I was recently asked to meet with the founder of a floundering start-up. He was a billionaire after selling his early-stage technology start-up after less than 18 months—and one confident Mother F#$%$$. He believed his vision and talent had made his company a success—when in reality, the fact that he sold when he did was based more in luck, than in vision and talent. The company hadn’t earned a dime in revenue (nor did it have a plan for making money) before it had been taken over. It was the vision of the acquiring company to see and seize opportunity, and its resources and talent that ultimately made the company profitable. I call that luck.
But because of his built-up ego, he couldn’t understand why his most recent venture was not achieving the same level of quick-success. He didn’t understand that the basics of vision and talent were the only paths of success—and that luck, whether through happenstance and serendipity or as a result of unintended skill, is the only way to build a business. I worked with him to put ego aside (a bit) and developed a plan to re-build his company through vision and talent.
I have worked with hundreds of consumer technology start-ups throughout the bubbles and busts of the last 13 years; helping companies launch, pivot, and grow. Through all of it, it is clear to me that all companies succeed or fail based on either vision and talent; or luck.
So what is “vision and talent” and what is “luck?”
Vision and Talent.
The combination of vision (the ability to see opportunity) and talent (the ability to execute on that vision) is the ability to visualize and execute at the right time, with the right product, and the right resources. Granted, it is like capturing lightening in a bottle—but if it happens, you’ll know it.
Entrepreneurs who can grow businesses to great success all have a clear vision of what their business could be. They’re able to conceptually outline a company’s mission, position, and brand. They can see:
- An innovative idea with market potential—the right idea, for the right-sized market, at the right time.
- The difference between a product and a business—and the need for both
- What customers not only need, but what they desire, and how much they’ll pay
- The path to success (i.e. what success looks like to them)
- Opportunities as they present themselves (because timing is everything)
The ability to execute on the vision is critical to success. Great ideas are nothing without flawless execution. Successful start-ups execute on great ideas with:
- An entrepreneurial drive to succeed
- The know-how to turn and idea into a business
- The ability to see and capture market opportunities (act on the right things, at the right time, with the right resources)
- Leadership to motivate (employees, partners, investors and customers), and go from small to large scale business
- A team made up of the right people, at the right time
Sometimes companies succeed without an obvious and intended vision or talent. Some might quickly attribute “luck” to their achievements—suggesting happenstance or serendipity as the reason pennies are turned into billions.
But I see “luck” as success being achieved with an unintended, more oblivious route of vision and talent, but still decidedly pragmatic business approach. Whether intended or not, great companies are built on the backs of the combination of the right products, built at the right time, with the right resources, and embraced by the right audience. When people don’t proceed with intent, but achieve success, they call it “luck.”
Another way to have a “lucky” start-up is to be bought (or taken-over) by someone who does have the vision and talent to take your idea and run with it. Google had the vision and talent to turn a fledgling YouTube into a financial success in a way the founders could not have envisioned, or executed on their own. But for every giant success, there is a failure. NewsCorp did not have the vision or talent to grow MySpace from it’s starting point—not enough vision or talent.
So while we can all dream of being lucky, it is probably best to hedge our bets with a little vision, and talent.