I returned from vacation to a whole lot of work. But a week away did me good. I needed to clear my head. If you didn’t know, Infinity Softworks celebrated its tenth anniversary in January. That’s a mighty big accomplishment, given the flameout of much bigger and better funded companies than ours, and given the turbulence in the mobile space.
A few years ago I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what success is and how it is accomplished. There are all kinds of measurements: stock price change, units sold, number of customers, revenue. They are all legitimate measurements but none satisfying enough.
I was looking for the uber-measurement. You know — the measurement that summarizes all the others and brings a clarification and classification to the rest. But I was struggling with it.
Look at the breadth. My father has run his own business since the early 1980s. It’s a sole propietorship — my dad tunes and re-builds pianos in NE Ohio — but it is small and inconsequential compared to an Oracle or Microsoft, which started around the same time. He never had a stock offering and has mostly serviced the same customers for the past two and a half decades.
What separates Johnson+Johnson from Pets.com? Why has Microsoft made it 30 years when a lot of far more interesting companies have lasted only a few?
It was about five years ago that the most important measurement dawned on me. It has nothing to do with revenue or stock price or market focus or customers. Or, maybe better yet, it had to do with all of these things.
The one measurement that matters most is time.
Think about it: to continue a business for a long time, all of these items have to be there. There has got to be a solid business model that generates more cash in than cash out. There has got to be the right combination of revenues and expenses. There has got to be customers and some product that customers want has to generate that income.
But it is rarely a straight line or a hockey stick growth curve. Infinity Softworks’ growth chart looks more like a rollercoaster — some quarters are exceptionally good and some are exceptionally bad. Some years have been wonderful and some have been so bad I wondered why I bothered.
Look at Nokia. Okay, so now they are a powerhouse in telecom, the largest mobile cell phone manufacturer in the world. But Nokia was founded in 1865 as a pulp mill. This almost 150 year-old company has, at one time or another, manufactured paper products, bicycle and car tires, personal computers and footwear. How, you ask, did Nokia end up being the kings of cell phones? In the 1960s and 1970s, Nokia started manufacturing cables and digital switches (used to route calls). By the 1990s it was cell phones. It took Nokia 130 years to find a big market where they could be leader!
I am sure, in that history, Nokia had many successes. I am also sure they had many failures. But Nokia succeeded in one area better than most — they managed to hang around. Nokia managers consistently lived to fight another day, keeping their eye on new opportunities, waiting patiently for the right time and right product.
And that’s the real key to success.