You rarely hear about the months and years of hard work behind the scenes that go into making an iconic brand. Often, businesses need to be brought back from the brink of collapse to ultimately thrive.
Take the case of Federal Express. It was founded in 1971 with $94 million in seed capital but was on the verge of bankruptcy two years later when the founder flew to Las Vegas and played blackjack with his last $5,000, which he turned into $24,000. He was therefore able to keep his payroll going for another few weeks. FedEx turned its first profit in July 1975.
Jeff Bezos ditched a cushy Wall Street gig in 1994 to sell books out of his garage with an online company he named Amazon. He did nothing but lose money for the next several years and was still $791 million in the red in 1999. He didn’t turn his first profit until 2003, nine years after founding the company and six years after taking it public.
The sports megabrand ESPN launched in 1978 and soon needed a $1 million cash infusion from Anheuser-Busch to keep it afloat. It didn’t turn its first profit until the mid-1980s. Elon Musk incorporated Tesla in 2003 and didn’t see his first profitable quarter until 2013, a decade later. Bill Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 and spent the next decade prepping it to go public—in 1986. As recently as 2005, Facebook still faced a yearly net loss of more than $3.6 million. In 1997, Apple was just 90 days from going under entirely.
See what I’m getting at?
It bears repeating: nothing happens overnight, or even close to overnight.
A successful business isn’t a short-term play.
Now, let’s fast-forward to today. By 2020, Apple had a net worth of an astonishing $2 trillion, Amazon more than $1 trillion. Facebook and Microsoft had a market capitalization north of $500 billion, Tesla $450 billion, and FedEx and ESPN $60 billion. It dramatically underscores the point that patience can pay off big.
So how in the heck can you keep going—and not pack it up and give in—as you pour your blood, sweat, and tears in your business, year after year? By keeping your focus on the journey, not the destination. Start here:
- Focus on doing it right, not quickly. There’s a technique for almost everything. If you take the time to do things correctly, chances are you’ll get to the result you want faster. That goes for dieting, exercise, business—almost anything.
Think about how many relationships go wrong because people don’t take the time to get to know each other well enough before they move in together or get married. Or think about how much more recklessly and dangerously you drive when you’re in a rush, only to shave maybe two minutes off your trip. What was true before remains true: haste makes waste. The same applies in business.
- Train yourself to do it better. In football, I learned that once I got the technique right, the sky was the limit in terms of how much I could improve my performance. Minus the technique, I’d have been inconsistent and likely would have wound up suffering an injury. I knew when playing football in school and now in business that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
- Practice patience. And yes, as I can assure you, doing things slowly does take practice. The sense that something will take longer than expected leaves us frustrated, despondent, angry, and annoyed. We look at people with successful businesses and want what they have, but somehow we don’t feel it necessary to put in the years of hard work and sacrifice required to get there.
Some of it is the entitlement culture that too many young people are growing up in today. The practice of patience, by contrast, isn’t about complacency or laziness or a lack of passion. It’s about having the staying power to ride out the hard or boring times and keep chasing a goal.
- Celebrate milestones. This may sound minor on its face, but it’s actually tremendously important. The first time you make a sale, celebrate it. The first time you get a big order, celebrate it. Think of it like building a house. The end goal is living in that new home when it’s beautifully furnished and decorated, but there are dozens of smaller achievements to rejoice in along the way.
Mark down those milestones now, and when they arrive, pop the champagne.
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