What is the best predictor of your success in a start-up?

John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit.
John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A weekly supermarket checkout gossip magazine featured some spoof horoscopes on their front cover. Take this entry, for example: Libra – you get $100,000 out of the blue. Capricorn: a new home – and a new job. Virgo: Lottery luck is yours… At last!

Everyone knows that horoscope predictions are as flimsy as the gossip stories you get in the same supermarket checkout magazines. The same seems to be true of the guesswork involved in predicting whether a start-up founder, entrepreneur or small business owner is going to succeed or not. But that doesn’t stop the experts and guru consultants all pointing to success predictors that they swear by.

Let’s take one of the predictors of success from a Harvard paper. It asserted that one of the more reliable predictors of success is when entrepreneurs invest in a good industry. They also say that entrepreneurs who crack it at their first business in a good industry are far more likely to succeed in subsequent adventures.

Another expert swears by the advice that an idea for a new company that comes while working at a prior employer is more likely to succeed. There might be some voracity in this in that someone coming up with an idea at a company may have gained enough experience to make a go of it outside the company’s domain.

You also have those experts who say that success comes with the patience to handle difficulties and stumbling blocks as you go about launching your new enterprise. It could be raising cash, finding specialised skills or even slowly working on late paying customers that are harming your cash flow.

Others believe it is grit. They define grit as “perseverance and passion” for long-term goals. University researchers have developed a simple questionnaire to determine your grit score. But how far is grit going to take you in an unattractive market or industry?

One consultant with many years experience dealing with small businesses says they are three predictors of success: alignment of business values across the business; ongoing high performance of key result areas by critical performers; and identifying and achieving individual and team performance goals aligned with strategies.

Another research paper: training and retraining high-quality staff is important for success as are good products, optimum training, excellent relationships with customers, availability of top managers with good leadership qualities.

Training, coaching and business skills for an entrepreneur are also seen as predictors of success. So is business planning and estimating market demand.

The problem with all of these approaches to predictors of success in small business is that they all look for the silver bullet. They assume that there is one approach that will lead to success. Often it’s more or less a combination of critical areas such as an attractive market, customer demand, timing and location that work together to form a success recipe.

Whatever predictor of success or combination, any business will still come down to choosing the right idea, at the right time, knowing how to exploit the idea, offering a high value proposition to customers, reducing costs to the bone and learning as you go along.

You can learn as much as you want but somewhere along the line you need to act can apply what you know. The marketplace and customer environment is too dynamic to know all the answers beforehand. You need to trust in what you already have and learn the crucial rest as you navigate entrepreneurial waters.

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