“Janice, I’m freaking out.”
It was fall of 2009 and I was on my phone pacing around the parking lot outside Revelation’s office in Southeast Portland. A competitor company that had launched right around the same time as Revelation had announced that they had raised another round and were expanding their team. The press release included mentions of new clients and partnerships, as well as expanding to an overseas office. Meanwhile, while Revelation had seen great growth over the past year, it was patchy. A great month or two would be followed by a down month or two and it was stressful figuring how to get out of this up and down cycle. We had just had a couple of down months after a really good stretch.
I was venting to Janice Fraser, trusted advisor/mentor and grizzled Silicon Valley veteran, worrying aloud about how we were going to keep up now that our competitor had this funding and all the other traction they talked about in their press release. Janice stopped me mid-sentence and said something that stuck with me.
“Steve, never judge your internal success by others’ external success. You have no idea what’s going on inside their walls. Everyone’s spinning and putting their best face on their press releases, but trust me, behind every shiny press clipping every company has their own shit show. So focus on your own stuff.”
It was one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received.
Look, it’s hard to ignore the covers of Inc, Entrepreneur and Fast Company, or your daily feed from TechCrunch or an industry news site. Somebody’s always crushing it. They’ve raised a humongous round or built a killer team or come up with this week’s game-changing new technology. The media’s job is to tell stories that capture attention, and stories of outsized success or failure are what captivates people.
But companies are like families. No matter how great they look on the outside, they all have their unique brand of dysfunction on the inside.
The issues you are dealing with, your competitors are dealing with as well. We’re all breathing the same air. We all have product and technology issues, operational issues, sales and marketing struggles, and team issues in some form or another.
This is not to say ignore what your competitors are doing. Just fight the tendency to get caught up in their hype. The most important measure is how well you are executing your own business and serving your customers, not how you are measuring up to others’ proclaimed external success.
That competitor that I freaked out about? Sadly, they went on an Icarus flight. After growing rapidly on successive funding rounds, their investors still weren’t satisfied. They tried a hard pivot that failed. They were finally acquired for essentially the assets of the company. The investors got back a tiny fraction of the money they invested and the founders got even less.
Revelation raised less money, and was able to exit giving a good return to investors, founders and early team members. As the cliche goes, it’s a marathon not a sprint.
So don’t worry so much about how you measure up to others. Stay focused on measuring in.