The Overnight Success 20 Years in the Making

January 11, 2011 •

We’ve heard all about them — the overnight successes, the companies that come out of nowhere, the personalities that appear out of thin air, the success that just happens because – well you know they were lucky.

Guess what – it almost never happens that way.  It’s all the work before that, all the practice, all the pieces leading up to it, and — most importantly all the patience and persistence.  Mike talked about this a bit this fall in Marketing & College Football: Look Elsewhere for Instant Gratification and we see this day in and day out.  Think about it:

  • Starbucks has been in business for 40 years, and most of us had never heard of it until the last couple decades, now they are everywhere.
  • Howard Smith had the initial idea for Federal Express in 1965 and launched the company in 1971.  By 1973 he was so desperate for cash to make payroll that he flew to Vegas, played the blackjack tables, and wired the $27,000 he won back to FedEx. In 2010, FedEx did $34 Billion in sales and currently sits at number 60 on the Fortune 500.
  • Mike Kryzewski (yes Tracy, this one’s for you) went 17-13 his first year at Duke, followed by 10-17 and 11-17 seasons, for a record of 38-47 over three years.  No doubt in today’s climate there would not have been a 4th year at Duke for Coach K – let alone the 30th he is going on now and chasing the all time wins record. (Note: as a Maryland fan, this last bullet pained me immensely).
  • Vince Lombardi led his team to a very pedestrian 8-4 and 7-5 in his first 2 seasons with the Packers  — then rattled off 5 titles in 7 years.
  • Legendary UCLA coach John Wooden went 15 years before winning his first national title – which would get him run out of town these days.  All he did after that was win another 9 in the next 11 years.

So what’s the point?  Real success doesn’t happen overnight.  Instead, it takes preparation, patience and persistence to reach real success.

Or, as coach Wooden famously said:

  • Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
  • Flexibility is the key to stability.
  • Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day.

Couldn’t have said it better myself…

About the Author

As Right Source’s chief marketing technology officer, Will Davis oversees the intersection of marketing strategy, consulting, execution and technology for our clients. He focuses first on business objectives and then on helping clients leverage marketing and technology to deliver against those objectives. A recognized leader in content marketing, Will has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in government and politics and broad experience developing marketing strategies that help organizations reach milestones and grow. You can find Will on Twitter and Google+, connect with him on LinkedIn, or read his other posts.

  • Just because I may never have a chance again to talk about Coach K in a positive light with Will, couldn’t resist keeping this to water cooler chat. My father was at Duke Law when Coach K first started at Duke, and everyone hated him. The community was happy with the steady performance of the old coach, and was hostile to this inconsistent newcomer. Fast forward, and as someone who got a chance to watch the 2010 Champ game on a big screen in Cameron Indoor, I feel confident speaking for all Duke fans when I say we’re so glad they kept Coach K around.

    • Good story Tracy, definitely shows the importance of patience (and persistence)!

  • Mike Sweeney

    Love the FedEx example! (And reluctantly, the Coach K example as well.)

    The Groupons, Twitters and Chipotles (that’s right, Chipotle is one of the fastest growing companies in all the land) are exceptions to the rule. Sound business models and patience can still win, if your stakeholders are the right ones. Great post!

    • Great points Mike, though I’m still very interested to see how Twitter and Groupon in particular ultimately play out in the long term.

  • Jim Matorin

    I always subscribed to this concept, so I only have three years to go. Just kidding, but I once thought what about a magazine for upstart entrepreneurs with case studies from overnight successes addressing the first five of ten years of their business or how they had to borrow money from their family or sleep on a friend’s couch, etc. Guess it would not be as sexy as the success part of the story.

    • Will Davis

      Thanks Jim, I love that idea for a magazine — or now for a blog or e-Book!

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