How your business just needs that little bit of luck

Lewis Ashman
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An unopened door against a black wall with the number 13 fixed to it

Happy Friday 13th! For some today is the ultimate unlucky day. While for others it’s just another Friday – a coincidence of the calendar not even worth thinking about. But, superstition aside, the role luck plays in our lives can’t be denied. And that bit of luck in business has long been the difference between success and failure.

Everyone gets that little bit of luck sometimes. It’s not really about whether you are “lucky” or not. It’s about what kind of attitude you have toward risk and coincidence. When lucky breaks come around, it’s usually those who can recognize an opportunity that benefit.

On a day when some of us are expecting the unexpected, let’s take a look at some of the biggest lucky breaks in business.

Even the most original and innovative companies need that little bit of luck. The biggest brands and businesses of today are no different.

Every company was a startup once upon a time, and to get to where they are today they all needed things to fall their way.

Fortune favors the brave

Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen certainly proved the old dictum that “fortune favors the brave”.

As a couple of plucky programmers looking to leverage their skills in the business world, they bluffed their way into a deal with MITS. The company had just released the ‘Altair 8080’, which Allen saw in a magazine described as “the world’s first minicomputer kit.”

Soon MITS went downhill and tried to cash in on their license to manufacture devices using the BASIC programming language Microsoft was responsible for writing. But a clause in the contract between Microsoft and MITS, which required the latter “to promote Microsoft’s software to the best of its abilities,” saved Allen and Gates from losing the rights to their principal asset.

There are plenty more risky, headstrong moves where that came from in the story of Microsoft’s transformation into a tech giant. Their founders were bold from the outset, and it paid off – setting the standard for tech entrepreneurs.

“Lucky breaks don’t seem like the exception with software billionaires and rock bands and star athletes. They seem like the rule” – Malcolm Gladwell

Making your own luck

People who don’t believe in the importance of luck will probably tell you that, at the end of the day, success is all down to hard work and skill.

But one of the most widely respected and admired entrepreneurs of the present day, Elon Musk, has even admitted himself that the success of his first company, Zip2, was down to luck – and that “the likeliest outcome was failure.”

It was not the only thing lucky about how Musk started his stratospheric rise, but Zip2 was perhaps the most significant in providing valuable experience and the capital necessary to move on to his next venture, X.com.

Just a brief look at Musk’s CV and current portfolio will tell you that he’s a busy guy. But not everyone sky-rockets into the big leagues with will and perseverance alone. They still need to capitalize on that bit of luck they made for themselves.

Two dice having been rolled and landing each on the number 6

If you’re not fast, you’re last

You might be forgiven for thinking Google was the first company to hit upon the idea of a search engine business. Or that, even if they weren’t, they just did it better than everyone else and revolutionized the concept from the word ‘go.’

You’d be wrong. Google was, for a while, a company that couldn’t find the secret to making money. They had a search engine, but didn’t really have a business model – despite millions of dollars of investment capital. And they had a bunch of strong competitors.

Google’s big break came at the expense of GoTo.com. An inferior search engine, but one with a genius business model. The only problem was: they didn’t patent it. And they didn’t see it’s potential quite like Google did.

Google later developed AdWords along the same lines, and GoTo.com, which later became Overture and did take Google to court, missed their big opportunity either to seriously cash in on Google’s later success, or to hold the tech giant back at a crucial stage in their development.

In this case, Google wasn’t the first, but they were the best. They were lucky that the ones who got to the big idea first weren’t the ones who really knew how to use it.

“It is the mark of an inexperienced man not to believe in luck” – Joseph Conrad

Blessing in disguise

Sometimes good luck is hard to spot.

KFC founder Harland Sanders didn’t have the easiest start in life. Born in 1890 on a modest farm in Indiana, his father died when he was 6 – leaving him responsible for the cooking while his mother worked long hours.

A bed of bright green clovers

This turned the young man onto preparing food, but it was only after stints in the army and a number of odd jobs that Sanders found success transforming a service station into a successful restaurant.

And it was only when an interstate highway was built nearby, killing the restaurant’s business, that (now Colonel) Sanders decided to up sticks and scale his locally-renowned fried chicken recipe by selling it across the country.

At the age of 75, he sold a franchise of over 600 restaurants.

Talk about making the best of a bad situation, huh?

Your lucky day

Assuming you make it through today, be on the lookout for that little bit of luck coming along. It could be the difference between making it big and falling flat.

Of course, there a lot of factors at play in the success of a team. Check out our blog about the Iceland football team, where we break down the secret to their staggering overachievements.

All these startup stories of luck and good fortune point to one thing: it pays to be bold and take risks, and to keep persevering even when you don’t think the odds are in your favor.

It’s never too late to make the most that slice of good fortune coming your way.

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