Build a Lucky Startup, Don’t Leave it to Chance

luck be a startup

Luck is a critical component of startup success, but it’s misunderstood. While the unlucky blame fate, the lucky act as if their success happened by accident.

It turns out that some of the luckiest and most successful companies don’t leave luck to chance. They intentionally engineer and build lucky companies.

At Zappos, They Hire for Luck

Billion-dollar online shoe retailer Zappos considers luck so key to its success that it will only hire lucky employees. In the words of Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh: “We want to hire the lucky people that bring more good luck to Zappos.”

At every interview at Zappos, candidates rate themselves, “On a scale of one to ten, how lucky are you?” One is for “I don’t know why bad things always seem to happen to me” while ten is for “I don’t know why good things always seem to happen to me.”

The question was inspired by a research study by Richard Wiseman that showed that people who perceive themselves to be more lucky actually are more lucky. The twist is that “it’s not so much that people are inherently lucky or unlucky in life, but luck is really more about being open to opportunity beyond just how the task or situation presents itself.”

Grow Your Luck Surface Area

Brian Wang, founder and CEO of Fitocracy, thinks of it as your startup’s “luck surface area,” which you grow by hustling and surviving.

In late 2011, the digital marketing manager at Red Bull happened to tweet about Fitocracy. When you’re a tiny company that no one cares about, that’s huge. At first, Brian thought, “Oh that’s cool — I feel good for the day.” And he was just going to leave it at that.

As an entrepreneur, self-doubt always seeps into your head and builds a mental case for inaction. There are a million reasons not to do something competing against what seems like a million priorities — “You’re going to think, I need to get more customers, I need to get in front of someone, I need to make something work differently.” The logical conclusion you come to is not to do anything.

But Brian changed his mind and ended up tweeting back at the Red Bull digital marketing manager. They quickly took their conversation to DM on Twitter and, three months later, Fitocracy launched a partnership with Red Bull that netted them a $75,000 check and 100,000 new users.

Brian got lucky.

Or, he engineered his own luck. He increased his luck surface area by casting doubt aside and pursuing opportunities beyond how the situation presented itself.

* * * * *

Unlucky startups leave luck solely to chance. They believe that luck is merely random, capricious, and so, brutal. In doing so, they fail to turn tasks and situations into opportunities.

Build a lucky startup by first believing in your own luck, and then, engineer your luck surface area. As entrepreneur Kenshi Arasaki puts it: “Aggressively pursue exposure to serendipity” in all things.

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Image: Umberto Salvagnin/Flickr

  • Desiree

    When I was doing a lot of hiring, I used to ask candidates if they consider themself a lucky person. It was a test for empathy, attitude, etc. It worked well as a litmus test except in one consistent case – people with belief in God. Now, not all believers would say this but each time someone did say it, it was someone who believed in God. “I don’t consider myself lucky, I’m blessed.” Some followed up that God created opportunities for them. Time and again I received that response. (I was hiring below the Mason Dixon, not quite Bible belt.) They maintained the same attitude as those who said they were lucky, they just communicated it differently. It happened enough that I changed the question – referencing luck and/or blessed.

    • http://smalter.org smalter

      that’s very interesting and not something i’d thought of. thank you for sharing!