Measuring Success

Personal goals or arbitrary benchmarks?
In the early days of a business, quantifying success is difficult. Ben and Jeremy reflect on their goals and benchmarks in AIE's beginnings.

Benjamin Wills

Success has such relative meaning in business.

Often, quantifying success is difficult because not all wins are successes and not all failures are non-successes. If I had to define success, it would not be based on external appearances as it were, but the internal satisfaction of knowing I did the best I could do.

In the first years of business, every day that we kept open the doors was a success from an outside viewpoint. But really, I struggled with internal success as I felt often I could have done a better job or put more effort into my duties. Even now, coming into our fifth year of full-time business, I think there have been many failures on my part to execute to the best of my ability. Everyone should question his own success in this manner, whether a business owner or an employee.

Success has to be measured like one would measure acceleration.

You must do the measuring in real-time. Achieving a goal is like the measure of velocity – you know there had to be acceleration to get to that velocity, but with velocity, one must ask how long did it take and was it always in the right direction?

Success, or the acceleration, is knowing I did the fastest, most efficient and quality job I could do to get to that goal.

Quite honestly, there are far fewer of those days than days of achieving the goal itself.


Jeremy Wills

I love to run. 

Back in 2003, I ran my a marathon here in my hometown of Chicago—possibly the only one I’ll ever run after my experience that year. Anyone who has run a marathon knows the demanding training regimen that is required.  Throughout the training, I ran at my own pace, pushing myself as hard or as little as I desired. Then race day came. With over 20,000 people running, there were thousands of people, with the same amount of distance to cover, running at different paces

It was interesting to observe how people were measuring their success.

Some were looking to beat a previous personal record, others hoping their time splits were being met, while others still were just hoping to finish the race at all. Same race, 20,000 people, completely different measuring sticks for success. My personal favorite was the guy that just kept trying to stay with the group he knew he couldn’t keep pace with… oh ya, that was me.

And so it is with business.

The challenge in quantifying success is that it is truly a matter of personal ambitions and goals, and no one man’s measuring stick can be used to calculate that of another.  What is difficult is knowing how to measure success when you do not know what to expect. It is more realistic to first understand what your end desires are for the business and for yourself. And, in the case that your venture includes other partners, it is absolutely critical that you are equally yoked in your goals and the general commitment to pursuing those goals, or there will certainly be adversity along the way. 

There were many areas of growth that helped visualize the success we were enjoying early on. 

It was a rush just to acquire to a new customer (it never gets old!), making our first hire, moving into our first office space and striking our first couple of partnerships in the IT community. They were all ways I was able to tangibly measure the success we believed we were enjoying as a business. 

In the case of fiscal measurements, it was tempting to mark early success by months where stronger revenues existed. Yet our ultimate goals were to produce sustainable, repeatable revenue, while ensuring profitability along the way in order to build a business that allows us to serve God, our families, our employees and our community.