“The Paradox of Skill: Why Greater Skill Leads to More Luck” — Michael Mauboussin
People often wonder how successful people become successful. While success is both relative and absolute, we tend to agree on which individuals are “successful” or not. Elon Musk, Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey, Jack Ma, Tiger Woods. These are all successful people. While perhaps not by the same metric (like net worth or fame), these individuals have gained a certain dominance within their field, and have been recognized for it. The question is — how did they get there?
We all know the heavily promoted formula for success — work extremely hard, train every day in your craft (10,000 hours+), create positive feedback loops. What is typically not stated, and usually neglected as a discussion topic — is whether luck, and how much of it, plays into the formula. In fact, the same successful individuals are typically the first one to point out the amount of luck that went into becoming who they are.
While hindsight bias helps weave a narrative for explaining why they did what they did, these individuals do tend to notice how and why they made seemingly mundane decisions consistently well. More importantly, however, is that these individuals tend to make good decisions at critical junctures. This puts them in a position where they have more opportunities, and better opportunities, available to them at every step. Purely as a logical function, this enables a higher probably of something positive (or extremely positive) occurring. And when these events do occur, they can be classified as “luck”. However, to be a beneficiary of luck, you need to weave that environment for yourself. So the first step is to make good decisions, more often than not.
Making good decisions, more often than not.
As a startup founder, you’re constantly faced with decision points. Critical junctures in the road, with two or more equally viable paths to go down. Whether it be for revenue forecasting, product functionality, UI/UX, hiring, product subscriptions, and so many other things, startups give you decisions that need to be made. The choices you make determine how successful your company will be.
One of the best ways to make decisions is to make them is based on how others have made the same decision. Speaking to others that have been in your shoes. Speaking to domain experts that have years of experience. More importantly, learning what they did right and what they did wrong, and repeating those good decisions while remembering their poor ones.
The benefit of experts (or, Hindsight is Key)
The importance of good influence is usually underestimated. Many people attribute their success first to themselves, but very closely second it’s to the environment they have cultivated for themselves, and the people they’ve had the luxury to work with. Typically, their environment and network will provide positive influence to them, in all aspects of the idea. But it takes a lot of effort to build a good environment for yourself. Particularly if you’re not born into one, or if you didn’t grow up in one, it can be even tougher to build a different or better network for yourself. We’ve seen that firsthand: startup founders who are from the Midwest or the South of the U.S., typically have a harder time cultivating an elite network in VC, Operators / Founders, Domain Experts etc., than their counterparts in New York or San Francisco. Why should that be the case? If it is indeed true that there is a self-selecting bias (wherein more successful startups come out of SF or NY), why not do what we can to level the playing field? There are good ideas everywhere — some just don’t get the recognition they deserve.
Invest in your own luck.
Improve the quality of your network. Expand the people in your network. Take your network into your own hands, and you’ll start to see what some people call “luck” become injected into the growth of your company. Imagine having the former General Partner of one of the largest VC funds in the U.S., a Principal from a $4bn AUM pre-seed VC fund in New York, a Business Development associate from a recently IPO’ed AI company, all in regular communication with you. Meaning, you can literally pick up the phone and have a 1:1 chat with them. No strings attached.
Every single one of the NeonVest mentors, or experts, is a domain expert in their field. They are carefully curated, vetted and tested before being brought on board. Most importantly, each domain expert can give you the benefit of their hindsight. Not only do they know what worked well, they can tell you what didn’t work well, and what they thought wouldn’t work well but ended up being a unicorn. Everyone has another option, and the most important thing to understand is whether people made the best decision relative to the choices they had. Speaking to the people who can give you an edge is the best decision you can make, as a startup founder.
NeonVest curates a set of mentors specifically for you, and connects you to them for regular 1:1 calls, on a subscription basis. The only choice you have to make is to come onboard — we make the rest of the choices for you.
Creating an elite network will help you make better decisions as a founder. And making good decisions, on a consistent basis, will lead to more luck. You only need luck and skill to become successful.
Invest in your own luck. Be the next Elon Musk. Join the NeonVest network.