Spiros Drakatos

Creative Director

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Why success stories suck...

The web is full of them: stories of wealth and achievement and companies that started in somebody’s garage, to become corporate titans. Myths of intelligence and power that mortals share around the fire and in social media. Mythical stories have been around since the beginning of human civilization, and they serve a critical purpose. They inspire the common people to try and achieve greatness, to become the stuff of legends themselves. The only thing wrong with legends, as any fallen Icarus will tell you, is they can seduce people into believing they are not fictional, but reality.
The successful titans, with or without intention, contribute to that illusion. You read the articles, you buy the books, you watch the webinars and in the end, you believe it is within your grasp to make it happen, to become a titan yourself. And then, most times than not, reality shows its unamused face, and it would be the time that your wings would start catching fire, if only for the simple fact that you never made it off the ground.
The “startup” mentality has become a gold rush for a while now, but as time passes, and as most gold rushes, it is turning to fool's gold. Millions of dollars and other currencies are being lost invested in startups that come crumbling down. Thousands in owned or family borrowed savings, are evaporated while chasing the dream. So what makes someone succeed where the others fail? There are many factors that can make that difference, ranging from luck to charisma, to social position, to economic status and the list goes on. There is a common denominator though, that all of these groups will need to have their chance at stardom, and that is wisdom that comes through experience.
Most of the times, when you are starting up a business, experience is the last thing you have. And in the modern, high-tech, always connected and ever evolving environment, this know-how can be a hard thing to get at the right time and cost.
Of course, the web is full of articles, ebooks, printed books and any other kind of information that seem willing and able to pass this wisdom along. Today’s entrepreneur has a sea of information at their fingertips, the myth says. And it’s true if only partially true. The information is there, but most of it will only touch the surface of any given subject. It will make you think you know how the game plays, that you are ready to play it, and when the games starts you discover that no one mentioned the little details that you are about to painfully discover for yourself.
All those experts will only give you the basic stuff, the theory behind their success as if they don’t really want to tell you the genuinely useful information. You read article after article, blog post after blog post and at some point, they all start looking the same, repeating what you already know and what won’t help you reach the next base. Of course, there are exceptions, but as exceptions go, they are there to prove the rule.
These days, when I come upon a highly advertised book or article, describing yet another success story, an old anecdote comes to mind. It is the story of a billionaire entrepreneur, that gives an interview for a business magazine. When the journalist asks how he created his enormous fortune, he replies that when he first came to America as a young man, he found an apple in the street. “I picked it up, shined it with my shirt and sold it for 5 cents. With that, I bought two apples, made them really shiny and sold them for 10c. After, I bought four apples, shined them and sold them for 20c.” The journalist gets the idea and continues “ Then you bought eight apples…” but the mythically rich man interrupts him and says “No, then my uncle died and left me 2 billion dollars...”
It’s the same stuff almost every time. Someone will start from nothing, work really hard - no doubt about that - then just at the right time, deus ex machina appears and tada! Success story! And even if it’s not the hand of God that delivers, rarely will you find the hard earned details, life-threatening traps and day saving tips, that will help cover the gap between fame and oblivion. After all why should anyone open-handedly offer all their painfully gathered intelligence?
That reluctance would be understood in a competitive world, if not for the promise of the ever expanding concept of content marketing. The concept, that in order to attract an audience for your business you have to provide some kind of content that will be valuable for them. But not anyone who provides content, is willing or able to create a valuable offering. And so, you come across all this material promising the dream, only to discover after a while that the vision will need a lot more than a couple of ebooks to become reality. And by that time, you are already in too deep and you either have to swim for yourself or sink.
So, I would suggest to keep away from the Sirens of success and not be fooled by the openness of information, that content marketing suggests. Real life will always be harder than that, and we all know that for every Hollywood from-rags-to-riches fairy tail, there are thousands chasing the dream and waiting tables in the meantime. What people need is not more stories of accomplishment and generic tips that offer no real value. If we are to share our success, that must be in specific information, helping save time and money and bridging the gap, on step at a time.
Every time I read a “48 ways to grow your mailing list” articles, I think of how generic this information is most of the times. If someone would really want to help others, they would offer not 48, but two or three pieces of advice that would really matter, like the channels and the budget they would need to promote their blog or business.
If sharing our success is to be anything more than self-center myth building, we need to share that advice that actually made the difference, for good or for bad, in our story. What was that trick you accidentally found out after weeks of A/B testing? What was that caveat you paid dearly to discover? How much time did it take to reach that important goal and is it possible to improve? People don’t need any more magic bullets, growth hacks, or expert advice that is so generic that will only provide a destination and no clue on what lies on the way there.
Enough with the vague myths. Let’s get real for a change!

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