, but also how we define success for us personally. What needs to be true, so that we continue to be motivated to work in our own company?
The result is one checklist for us personally and one for our company. They can guide us on our way and remind us if we are on the right track.
- We are healthy, productive and motivated.
- We aren’t forced to work if we lack the energy or motivation.
- We work on projects we believe provide the most value.
- We can spend the majority of our time on creative work.
- We are financially independent.
- We can take time off whenever we need it.
- We provide value for the common good.
- We create products that foster empathy and distribute knowledge, wealth or power.
- We as a company have the full power to make decisions.
- We provide an environment and culture where work is fulfilling.
- We use as few resources as necessary to keep our environmental impact at a minimum.
- We spend as little time in meetings as possible.
- We keep administrative work at a minimum.
Reaching the goals above won’t happen all at once. If we are lucky and we tick some of these boxes, it’s more likely to happen slowly and probably in a certain order. Therefore we also thought about the milestones of our best case scenario and wrote them down as well. Success should be celebrated and these will help us to know when we managed to get a big step closer to our goals.
- Our products pay for themselves.
- One of us is financially independent.
- Both of us are financially independent.
- We can offer pro bono work to progressive initiatives and purpose companies.
- We can hire a few people while remaining a tiny team.
- We can rent or buy a community space in our neighbourhood and use it as an office/co-working space, café, event location and more.
- We can start another tiny team after we reached our team limit.
Defining the vision, purpose and values of a company is a lot of work and always a work in progress. With a team of two people we don’t think we need to create such an elaborate framework yet. These checklists will be a handy guide for our definition of success and help us on our way to creating the business we wish existed.
PS: These checklists are probably not finished, so we might add or rephrase some points in the future.