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May 22, 2024 | Katelyn Keenehan

Eric Ries shares the definition of “success” at the ‘CO.MOBILITY Summit’

The world renowned author was the keynote speaker for Day two of the "CO.MOBILITY Summit."

Entrepreneurship in movies looks glamorous. They have an idea, it blows up, and the founder gets ridiculously rich. But, most of the time, that’s not the reality.

“For those of us who have been through being a founder, it’s not glamorous,” said Eric Ries on day two of the CO.MOBILITY Summit. He is the Founder of the Long-Term Stock Exchange and author of The New York Times Best Seller “The Lean Startup.”

Ries flew from California to Chattanooga to deliver the one of the event’s two keynote speeches and help energize local entrepreneurs.

He has been a part of the founding team for at least five start-ups, and on the boards of dozens of start-ups through the years. He shared the ups and downs of his experience with entrepreneurship: big visions, crushed dreams, lack of customer interest, software development challenges, and his ultimate opinion about “success.”

Six months after Ries took a bold step to move to Silicon Valley, he started his second company. It was a software start-up that he forecasted would have exponential growth. The night before his software launched, he worried that it wouldn’t work, or would cause more problems than solutions.

“I was relieved the software didn’t cause any problems,” Ries said. “Because nobody bought it.”

That was the first issue, and Ries didn’t understand it. He looked over old surveys and interviews with potential customers. All of them said this software is something they would pay to use.

So, his company started paying people to come into the office and use the software. He was even willing to pay these people to integrate the software with their day-to-day business activities. Yet, they still rejected the offer.

“I asked what any engineer would – is this a statistically significant sample?” Ries joked. He knew something about the software wasn’t working.

What he hadn’t accounted for was that the customer’s needs, pain points, and desires can change.

“The crux of entrepreneurship is building an organization under extreme uncertainty,” he said.

He shared with a room full of entrepreneurs and innovators that the invention doesn’t matter if the customer doesn’t care about it. Ries asked, “If we don’t know who the customer is, then how can we define what quality means to them?”

As he continued his career in entrepreneurship for several companies, Ries got a better idea of how to stand out from the crowd of startups.

“True ruthless competitiveness is to do right by every customer, every investor, and every employee. Build trust,” he advised.

Today, as he looks back on decades of accomplishments building companies from the ground up, Ries can confidently say success isn’t what he always thought it was.

“We often think we know what success looks like… success is growth, success is money, success is status. But, those people are often so miserable,” Ries said. “What if we’re wrong – What if success is defined by community impact? Let’s broaden the definition.”


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