Why Luck Is Your #1 Friend In Startups & Life

Stop listening to tech gurus and their speeches about exactly how to do tech startups. Stop reading all those books by Guy Kawasaki and others. What did they know when they started out. If you are at the idea stage of a startup, then they knew as much as you do now! Honestly, it was less of how clever they were and more of just right place, right time.

In fact, most tech startup people will succeed at best 20% of the time, if that. 80% of their time will be restarts and failures. Its the nature of startups. Success takes hard work and time. In some cases some tech entrepreneurs have as low as a 2% success rate. We had a saying when I ran a tech incubator, “You Only Have To Be Really Successful Once”. That one big success can last a lifetime if it is big enough.

Nobody admits to all their failures. That is what we could call a lier and possibly a thief, if it’s presented that way in their pitch! And when they say they have had no failures, it could simply mean they got lucky once and never tried again. If you are the second time around, you are probably going to be taking on the big failure. Trust me VCs love successful people to invest in, but they rarely discuss the success rate the second time around. I heard the Dean of the MBA program at MIT talk about how he has invested in 12 top ventures from MIT grads, but he also admits there were a good 100 that went nowhere. That is the the basic truth. It is not easy. It is not easy the second or the 12th time around. So listening to tech startup experts at the point where they are peaking, with all their wisdom, they will waste your time and your mind. If you want to be successful in a startup your Holy Grail to success is simply getting lucky.

Luck in my mind is by far the number 1 factor in your success in a tech startup. That means being at the right place and the right time to succeed. Now, I will say if you did not go out on Saturday night and hang out at the bar where you met your wife, then you would not have met your wife… (Actually I met my wife at my day job, which is more ironic, because I am a partner in a large speed dating company). It’s a multi-dimensional quantum physics question. Every tiny action you take in life could be a determining factor to your success. In fact what is success? You need to first define for yourself what that is. Its all a matter of what you call a success. I once wrote the game of Boggle in Javascript and sold it to NFL.com for $2000. Was that a success? I guess it could be, since I sold it!

Don’t be hard on yourself. Don’t give up and don’t be disheartened by other’s successes. Don’t take anything as the road to success only and don’t compare yourself. A lot of this stuff is quite random. What I am trying to say is to get lucky, you need to at least buy a ticket to life to participate and get in the game. To win it, you have to be in it.

The fact is, and you can read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, where he digs deeper and discovered there is more to this luck factor. There is a science to it. He defines it as being born in the right time period as well as not underestimating the fact that 10,000 hours are typically put into a successful career before starting it. That means you will notice that a successful tech entrepreneur probably spent 10 years tinkering around with code before hitting the big one. And once again they may have had some failures, starts, restarts and abandonment. That means you need to not just give up, but you need to know when to move on.

But Malcolm also confirms that being in the right place at the right time is important. I have been at that point a good dozen times I can remember in the past 30 years, but my issue is I am not able to see it right in front of me. I worked on the Internet, in 1993, Mosaic at the very beginning, but I was blind to the fact that you could make money running websites. We were doing SEO work back in 2002 and knew it cold, but could not foresee an industry that would develop from skills we already had. I was sitting in an MBA class in 1994, when I heard from my professor, that 3 young men in Morristown, NJ had created a “Hosting” company. I did not see the vision. Not sure why. I saw people run out and quit their jobs creating mobile apps in 2010, but was not sure if that would be a growth industry. I miss the boat over and over. Trust me, I have had the luck, just no vision…

So, we are getting lucky over and over, just few of us are able to see the future. Seeing the future and going for it, is the real hard thing to be able to do. I have known a couple people who are great at this. Even those guys, who have had massive successes have bet it all on the next big thing and been wrong. So it’s a crap shoot in the end!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store