Why Startups Need To Define Failure First

Most entrepreneurs define success incorrectly and then never get there

Joe Procopio
5 min readMay 16, 2022


image by cookie_studio on freepik — on a side note, this is an uncanny 5-year-forward lookalike of my son

Having been an entrepreneur for over two decades, I think about success a lot, but not in the way you might think.

I’m sure you’ve asked yourself what success means to you. And since we’re all adults here, I’m not going to waste your time with the rainbows-and-unicorns speech about chasing your dreams by starting your own business.

Because that speech is kind of a crock. Because most entrepreneurs — hell, most people for that matter — don’t define success right.

One of the mantras I push with Teaching Startup is the notion that the best advice you can get is the kind that leads you to be successful however you define success. A lot of folks nod their head back at me when I say something like that, but only half of them, maybe less, really understand what I’m talking about.

For the rest, they define success as some kind of windfall — it may be financial or it might be legacy-driven or it might even be solid altruism. They may not even know what it is. But whatever their reasons, they set a bar and then aim for that.

Here’s a dirty secret. Some of the most “successful” entrepreneurs I know don’t feel successful. They aimed at a target they had no idea would make them feel successful or not. They hit their target, then they felt, for the most part, empty.

You don’t have to be that entrepreneur. You can be your own entrepreneur. I’m not going to tell you that I have the secret formula for reaching that level of Startup Zen, but I will tell you what I’ve learned over the last two decades about the difference between personal success and business success and why that difference is so important.

Hit the money thing head on

You know who’s got the success equation right? The ones who are in it strictly for the money.

The Han Solos among us always know the deal and they always know the score.

It’s an incredibly easy game to play. Set your bar at a billion dollars and you can always break down how successful you are into a percentage. For the vast majority of the Han Solo types…



Joe Procopio

I'm a multi-exit, multi-failure entrepreneur. NLG pioneer. Building TeachingStartup.com & GROWERS. Write at Inc.com and BuiltIn.com. More at joeprocopio.com