Tolerating Tiny Progress

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you build a successful company? One day at a time.

Being patient is a trait that separates successful entrepreneurs (and people in general) from those who bounce between companies and ideas.

But how can you be patient when every day feels like a life-or-death situation? Here are a few things that have helped me during my career as an entrepreneur (7 companies, $200M in total revenue between them so far).

#1 — Find Your “Progress Metric”

Whenever I launch a new company I try to find one single metric that represents we are growing every day, every week and every month. And I focus on that metric when I start to feel impatient.

Here are a few metrics that you might use as your progress metric:

  • Number of email subscribers
  • Number of website visitors
  • Number of top 10 search rankings
  • Number of leads / free trials
  • Customer NPS
  • MRR / ARR

Basically your progress metric should more or less be “guaranteed” to go up every month. That way, you can do a review at the end of each month and know even when it feels like things aren’t going well, you actually have made progress on a metric that either directly represents growth or ties closely to it.

#2 — Reverse Engineer Success

You can’t launch a company and have 10,000 customers overnight. Regardless of what you sell or even how much money you raise.

All of the companies we admire started small. But they progressed and iterated until the market loved their product. As a result, revenue grew and things got easier. That growth snowballed and they became a “10 year overnight success”.

If you reverse engineer the progress of any successful company, you’ll realize it took 7–10 years to get to that initial point where they are seen as successful. That’s true even for companies with “famous founders” who have experienced success previously.

#3 —Action “Stage Appropriate” Advice

What works for a company doing $50M in revenue won’t work for a company doing $500K in revenue. Most definitely read a lot, attend growth conferences and buy books, but make sure you only act on advice that’s appropriate to your company size and available resources.

#4 — Look After Your Financial Obligations

Nothing makes building a company feel slower than dealing with your financial obligations on a limited (or no) salary. Add a frustrated partner into the mix and your impatience will start to feel unsurmountable.

I’m a huge believer in using consulting or client work to “fund” your expenses while you build your company in the early days. Mailchimp did it. And we did it while building BigCommerce back in the mid 2000s.

#5 — Zoom Out

Looking at any metric on a daily or weekly scale will drive you crazy. Every quarter or so, “zoom out” and look at your growth metrics on a month-to-month basis and observe what the trend line is saying.

I also like to forecast out that trend line 2–3 years into the future to see where we might end up if everything remains constant. Pretty quickly you realize that your current “tiny” $10K/month in MRR will become $250K/month in MRR in 24 months if you just have the patience and determination to keep doing more of what you’re doing.

In summary — stick with it. If you’re smart enough to be patient and do more of what you’re already doing, you WILL get to where you want to be. So will your company. I wish someone told me this when I was getting started building my first company way back in 2001.

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About Mitchell Harper

Mitch is a 7x company founder, advisor and investor. He is best known as the co-founder of BigCommerce. His companies have generated over $200,000,000 in total revenue and he is currently building an online education company and a SaaS company.

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