Stop Hating. Start Learning.
Blaming luck deprives you of learning opportunities.
Blaming the success of others on luck only hurts you, taking away precious learning opportunities.
Luck is undeniably one ingredient of success, but it is not the only one. It acts more like a multiplier. Without a base of courage, commitment, and execution, the factor of luck is like multiplying something by zero.
Sometimes outrageous valuations skew perspective and cause people to fixate on money and price instead of focusing on, and learning from, what startups did right and wrong.
Of course, correlation is not causation, and not every strategy merits emulating. If golden insights exist, though, dismissing success as lucky guarantees you won’t discover them.
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.