The Wise Entrepreneur

How Do Entrepreneurs Define Success – The Unavoidable Essentials

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How Do Entrepreneurs Define Success The Unavoidable Essentials | The Wise Entrepreneur
How do entrepreneurs define success Photo by Firmbee on Unsplash

Hello there! Let me start our blog of today with the below piece I got at

The keys to success in life:

  1. Don’t tell everything to everybody.
  2. If you are expecting any more, please refer to 1.

Again, quoting an unknown author; ‘Whenever I find the key to success, someone changes the lock’.

I guess there are two points we see regarding success, from the above. Many people tend to be secretive about what gives them success. Additionally, success is transient – as goals and ambitions differ.

So is the definition and perspective of success. We could spend an entire day defining and explaining the word success, but that is not the point of my blog today. Ok?

We simply want to consider how entrepreneurs define success. Nevertheless, we also cannot run away from the fact that entrepreneurial success could be understood or expressed in different ways. Don’t you agree?

For an entrepreneur, probably the reason for starting a business could give a guide on what success would be. That rationale might define that satisfying feeling of accomplishment which the said entrepreneur would feel when he/she achieves the desired goals.

So, how do entrepreneurs define success? In other words, how does society define successful entrepreneurs?

Below, I have listed and argued out certain fundamentals. I mean – essentials, that could help guide us in determining a successful entrepreneur.

If you interviewed various entrepreneurs about what their understanding of success is, I seriously bet that you would find their responses largely aligned (directly or indirectly) to the below points.

Can we then take a look?

1. Wealth – cash and means (resources) to continually generate more cash. Now, many entrepreneurs will not accept this point – and even worse to have it as the first point.

However, the world system we operate with – fortunately or unfortunately – defines entrepreneurial or business success primarily in terms of measures such as shareholder wealth, market capitalization, operational results or profit (north or south), financial standing etc.

Business wealth – resulting from things such as revenue generation, balance sheet (which accountants have of late chosen to call the Statement of Financial Position – for reasons best known to them and rather belatedly), profit (bottom line), cash flow, return on investment (ROI) and eventually business valuation, and other metrics, have often taken the lead when we talk about business success.

So, I’m not crazy to start with the point on wealth and cash flow.

Business goals and objectives achieved oftentimes seriously focus on these issues.

As an example, I just did a google search minutes ago, with the phrase, ‘most successful businesses in the world in 2021’, and guess what!

TOP 10 Most Valuable Companies in the world, and their respective market capitalization (market value of stocks) numbers in USD springs up as the first.

Are you therefore going to blame me for starting with wealth? Come on!

It’s about wealth, profitability, cash flow and related issues. Other things follow.

This is why financial wealth is a fundamental way to define a successful business. I stick to this point – and if you want to argue, please go ahead and put your comments at the interaction section below this blog.

I promise to answer you.

2. Customer delight. Businesses that still talk about customer satisfaction today are old school. We have moved beyond customer satisfaction into customer delight.

Believe me. If you are an entrepreneur today, people are going to assess your success through customer delight.

How Do Entrepreneurs Define Success The Unavoidable Essentials | The Wise Entrepreneur
Customer Delight Photo by Pablo merchan montes on Unsplash

Delighting your customers means your enterprise exceeds their expectations, by creating feelings of joy and delight, going above and beyond. This could be created by the product itself, by accompanied standard services and by interaction with people at the front office etc.

By doing these you will ensure that customers always desire to come back over and over again.

Though there are some arguments (Harvard Business Review) cautioning against blind focus on customer delight, the idea is that customer delight alone cannot build customer loyalty – rather – the work done to resolve customers difficulties does.

This insight therefore could help enterprises improve customer service, reduce customer service costs, and also decrease customer churn.

I mean – you need to fix a real problem. Fix real issues. Do you understand?

In my opinion, fixing problems should be a part of the customer delight agenda of an entity.

This is why you see giants such as Shopify documenting ways to reinvent customer delight.

Got it? So, this is another powerful way to define entrepreneurial success. Ok?

3. Impacting humanity and society. Another approach to define success for an entrepreneur is the impact of their business on humanity and society in general.

I’m not talking about some vain attention-grabbing agenda – but real impact. Ok? Again, it’s not just some lazy approach to meeting demand, creating employment, diligently paying taxes, some CSR gimmicks to give back to society etc. It’s more than that.

This is especially true for mission driven entrepreneurs.

Impact entrepreneurs look beyond profit into addressing major societal issues, removing complexities and making people’s lives easier by changing the status quo. Such entrepreneurs focus on the Triple Bottom Line (TBL) of economic (profit), social and environmental benefits.

Sir Richard Branson and Steve Jobs referred to this as business as a force for good and pushing the human race forward respectively.

Making the world a better place is the focus of impact entrepreneurs.

So, with the above principles – do we make a mistake to assess entrepreneurial success by this? I don’t think so – but let me hear your opinion.

Don’t blame society when it gives extra honour to such entrepreneurs. They fit the bill. You don’t need to yap about this attention. It comes naturally.

4. Inner fulfilment and passion, freedom, flexibility, independence, purpose. A successful entrepreneur could also be defined in terms of things like work-life balance, living your core values and purpose, self-worth, use of time, passion and love for work, internal motivation etc.

These are issues related to an entrepreneur’s inner fulfilment of passion, freedom, flexibility, independence, sense of purpose and the like.

By the way, there are entrepreneurs who seek these as a main agenda, and they feel successful after achieving these.

I know that there are many arguments about the need for an entrepreneur to sacrifice. I can hear you loud and clear. But must one sacrifice endlessly?

What is the use of working yourself to death? Who then enjoys your achievements? Workaholic tendencies while good at some initial point – need to be trimmed in time, otherwise you become just another piece of bad statistic.

Come on – smell the coffee my dear entrepreneur!

I love this article in the Inc Magazine – written by the Young Entrepreneurs Council (YEC), about approaches to finding entrepreneurial fulfilment.

Jennifer Peaslee’s article is another good reading about factors that help determine fulfilment.

As an entrepreneur, if you like to work until you drop and get relocated into intensive care, or even proceed to meet your creator – that is up to you!

I’m not sure whether you will be interrogated over there as to why you overworked yourself silly, or not.

5. From ideation to a great business – built to last. Honestly, getting an entrepreneurial venture from the idea stage (conception or scratch) into a successful and solidly operating business is not a small task.

This alone constitutes success for an entrepreneur.

Just having a good business idea does not mean a successful enterprise.

Forget about leasing a premise and opening some small corner shop selling milk and bread! This is also entrepreneurial in a small way – but let’s think bigger.

There is also the concept of serial entrepreneurs. Have you ever heard about serial entrepreneurs?

These are folks that get their kick starting one business after the other. They are not typically satisfied by focusing on one business.

Once they have moved a business from ideation into a working and profitable businesses they move on to new ideas and repeat the same process. They could sell the business entirely or retain some shares and move on.

Not every entrepreneur can do this, but I think this is another vital yardstick an entrepreneur can define success with.

Of course, there are pros and cons of serial entrepreneurship, but one main positive argument is that many knowledgeable venture investors are more comfortable with serial entrepreneurs due to their track record.

Candidly, developing a business from idea into a solid company built to last is a great feat. I don’t know what you think.

This is why some people prefer simply buying an existing business.

6. Building a formidable brand and a tribe behind the brand. Now, branding is a religion of sorts – and you simply need to agree with me (without arguments) that brands are a powerful measure of entrepreneurial success.

Entrepreneurs define success through brands.

How Do Entrepreneurs Define Success The Unavoidable Essentials | The Wise Entrepreneur
A Formidable Brand Photo by James Yarema on Unsplash

Forbes list of the most valuable (and I guess most powerful due to our point number one above) gives us a good clue.

If you live in a part of the world where the first ten names in the above Forbes list don’t ring a bell, I will start praying for you. Don’t worry!

Candidly, a powerful brand with a tribe behind it means clients will most likely never run away (unless your business becomes insensitive and daft at some point).

We are talking about quality experience, viral word of mouth for the business, brand ambassadors, being an industry leader and a name in every household.

The tribe will include your customers, workers, suppliers, community, the government, you name it. An equally formidable company culture accompanies this.

Isn’t this another fantabulous definition of success for an entrepreneur? Even if the original entrepreneur has long joined the ancestors, the brand lives on and hence the name of the founders live on.

7. A good image and name. Again, I must say that being a ‘successful’ entrepreneur and yet without a good image and name in society – is not success as far as I’m concerned.

I can give you examples.

If you cheat your customers and extort money without providing value, lack business honesty and integrity, operate unethically, involve your business in child labour and other forms of exploitation such as intentionally and grossly underpaying workers and discrimination, destroying the environment, etc. then you certainly don’t quality in my opinion.

Toyota and Honda’s recall of about six million vehicles is an example of business integrity. Indeed, a good name is much more precious than riches. You can’t play the ostrich.

Your corporate image matters a lot.

Please ensure that your image, which people consider from various angles such as your products and services, people, company performance and activities, media coverage (including social media), the market etc. is excellent.

This is another fundamental measure of success of entrepreneurs.

8. Strategic success. I mentioned something above, regarding a business built to last. If your enterprise does not have strategic success it cannot last.

Strategic success means the ability to continuously create a distinct preference for your enterprise’s products and services over time, value creation and differentiation, delivering on your Unique Value Proposition (UVP), a winning positioning vs your competitors, optimal resource allocation and use, right fit with the business environment etc.

I don’t need to use too much grammar here – because you can go and study more and also use other words to describe it. Not so?

You can read an article from Harvard Business Review about successful strategic execution.

My point is this – successful entrepreneurs, businesses and companies have manifested strategic success and this means that strategic success is a good yardstick for measuring or assessing entrepreneurial success.

Let’s now proceed to my last point for today. We have certainly come a long way.

9. Innovation and creativity. There are entrepreneurs who derive pleasure and satisfaction, hence an awesome feeling of success, through innovation and creativity.

The market and society out there also love businesses that are coming up with new products and services that provide solutions and improve the standards of living of the people anyway.

Innovation and creativity positively impact entrepreneurship through benefits such as competitive advantage, developing new niches, and crossing the boundary of the usual or ordinary, among others.

This is why innovation and creativity constitute another way to define success in entrepreneurship.

Let’s wrap it up here for today.

In summary, entrepreneurs and the world define success along the above lines of wealth, customer delight, building lasting businesses, greatly impacting society, strategic success, building a powerful business brand and image, innovation and other dimensions of personal fulfillment.

I call these the unavoidable essentials because they are fundamental to assessing success.

Haven’t you enjoyed the write-up.

By the way, my earlier article entitled Top 10 Yardsticks for Assessing Responsible Entrepreneurship is another  piece I strongly advise you to read. Don’t miss this!

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The Wise Entrepreneur



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Clayton W. L. Mwaka

Clayton W. L. Mwaka, a Ugandan chartered accountant and motivational speaker with 24 years of diverse experience, specializes in business administration, international consultancy, and lecturing. He advocates for personal empowerment through balanced living, qualitative leadership, and paradigm shifts, aiming to unlock individual potential globally.

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