Stop Hating. Start Learning.
Dismissing success as lucky, or “blaming luck,” offers no benefit and only deprives you of learning opportunities.
Fortune is a vital ingredient of success, but it is far from the only one. Luck amplifies outcomes: without a base of risk-taking, dedication, and execution, the presence of luck is like multiplying something by zero.
Outrageous valuations often bias people to fixate on the valuation of a startup instead of analyzing what it did right and wrong. Just because a startup is overvalued doesn’t mean it lacks a valuable product. Of course, correlation is not causation, and not every startup merits emulating.
If golden insights exist, it’s virtually impossible to discover them when you blame luck. The key is to start from a neutral position where you say, “I don’t know,” as opposed to asserting, “They were lucky.” Until you research the company and its competitors, you cannot know one way or another what lessons, if any, exist.
Instagram, Zynga, and WhatsApp are common whipping boys for the luck crowd. What all three reveal for the willing student is the significance in identifying and piggybacking on emerging markets. Jan Koum, WhatsApp’s co-founder, foresaw the rise of touch-based smartphones while Mark Pincus, Zynga’s co-founder, predicted the ascendance of Facebook. While Kevin Systrom, the co-founder of Instagram, may or may not have anticipated the modern smartphone era, his company demonstrated that indomitable positions in one market — Facebook on desktop, for instance — can become vulnerable in another, especially during periods of torrid growth.
Incumbent dominance may not translate to new dominance.
The recent struggles at Zynga underscore this point. As argued persuasively on Quora, Zynga’s challenges are less due to shipping inferior games and more due to missing the shift to mobile. Attack the right market, and billions await. Linger in the wrong market, and vultures circle.
WhatsApp and Instagram contain many product lessons as well. They focused on one need — messaging for WhatsApp and photos for Instagram — and delivered the most compelling, friction-less experience for users, out-executing peers. They kept things simple and made things easy.
WhatsApp was especially remarkable for its commitment to messaging and messaging alone. Instead of incorporating snazzy features like many of its peers, WhatsApp chose breadth over depth, minimizing functionality but maximizing the number of people it could support. That strategy is what enabled WhatsApp to amass an amazing 400M users and reach more users than other apps, since not all smartphones across the world could support more sophisticated functionality.