It takes 10 years to build an overnight success

Martin port

By Martin Port

23 March 2023

This quote has been attributed to many people over the years, from the novelist Tom Clancy to Amazon tycoon Jeff Bezos. Whoever said it first, it remains an undeniable truth.

Almost no one comes up with a winning business idea all at once. Most of us have the germ of an idea, we start building a start-up, we realise we should do more of one thing and less of another, and slowly we refine that original idea.

In the end, the company we are left with may look very different from the venture we launched on day one.

If you think about it, this makes sense. You want to keep honing your proposition as you learn more about the market you operate in, your customers, your team, and your own strengths and weaknesses. It is nearly impossible to have every data point at your fingertips at the outset. They must be gleaned over time – often by making mistakes!

The reason I’m talking about this is because, in my experience, many entrepreneurs think they need to get it right straight away. They believe that their value proposition and vision need to be set in stone as soon as the ink is dry on their company formation paperwork.

We need to dispel this myth.

BigChange was no eureka moment. I didn’t get struck by entrepreneurial lightning. It was the result of spending a decade building Masternaut, the telematics business I founded in 2002. Through Masternaut, I learned a lot about the challenges facing the mobile workforce. We provided vehicle tracking, which was useful – but it was just one part of the puzzle. Over time, I began to imagine a platform that could automate and simplify every single process that was slowing down mobile engineers and hampering the growth of these service companies.

All the best businesspeople are open to making major changes to their model or route to market. Regular readers will remember my Chairman’s Spotlight on Graham Nixon of Nixon Hire. That business started life simply renting out tools and machinery. Then Graham saw a gap in the market for welfare cabins – an all-in-one product offering a generator, cabin and toilet in a single unit. This is now the fastest-growing area of his business.

Michael Taylor, founder and CEO of Contego, is another entrepreneur who isn’t afraid of change. His business initially offered falconry for bird prevention, but now it is a comprehensive pest prevention firm operating nationwide. He never stops modernising his business model, using technology and risk prevention in place of old-fashioned poisons and traps. He’s a true innovator. But none of this happened overnight. He started the business in 2004 and it’s taken almost 20 years to achieve this clarity of vision and purpose.

And here is another fundamental truth: you must never stop resetting the vision. Even when you think that your model and approach are perfect, you must develop your entrepreneurial mindset to stay curious, and look for incremental improvements – even tiny ones, or you could find that business opportunities pass you by and suddenly your product or service is redundant.

Whatever sector you operate in, whatever your purpose or vision, the overarching credo should be: to never stand still. You want to focus on growth and evolution, never retrenchment and stagnation. But don’t worry if change takes time – after all, there’s no such thing as an overnight success.

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