Lessons Learned: Measuring Success

André Miranda is CEO of the West European Symphony Orchestra. André is a Steinhardt Graduate Film Scoring 13' and Advanced Certificate 14' alumn. André's startup won the award for Best Creative Company in Portugal in 2014 and repesented the country at the Creative Business Cup.


At one time or another, all entrepreneurs face the questions: "Is this a success or a failure?" and "What does being successful mean?"

My company, The West European Symphony Orchestra, produces soundtracks for films, commercials, TV, and anything else you may need your music recorded for. Although we are a young company, we already have experience working with a Hollywood film, "While We're Young" (in theaters soon). Even with a secondary post-production role, the experience felt like a huge "success" at this early stage.

More recently, I've launched a Kickstarter campaign called the $99 Orchestra, which is the first orchestra in the world to cater specifically to music students, individual composers, and amateur music lovers. People can have their music recorded by a professional orchestra for $99, as opposed to the tens of thousands of dollars it would traditionally cost. Because of the affordable price, people are free to explore and develop their talents like never before. To call this campaign a "success", we aim to reach a multiple of our stated goal - and we are well on our way!

However, everyone has their own definition of success. It is one of the most ambiguous words in the English language. For an entrepreneur, it is critical that you think about and develop your definition of success. This is not a task you can delegate. No one can define success for you.

For some entrepreneurs, receiving an investment larger than X dollars would be considered a success. For others, that investment would only be seen as a success if the company was able to use that money to grow to new heights. Even then, how much growth would be enough to be called a success? If you grew a company from nothing to a million dollars, is that a success? Or, because you have not reached the size of companies like Google or Facebook, would you deem it a failure?

What if you're a solopreneur and your company is only a fraction of the size of your competitors, but your product is better, your margins are higher, and your customers are happier? Which one is more successful? This is a tough question, but I have the answer.


Like in quantum physics, both the small solopreneur and the larger company are successful and unsuccessful at the same time. They were able to build their business because they're ambitious. These successful entrepreneurs look back on their achievements not to comfort themselves, but to grow a feeling of anxiety that says: "You have already achieved these goals, therefore they're not good anymore. Forward always, never stay still." No matter what size a successful entrepreneur's company is, they will want to grow their company to more exciting heights. The ladder of success is always expanding upwards and if everything goes right you will reach the 'top' of it many times during your life, only to discover that there is an infinite height to climb and the sky is the limit.

While we are always trying to grow straight up, our trajectories in life and in startups are not straight lines. Like the stock market, growth is filled with highs and lows. For every high, appreciate it and look forward to the next. For every low, know that a low is when you pick up your energy to get back on track. Use that fear and anxiety during your low points to do more, better, and faster.

To illustrate what a successful venture looks like in real life, as opposed to what we see in the media, I included a map from the Traveling Journal of the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral's expedition to discover Brazil. The map has many ships, but most of them sunk during the mission. The men on those boats likely thought the mission was a failure, but Captain Pedro Alares Cabral knew they were on the way to accomplishing something great. In retrospect, the map of that expedition, with its many sunk ships littering the ocean floor, represents the difficult venture often comes before great success.

Like the Portuguese explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral, aim high and always keep your definition of success in mind. As entrepreneurs, we must always be evaluating our definition of success.