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The Myth of Overnight Success

John Doherty —  October 9, 2012
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America seems to be enamored with the idea of “overnight success”. We see people who become seemingly overnight sensations, often through discovery on Youtube, and are catapulted into the limelight. We see people on TV who become hyper-successful because they were on a reality show or something of the like. These people seem like “overnight successes”. I don’t think there’s any such thing, though.

Examples

Let’s look at a few of my favorite examples.

CopyBlogger

Brian Clark of Copyblogger has written 1,580 posts since 2006. He’s built three online companies and now runs CopyBlogger, which focuses on content marketing and is nationally recognized as a leading blogger. But he’s been writing for years and has only seen a lot of success in the last 5-6.

Rand Fishkin

Rand is the CEO and co-founder of SEOmoz, an SEO tools company based in Seattle, WA. If you’re in the industry, you’ve probably seen him speaking at conferences where he is often the keynote speaker. If you read marketing blogs, you’ve probably seen him writing some of the most popular posts on SEOmoz. But his success didn’t really start coming until 2009 when Moz pivoted to software away from consulting.

Here’s a graph of SEOmoz’s (and basically Rand’s own) financials over the years:

But now look at them:

Michael Hyatt

Also check out Michael Hyatt. He’s been writing on his site for almost exactly 7 years. Until just a couple of years ago, he had very little social activity (check out http://michaelhyatt.com/page/30). He’s also been in the publishing game for over 30 years and a leader for that long. While his blog has just blown up in the past two years, he’s been doing it for a long time. He also recently published Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, which hit #4 on the Amazon best-seller list.

His beginnings, though, were humble, often hitting the wall with the publishing company he and a business partner were struggling to start and sometimes wondering where the money for his young family (he has 5 girls) to eat would come from.

GoPro

You may not be familiar with GoPro by name, but it’s the company that makes little personal video cameras that enable action sports enthusiasts the world over to capture footage of themselves enjoying their favorite activities.

Inc.com just published an interview with their CEO wherein he talks about “Bootstrapping an Overnight Success”. GoPro has been around for years, but only really took off in the past few years. They have been able to capitalize on the increase and affordability of technology and bring high-quality video to the masses.

They essentially have a guerrilla marketing crew of evangelists, aka their users, creating videos and sharing them online for the world to see. Here’s one such example from Vimeo:


I hope this post inspires you to keep at whatever you are doing. Even if you don’t succeed in the short term, if your company doesn’t take off or you can’t create an audience for your product, that experience itself will teach you important lessons so that you are more likely to succeed in the future.

I’d love to hear your rags-to-riches examples in the comments as well.

John Doherty

Posts

I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

7 responses to The Myth of Overnight Success

  1. As most of the things in this life success is hard to be obtained and only patience and persistence could assist in such pursuit. It’s good to see from SEO’s like you John not only to deluge the blogosphere with SEO related blogposts, but with valuable and educational for the young people articles that motivate them in the high competitive world. Without hiding behind my back I’m such a person!
    Congrats for the post!

  2. So true, very few companies have success over night. Usually it takes years until they will become known. However there are also some exceptions…like Pinterest… Their domain was registered 2 years and 8 months ago, and they became popular in a shorter peirod of time

  3. But….but….but the WSO I bought from the Warrior Forum said I could work for 2 hours a day and be dirty stinking rich!?

    …..

    It didn’t…..lie, did it!?

  4. I think you’ll find this myth carries over to other industries as well, especially music.

    How many bands are hailed as an overnight success story, yet they’ve been playing together for 10 years.

    There are a few reasons I can think of why a personal brands and corporate brand just seem to “pop up” as a success.
    1) They reach some sort of critical mass where enough people recognize the brand that they begin to talk about it, which further exposes the brand to others.
    2) Sometimes they will get a big break, whether it’s an appearance on Letterman or a huge round of VC funding.
    3) The found a wave to ride, such as social media. Where they were in the game early enough to setup a good foundation and now they are reaping the rewards.

  5. Yes of course John. Nobody has become famous overnight.

    It’s one hard work & passion that’s make him rich.

  6. Felix , for the seek of Pinterest, the founder started with unsuccessful mobile app, then he bootstrapped and created Pinterest and a trial and error. During the first days of Pinterest, the site was not popular until when things changed over time. To us as users we can think Pinterest grew overnight, but the actual sense, is that the founder had to fail first then he came up with the new idea. This drives back to the exampled John has provided, Look at SEOmoz , it haf to change its business model to succeed. The longer you stay in the game, the easier things become. Because you know all corners and you know what the market needs.

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