How to know if a company is likely to succeed

We are in a good place today as a company:

  1. We have a great team and a solid foundation to build amazing things and attract more talented individuals.

  2. Our uncommon strategy, which most observers originally considered 'unlikely to scale', has started delivering.

  3. We are still on the way from 0 to 1, and it's crystal clear to us how to get there.

Two uncommon facts on how we got here:

  1. The road of getting from 0 to 1 took us 5 years so far. Not your 'fresh out of demo day' kinda startup.

  2. We didn't raise any institutional money so far. No accelerator, seed or Round A, nor was I particularly wealthy when we started.

These facts are uncommon, even though there's no correlation between startups that raise money and their financial success chances, nor are there overnight successes in travel distribution (the most important reason for that is that in a mature distribution market, a good product isn't enough to get a large audience attention).

flywheel1

The Flywheel concept is based on 'Good to Great' by Jim Collins

How to choose the right company to work at?

As a professional looking for a new challenge, you need to figure out whether a company like ours is a good place for you to spend some of your best years. By doing your evaluation, you are likely to look for the usual signs:

  • How old is the company and where it is today (public scale, team size), in order to assess velocity.
  • How much money did the company raise (and from who), to asses security, valuation and how far the team is aiming.
  • How strong is the product? is it something I understand and would use?

Looking at the travel sector, are these the right questions?

These are all great ways to measure a technology business, but they only catch some narratives. The product may be awesome, but if the company doesn't know how to market it, it won't stand out.

A company may have raised a few million early on, but if it doesn't have a product/market/distribution fit, the only guaranteed outcome of the fund-raise is that most of the raised money will be spent. We know more than few funded competitors in the niche that have 1/10 our scale despite an impressive fund-raise, and the nature of VC funding is that it can accelerate an already successful trajectory, but won't turn the boat around, as it won't come with the patience needed to find the fit if it wasn't there from the start.

Lastly, the company's age isn't a demonstration of their chance of success. Travel is a complicated strategic landscape where coopetition dominates. Successful companies in travel either took a rather long while to reach scale (Skyscanner, Booking.com), or that they were founded by industry veterans (Kayak, Hotel Tonight) who found a distribution solution while they were working on a previous product for some years.

Zero-To-One-1

This is an adjusted version of the original Zero to One chart.

So, How do you know whether a company will succeed?

Read as much as you can about who the people are, how they work and where they want to get to, and evaluate them yourself during the recruitment process, using speed, efficiency, professionalism and personal relations. If you are the kind of person that strives to build great things and achieve the 10X performance that successful startups master again and again, you will recognize if the same passion and professional skills are there or not. Looking beyond the superficial signs will also teach you which challenges the company you consider joining has, and allow you to ask the right questions that would signal you out in the selection process, signaling to the recruitment committee that you too, are exceptional.

References

  • Going from Zero to One is a concept based on Peter Thiel's book

  • Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, writes about that on his 'Black Swan Farming' post

  • 10X is based on Jim Collins book, 'Great by Choice'