What’s Luck Got to do With It?

In a recent post by my buddy @jamesoliverjr, founder of WeMontage, he asked if successful entrepreneurs are just lucky. He concluded success boils down to luck, and he is not alone.

From a distance, some success stories defy logic, but a consistent pattern emerges upon closer examination. This is true for a number of successful entrepreneurs and peak performers of all types.


photo credit: wilhei55 via photopin cc

Let’s see if we can uncover this mystery by dissecting one of these “lucky” individuals. For this experiment, Bill Gates is the perfect specimen.

So, what is the pattern?


Many talk about following your passion but the ultra successful have something closer to obsession. To understand the difference, study the lyrics of the 1980s hit “Every Breath You Take” by The Police:

Every breath you take

And every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take

I’ll be watching you


Every single day

And every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay

I’ll be watching you


Oh can’t you see

You belong to me

How my poor heart aches

With every step you take…


Clearly, this guy needs a restraining order.

A passion is something you love but can do without, while an obsession is something you have to have now and will do almost anything to get. The word obsession carries a negative connotation, but how else would you describe someone like Gates? Judge for yourself.

In interviews, Gates describes his early exposure to programming and how he coded for up to twenty to thirty hours a week in his early teens. While his parents slept, he would sneak out in the middle of the night to code at a nearby university. The fact he did not have permission to use the university computers was not enough to stop him. He needed to code. By the time he was seventeen, Gates logged thousands of hours of programming experience. This during a time when few others had access to computers at all.

Passion? This behavior sounds like something much stronger and puts the next trait on autopilot.

Insane Effort

This is not ordinary effort but painstaking, tedious work that would make most people want to yank their eyeballs out. You would think this obsessed group has a special contract with the universe granting them 30 hours in a day. The difference is they steal time where others kill it. Instead of playing Farmville while standing in line at the DMV, they read, research, plan and write. They start the day hours before everyone else and stay up long after their friends enter dreamland.

Quick Action

An obsession is difficult to hide, because the obsessed become so consumed in the activity. If the need arises for someone with his or her skills, everyone knows whom to call.

This happened with Gates during his senior year of high school when he was asked to work on a project with TRW. He jumped at the opportunity to further pursue his obsession. He spent the spring coding under the tutelage of a much older and seasoned programmer, like the young padawan Sky Walker learning at the feet of Yoda.

Surely, those around him marveled over his stroke of “luck,” but he was not lucky. He was ready!

When opportunities come along, there is no need for the obsessed to get ready or prepare. Preparation happens years in advance.


Though this group is anything but balanced, they recognize the need to have others around them who are. Gates started Microsoft with Paul Allen, who was three years older and more mature. He later hired his friend Steve Ballmer to manage the business side of Microsoft. Would Gates have been as successful without his team of balancers? We can never know for sure, but I doubt it.

What’s Luck Got to do With It?

Even Gates describes himself as lucky because of the access he had to computers, but his small group of piers had the same access. What they lacked was the obsession.

We can all learn a lot by studying the lives of the so-called “lucky” instead of attributing their success to the alignment of the planets. Then, we need to analyze ourselves to see how we measure up.

If your obsession involves standing outside of Macy’s for hours watching the girl at the counter, seek professional help. If it is a skill or talent with the potential to provide value or solve problems, go for it. But find some strong personalities who can pull your head out of the weeds and provide you with a balanced focus.

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.

What do you think, is success dependent on luck, or the right sequence of actions? Please leave your comments below!

Integrate Your Marketing to Maximize Your Dollar

Simply put, traditional marketing isn’t enough today.

I’ve had businesses in the past call me to help put out a direct mail piece. “All I want is to say I’ll help fix their snowblower for winter”…. So I ask some more detailed questions, “Who is it going to?” “What message do you want to send?” “Where will it take them?” “What is the call to action?”. Sometimes the response was, “Huh, I didn’t think of that.” Most of the time they didn’t care about those questions and wanted to send it to EVERYone. That’s like pointing a shotgun in the opposite direction of your target and hoping some of the shot meet the target. Not happening.

I’m sure we’ve heard or done this ourselves; “I created a Facebook page, had no strategy, I don’t engage it much and no one is liking it! I put a sign out front that we have a Facebook page! Social Media doesn’t work!” Yeah, I see why.

If you want your business to grow these days, you have to create a strategy with your marketing. Oh, there are those rare businesses that open their doors and the business comes streaming in, but that is the exception. Your strategy can’t surround your 13 year old son because he’s “good at Facebook and good with computers.” Seriously, I know a business that is using that strategy. Your strategy also can’t be done on the cheap. There are plenty of things you can do within a budget.

Maximize your budget by using integrated marketing communications

In order to maximize your dollar and get the most exposure is using what is called integrated marketing. Put simply, it is combining every form of advertising and communication into one strategy, spread across various forms of media. It’s no longer enough just to “get the name out there” and hope for the best. There needs to be consistency, targeted messaging, a plan and an end goal to a marketing plan.

Here is an example. A widget maker creates a video that happens to go viral which has an embedded link to an online survey. There is an incentive given to complete the survey (maybe a gift certificate or a percentage off an order of widgets). The widget maker analyzes the data to determine who is most likely to purchase their product. They then create a new marketing campaign targeted to who their data said was their most likely buyer. Profits grow, bells ring, angels sing. It’s not always that easy, but you get the idea. It does take a risk and an investment. Sometimes it won’t work as planned. Sometimes the campaign needs to be tweaked and done again. Ultimately, the right combination of media will work and there will be a sweet spot of engagement, growth, understanding and attention given to your company’s brand.

So, what can you do now to try and integrate your marketing?

  • Send out a direct mail piece by purchasing a targeted list of individuals or businesses. Use that piece to drive traffic to a social media account. Be prepared, however to begin to engage with the new followers. No one remembers a company or brand if they’re not actively engaging their followers
  • Create a viral video to direct viewers to a landing page on your website. Create some funky, creative campaign that rewards the user somehow
  • If you have a new product coming out, try getting the entire company involved by handing out cards or little trinkets that create buzz in the community about “something BIG is coming”
  • At a trade show or expo? Create a hashtag contest over Twitter and make the prize something really cool that the winner will want to tell everyone about
  • Use augmented reality in some paper advertising to spread a message to mobile device users

Those are just a few examples of integrated marketing techniques you can use to get the message out about your company. What else can you think of? Leave your comments below.

Are Successful Entrepreneurs Just Lucky?

Welcome to the Platitude-Free Zone

This blog post is intended to start a conversation with entrepreneurs, aspiring entrepreneurs, and the people who invest money with entrepreneurs. I would like us to have a real discussion about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur (however you define success)–free of platitudes and “conventional wisdom.”

My vision for this post is, via your comments, we will inspire one another to reach a little higher for our goals, dig a little deeper for strength, and reflect internally a little more deliberately for clarity of purpose and mission.

You’ve Determined You ARE an Entrepreneur. Now What? 

I’m no expert on entrepreneurship. Really, I’m just a dude with a dollar-er-fifty cents-and a dream. And I am working incredibly hard to launch my start-up, WeMontage.

Maybe you determined you’re an entrepreneur after reading one of the many blog posts that force you to ask yourself a few tough questions before you take the plunge. Or maybe, like me, you knew all along, but forgot the truth and suddenly had an “epiphany” that led you back to it.

Either way, once you take that first step toward entrepreneurship, there is no guarantee you will be successful.

So What Does It Take To Be A Successful Entrepreneur?

This question seems to be the rub.

We’ve all read the self-help books and seen pithy quotes from our heroes about what it takes to be successful (here’s a great site for quotes and inspiration). Maybe some of you, like me, keep up with the latest trends in the “science” of entrepreneurship (e.g., The Lean Startup movement) and know the importance of having a great team and a killer business model.

I’m sure some of us lean on our faith or spiritual teachings to shine the light on the path to success and rely on blessings to lead us on the way. I’ve done all of the above, yet I am no closer to a definitive answer to the question. Am I cynical? Perhaps.

I did, however, stumble upon the following quote and it struck a chord deep within me:

“A true entrepreneur can’t imagine living a life any way other than on their own terms. Their success is, metaphorically, a life or death situation. If you feel the entrepreneur inside of you screaming every time you’re forced to suppress an idea, then it’s a matter of life or death for you. Every time you suppress your inner entrepreneur, a piece of it will die.” – Liz Seda, Lifestyle Designer and Entrepreneur

So, after speaking with several entrepreneurs over the years and taking my shots at entrepreneurship, I’m left with only one reasonable answer to the question: luck. You need to be lucky. I’m ok defining luck as a blessing from God, or being in alignment with ‘The Universe,” or it’s where hard work meets opportunity. However you want to define it, I’m good with that.

After you’ve gone all in with your resources for your idea, put together the best possible management team, worked tirelessly, turned over every stone, designed a killer business model, and tested and validated your idea, I believe it takes luck to be successful; something that is completely out of your control. Luck. That’s it.

I’m not saying I’m right about this. It’s just my opinion and I’ve got lots of them (just ask my wife :-) ). If you have a different one I’d love to read it in the comments section below.