He paraphrased the sentiment towards RevZilla’s success as a bit dismissive. “That guy totally got lucky. He practically tripped over it.”
The comment didn’t bother me. I’m very proud to be part of something people broadly perceive as successful enough to consider me lucky. 🙂
That said, in business — my former business, any business — luck matters and it always favors the prepared. Some people say luck is when preparation meets opportunity. I agree with that. I’d also agree with those that might say people can absolutely do the work to put themselves in luck’s path.
Additionally, some of the most accretive luck is having the foresight to enter a market at a moment that reveals itself later as the optimal time. This is when things are still moving, converging and the full data set actually plays in your favor.
In 2007, the online motorcycle market was big and dominated by less experiential ecommerce leaders, compared to other specialty industries. I got lucky that year when I went to buy my first bike, helmet and jacket after having just spent nearly a decade in ecommerce. I was prepared enough to clearly recognize the opportunity to build what I believed to be missing from the market.
RevZilla found further luck as the 2008/2009 financial crisis actually helped us by slowing the industry and incumbents a hair, allowing us to scale our unique strategy organically.
We were able to stay too small to fail or to need funding, while also getting more time to figure out how to perfect our offering, captivate the customer and run a company. All this while the established eCom players struggled to rebound and respond to a big dip in new motorcycle unit sales.
We were prepared enough to be able to sneak in from let field (our apartment) and delight their customers.
Only years later, with the benefit of hindsight, would we see how our timing in entering the market and then the financial crisis actually affected things. In the thick of it, we didn’t know what our competitive set would have felt like in a previous time, so we just tried to focus on figuring it out moment by moment while executing vigorously.
I do believe that few things, if any, are more important for outsized outcomes (the lightning-in-a-bottle type) than the timing of the market you are in.
But while that 08/09 credit market was an excellent tailwind, we still needed to have the right idea, the right product, the right strategy and build the right team.
We (all of us) had to execute our butts off, as well. There were no shortcuts.
With my expanded data set today, I have even stronger conviction that great execution can’t beat a bad or ill-timed market. The external market conditions just impact too many things.
I also believe you still have to operate well (obviously) while moving as fast as possible. Weak or slow execution in a great market might produce a B result – at best.
But… when you nail the things you can control and have the benefit of the right market timing, that is when the ball has a chance to leave the yard. In this scenario, luck, as they say, is on your side.
So yes, while I know we got a lot right (and a lot of help), we also absolutely got few key things lucky, which certainly enhanced our trajectory and outcome(s).
Some people hate being called lucky, but I don’t mind it. I’ve already evaluated and continue to appreciate how lucky I’ve been.
I also expect to continue to be lucky, as I don’t ever plan to stop preparing for new opportunities – whatever they may be.