One of the topics that we don’t talk a whole lot about in entrepreneurship is the role of luck. Luck of course can mean very different things to each of us. While commonly people tend to think of luck as good fortune, something over which we have no control, others view it as a matter of being open and responsive when new opportunities present themselves.
“Always say Yes!” I heard Andy Billman, the former president of Worthington Cylinder say this to my class at the Ohio State University back in 2017. Since then I’ve heard him repeat, even exhort folks to say yes, when an opportunity presents itself, such as a promotion or a move to a new location.
Two weeks ago I had a guest speaker Ellen Desmarais come in to speak to my Advanced Concepts in Entrepreneurial Studies class. Ellen in recounting her professional journey recalled that in her first job at a large credit card company an opportunity arose for her to move to a new business being set up in London. She jumped at the opportunity (as though she’d heard Andy Billman’s voice encouraging voice) and found herself at a ‘startup’ with all the freedom to experiment and but with the safety of a large organization backing it. As the years passed and new opportunities, jobs and roles arose, the lessons from that era of a rapidly growing new business continue to serve her.
“It’s a great example of how luck at some point will factor in your life.”
In my own career, luck has figured in a multiplicity of ways. The common one was often of poor timing—such as when we conceived and built an Apple Watch equivalent in 2004 (battery life, interoperability were not ready for wearables), pitched a GPS-powered game scenarios in 2007 (which eventually we saw Pokemon Go make happen).
Other times we’ve had the good fortune of customers sharing with us creative ways in which they’d put our technology to use. A customer from Korea, played Desert Rose by Sting on wireless headphones they’d built around our Bluetooth technology. This was an idea my engineers had pitched repeatedly to an non-receptive me. That chance encounter in a San Jose hotel persuaded me to finally agreeing to focus our entire company on wireless stereo music the led to the eventual acquisition of our company. Of course a great deal of smart people had to put in an enormous amount of effort, yet if that chance encounter hadn’t happened or I hadn’t said Yes, as Andy would have surely told me, I wonder how many other dead ends we’d have run down.
Thank you, Ellen for sharing your journey and insights.
Here are some other interesting takes on the role luck plays in entrepreneurship.