But Steve was also lucky, at least from a business point of view. As has been pointed out elsewhere, he was born at the perfect time in Silicon Valley. It was just when the transistor and integrated circuit were getting going with a lot of US military backing in that area. There is a generation of billionaires all around his age and from that area, and it’s not a co-incidence. In contrast, had Jobs been born a bit over a hundred years ago in Europe he would have stood a good chance of not making it past 20, given the death toll from the Great War.
I had the luck to start my ecommerce company SellerDeck (formerly Actinic) in 1996, just in time to catch the dot com boom. So, we went public four years later at a valuation of £100m, raising £25m in cash; it was quite a ride. But was this timing, or was it luck? I have to say that luck played a big part.
We’re all lucky here
If you live in the UK, the truth is that you are already lucky. Sure, some people have a really hard time, but the numbers dying in car crashes, of preventable medical conditions and through war is very small compared with large parts of the world. Literacy is also high by any standard and we have the rule of law. Basically, there are opportunities for those with the talent and the will to succeed.
Make your own luck
Reviewing my first start-up, I had some very lucky breaks, but some of the luck I made myself. I carefully selected my business partner because he complemented my skills. I looked at many technology trends before selecting the internet in general, and ecommerce in particular.
I clearly remember a venture capitalist telling me that the internet was “like CB Radio, here today, gone tomorrow”. What seems obvious now wasn’t then, but I based my decision, not on superficial judgments, but on looking at adoption trends, so I helped to make my own luck.
For several years before starting the company, I read business books and magazines to try to get as rounded a view of business as possible. My business partner took an MBA. Again, we were trying to make ourselves lucky.
Making it real
All of us can be open to new ideas and continuing education. In addition, in every business area, there are trends which are taking shape. You cannot control your place or time of birth, but you can stay open and look hard to spot these trends. Nothing stays the same forever, and in careful thought and discussion with far-sighted friends, it’s possible to be ahead of the crowd and gain a major business advantage. That’s part of how you make your own luck.
Chris Barling is co-founder and chairman of SellerDeck
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