by Geoff Gillette
For years now the lottery has used the catchphrase, “You can’t win if you don’t play.” It’s a truism that applies across the board in life. Business executives are very familiar with this ideology, and the ones who seem to hit the bullseye the most are the ones who don’t seem to be afraid of missing the mark.
Whether it's having just the right skillset at just the right time or capitalizing on controversy, knowing when to take a chance (and being willing to take it) is key to success.
There aren’t many people who aren’t familiar with Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Records (and many other Virgin businesses). But would he be where he is today without the fickle finger of fate? In an article in the Virgin Entrepreneur, Branson talks about how just being persistent wasn’t enough to bring the Virgin label into the U.S. market. It certainly helped, but without a certain record being played at a certain time when a certain director happened to walk in, Virgin might not be the powerhouse it is today.
The luck in this case was that just the absolute right person who needed to hear the album Branson was trying to peddle to a U.S. label happened to be in a position to hear it. It wasn’t a situation Branson (or anyone really) could have predicted, but it just happened that a one-in-a-million combination of factors yielded heavy profits.
Tobias Lutke was lucky too, but not in the same way. The Shopify Inc. co-founder didn’t start off trying to be an internet mogul. The computer programmer had started off trying to open an online snowboard shop. It was only after he had difficulties with the online shopping cart and decided to code his own that his business took a lucky turn. Years later, Shopify has become a million dollar business allowing entrepreneurs around the world to get their own businesses off the ground.
Often that is the case, where a person goes into business with one idea and due to circumstances and improvisation they pivot into something new which achieves success at a level they may not have been expecting.
Many subscribe to the theory of making your own luck. A case in point is when a business sees a weakness in a competitor and shifts their strategies to capitalize on someone else’s poor fortune.
For example, in 2014, Facebook came under fire because of a crackdown on individuals using their service with a fake name. Some of those were people who made up goofy names as a lark, but others had more serious reasons. Victims trying to avoid being found online by abusers, transgenders establishing their new gender identity, and others.
The crackdown swept up the serious with the silly and ignited a firestorm. Thousands declared their desire to abandon the social media giant and leave for online territories where they could self-identify any way they chose.
In the midst of this came Ello, a small social media startup with only the most basic level of service. But sensing an opportunity, they made it known that their users were allowed to have any name they chose. A hue and cry arose and suddenly ‘invites’ to Ello (it is invitation only) were a rare and highly sought after commodity. At one point, there were reportedly tens of thousands of people looking to get online with Ello.
This should have been the shot in the arm which propelled Ello from a wannabe into the main arena. But now that the hubbub has died down, so too has the exodus. Ello slowly faded back into the background, with a larger client base but still not pulling in the numbers needed to challenge its rivals. So luck alone isn't enough.
Since it worked so well the first time, Ello is positioning itself again to capitalize on what may be perceived as a weakness of Facebook. At the end of February, Ello users received an e-mail stating that Ello was celebrating March as NSFW month. NSFW, which stands for Not Suitable For Work, is a tag Ello allowed users to add to their posts. In order to see them, a viewer would have to click on the tag to open it up. And again, it’s largely unregulated. Which means, as long as you click on those NSFW tags, there’s no telling what you might see. It begs the question of what happens when something illegal (say child pornography for instance) gets posted and brings in some federal heat?
Because Facebook is seen as “The Establishment” Ello can dip back into the “we’re the anti-Facebook” well another time or two or three. Who knows if it will be successful in the long run? Regardless, Ello CEO Paul Budnitz saw an opportunity and took it. Whether he can catch that wave and hold on it, remains to be seen. But Ello shouldn't rely on luck alone to keep their platform alive. At some point, it's bound to run out.