How To Maximize Your Surface Area For Luck

Surface Area

Everyone knows or has heard of the popular saying, “You make your own luck”. There’s an element of truth here, people don’t randomly succeed. But if we trace back our steps, there are typical paths we take that lead us from one point to another. It is easy to view the achievements of others and deem them as an overnight success. But we really never know the true story of what it took to get there — the years of painstaking work, constant pivots, and starting over. We just see the final product, the results. There are no overnight successes, they are all years in the making.

A serial entrepreneur, Jason Roberts, blogged about this concept “Luck Surface Area”.

“The amount of serendipity that will occur in your life, your Luck Surface Area, is directly proportional to the degree to which you do something you’re passionate about combined with the total number of people to whom this is effectively communicated.”

This is the model Jason uses to describe and illustrate this concept: Luck = Telling x Doing. Basically, if you increase the time “Telling” and the time “Doing” you will maximize your luck surface area.

Why Does This Matter

There is an important lesson here — we can’t control when or how lucky we get, but we can control our outputs, which are the actions we take. We seldom reach our goal in the exact way we expect, but our journey leads to unexpected twists and turns (and that makes it fun!). Shoot for the moon and land among the stars, right? Many actions throughout that journey might be a waste of time, but we don’t know which ones could unsuspectedly be the game changers.

When my company, VoiceHero, was on the brink of bankruptcy, I had to let go of 60% of our team. It reduced us to two co-founders with less than $2000 in the bank. We cut all expenses, including our pay to 0, which was only a $1,000 stipend just to get by during those tough times. For five months, my co-founder and I applied for every startup incubator available and met with any investor who would speak to us. We were also in the middle of changing our idea, so any investment was prone to additional risks. Throughout the process, over 30+ investors denied us, but we hustled along. Until one day when almost all hope seemed lost, there was this one meeting I almost declined because it was a 90-minute bus to get to Toronto. I met with the managing director of Techstars, Aviel, and the Amazon Alexa Fund Portfolio Manager, Brian. Despite hating my idea, and completely disregarding our 8-months of progress, they invested. They saw our hustle. They heard our pain, desperation, and passion in our voices. We wanted to succeed, bad. I remember their final statement like it was just yesterday, “Please do a different idea, we are investing in you.”

I would have never thought about this as a potential option when I was looking for funding — an investor(s) that would support the scrapping of an idea and starting from zero. I thought this was going to be like every other investor and incubator interview, terrible. But I was damn wrong.

There are many famous startups in history that had these types of stories:

  • After 51 games, and on the verge of bankruptcy, Rovio set out to make one last game before calling it quits. That game was Angry Birds.
  • Stewart Butterfield wanted to return his investors’ money when his game wasn’t gaining traction. His investor rejected the refund, and the company went on to release Slack, which went public at a $16 billion valuation.
  • The founders started Twitter while looking for ideas when their podcasting platform, Odeo, wasn’t taking off.

How Can We Maximize Our Luck Surface Area?

Communicate Often

Celebrate all wins and failures. More importantly, share them with the world! Everyone knows it is part of the journey and failure is inevitable, but people seldom do the latter. Be honest and transparent, there is value created by the sheer number of people who are aware — the power in numbers. Don’t assume people aren’t following what you’re doing or don’t seem to care, the ones who do will reach out and help. Doing this will help capture value in ways you never would have predicted.

Say Yes a lot

This is contrary to the belief where the typical advice is to become better at saying “No”. But that is to those things that eat away at our time and have no benefit. If there isn’t an obvious benefit or altruistic motives like helping a friend or someone in your network, it’s ok to say no. If you are unsure how something may benefit you, but it could have some sort of impact in the future, say yes. Things come full circle in more ways than you think.

Offer to help

Karma is real. I’ve received a lot of help for work I care about most — from school, work, startups, even getting cast on a reality television show. People help, you just need to ask. Then, when your time comes, you repay the favor. Giving back is a virtuous loop and built in your own values — you will realize people will want to help you more than you think.

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