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I created a successful side project back in 2014. It is still running and making 20 times more than I would get with a normal job. But i was lucky. Lucky to be born in a rich country. Lucky because I was given a computer at the age of 5. Lucky because I had unlimited education opportunities. Lucky because I had a friend who gave me access to something I needed for my business. And many other lucks. I will never deny that fact. But reading these stories makes me a bit angry, because it is just not that simple. It's always easy to translate a successful story into a guideline. But that guideline isn't worth anything when all those luck properties are different.





I worked for a mom + pop Amazon seller (manufacture + ship from China to America, stick packaging on it, send it in to Fulfillment by Amazon, collect a check)

He's probably worth $50m as one of the top 250 sellers. Probably ~20 SKUs. Tons of competitors trying to bring him down but his product has so many reviews that it is just a money printer.

He was smart to be at the right place at the right time. He undercut the bigdogs back in the day (~10 years ago maybe?) and gained momentum.

He refused to admit to me that he was lucky. He refused to admit that he had the right idea at the right time. Was his execution great? You bet. Good marketing/product advertising/images/pivoting/getting through hardships/blah blah blah.

But like... he couldn't do again if he had to start from scratch in 2019. Things are different. And he refused to acknowledge that. He wanted to believe everything he did was perfect and he got his wealth purely from skill.

I think that's a bad trait :(


What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck? At the very least, thousands of people had the same opportunity to do what your boss did. And that's if we take your word that this is all he did, and he didn't negotiate at all or spend any time researching what products to sell, or take a loss in the beginning to provide good customer service for future gain. Even seeing the opportunity is a skill itself, millions of people will happily stay at their current job rather than take a risk.

>But like... he couldn't do again if he had to start from scratch in 2019. Things are different.

This is a losing attitude, a quick search of almost any category on Amazon will show more recent products that are China rebrands with thousands of reviews.

Here is one: https://www.amazon.com/JavaPresse-Grinder-Conical-Brushed-St...

You can find exact copies on Aliexpress for $10.

You can't prove it's impossible to do what he did today. Others are actively doing it.

>I think that's a bad trait :(

Being proud of your accomplishments is not a bad trait. Thousands of people had the same opportunities as him, yet he came out on top (or top 250, in your example).


What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck?

A need to balance out the notion that "anyone can do it".


> You can't prove it's impossible to do what he did today. Others are actively doing it.

There is a whole genre of get-rich-quick scammers claiming that exact thing:

https://www.cnet.com/news/amazon-scam-lawsuit-bowser-washing...

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/01/men-p...

Just because something is possible does not mean it is common. Why didn't all the hard-working software entrepreneurs from the 1980s end up like Bill Gates? Discounting luck and good timing leads to the Horatio Alger fallacy.


I don’t see how it’s belittling to acknowledge luck as a factor among many in success while also acknowledging the non-luck factors. You can be proud of your accomplishments while still acknowledging the influence of luck your success.

I think it's the difference between what comes first, the work or the luck and what's the dominant force.

If you study hard and get good grades, you might find yourself in a position where someone needs to hire for a role that you're already prepared for. Sure, there's luck in bumping into that person, but you worked hard to be able to take advantage of opportunities, so I'd say luck had very little to do with your success. If it wasn't this lucky break, there would be another one.

If you brush off school and happen to get hired by a boss that could care less if you do work of any quality, that's mostly luck and probably not repeatable.

Sure, Gates and Bezos experienced luck during their careers, but I'd be willing to bet that the dominant trait in their growth was hard work and intelligent decision making. Some people like to think of them as happening to be in the right place at the right time, but I think they worked hard to prepare themselves with the skills necessary to see those massive opportunities and were obsessed with moving as fast as possible towards their goals.


I view it this way: being smart and hard working is necessary but not sufficient to achieve the success they have. There are plenty of very smart and hard working people that are also dirt poor due to various circumstances. Maybe they have interests that don't happen to pay a lot of money. Maybe they are in locations where being smart doesn't pay off that much.

There is likely always some degree of happenstance, but there is also too much eagerness to chalk up success to luck, simply because others didn't succeed.

It's not as if the qualifications are simply to be smart and hard-working, and then a random drawing is held to determine the winner.

Instead, there are countless micro-decisions and actions that go into execution. The likelihood that any two people are executing an idea in exactly the same way is vanishingly small, even if they are both smart and hard-working.


The dominant trait was rich, well connected parents?

> What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck?

I don't think OP meant as black and white as you see it. There is some luck factor involved in many of the successful projects. What people should be wary of is thinking of it as a formula for success - add x and then y and voila you win. It is not that simple.


I think the thing is, at any given time, there may be a thousand people trying to do the same thing at a certain level of competency, with only a few actually managing to gain any traction due to a combination of luck or timing.

Then these people say they were much better than the others, while objectively they were executing at about the same level.

If everyone does everything right, there will still be winners and losers.


The mythology is that hard work + cleverness = success.

The reality is that probability * (work + cleverness) = success.

The size of the probability makes a big difference. If it's too low you're likely wasting your time.

You can improve it with good business/sales techniques, but if it's tilted the wrong way you're always going to be fighting against it.

Objectively, you'd need to know the hit rate for specific business ideas/approaches/fields.

Realistically, some fields are more likely to be successful than others. Analytics, sales aids, and off-shore arbitrage are far more likely to make money than - say - software support for the disabled, or starting a band.


> What is this new trend of belittling accomplishments down to luck?

Many accomplishments are mostly luck? Japan Rugby beat South Africa in a 7s match a while ago. Are the players now entitled to call themselves better than those on the South African team? I mean, sure they could, but it would be obviously false, and nothing of value is gained. This reduces all the way down to “accomplishing” choosing lottery numbers.


> Many accomplishments are mostly luck?

This got me wondering how we might prove which accomplishments are luck vs skill.

Michael Mauboussin's 2012 book dives pretty far into separating luck from skill, worth checking out, or at least the more interesting online reviews / interviews.[0] It covers sports, investing, etc.

You can control the random seed in some games (duplicate bridge), but more often, you just want an enormous number of samples.[1]

Even with large sample sizes there are still debates (poker [2, 3], investing [4, 5]).

So if we come back and want to assess one individual life? No idea how confidently we can sort out how much was luck and how much was skill for anyone at n = 1.

It's like watching one poker hand. We can point to the cards. We can point out that they didn't make incredibly rookie mistakes. Beyond that? Who knows.

But then... I guess you could say... The guy who has played a million hands of poker is more skilled than the guy who played one.

By analogy, how good at this can any of us really be?

-or-

We'd all definitely be better at life if we had a few more tries.

:D

Late comment, just had been mulling it, wanted to park it somewhere.

Resources:

[0] https://www.wired.com/2012/11/luck-and-skill-untangled-qa-wi...

[1] True score theory: http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/truescor.php

[2] https://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/1130/finance-carnival-ari...

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/jan/08/online-poker-b...

[4] Investors might have incredible careers only to face allegations of survivorship bias. I had some anecdotal source here but lost it over the last day of sleeping on this. Sorry. Here's a wikipedia page? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Survivorship_bias

[5] https://mathinvestor.org/2018/08/mutual-fund-performance-and...


It is funny that the post ticks off all the things he did right, then concludes that he was lucky, primarily due to timing.

Yeah, maybe he couldn't do that on Amazon in 2019, but he might just as well not try, in favor of something more doable today. That is, part of what the OP calls luck is essentially the recognition of the opportunity, which in itself should be added to the list of skills.



Back in my Microsoft days, I knew many co-workers who, within about three years of graduating and starting at Microsoft, were in a position to retire. Several of them professed to me that they believed that it was their hard work and skill that got them wealthy so young and not the situation they were lucky enough to find themselves in. Some said they thought that they could go out and do it again. A precious few did (one of them co-founded Valve so, he did) but I don't recall any of the others striking it rich twice.

Not a bad trait. If you believe that things are down to luck you put yourself into a very unhelpful frame of mind that can prevent you from achieving the things you want to achieve. https://github.com/adnzzzzZ/blog/issues/38

>But like... he couldn't do again if he had to start from scratch in 2019.

This misses the point by a country mile. The skill is knowing and predicting the when and where in addition to executing on the what.


Just like the people who time the stock market.

This is a very common belief amongst successful people. In fact, you might recall a few years ago in US politics there was this big "I Did It" thing where successful business owners defiantly claimed they earned their successes without the help of anyone (or any publicly funded infrastructure).

I'm sure sociologists have a name for this, but to me it represents people who have a big hole to fill regarding self-worth. By believing they accomplished something because they are extra-uniquely special is a way to try to fill that hole.

If you take a formerly successful person and have them start over, their stature (titles, money, contacts) can often give them starting benefits that can indeed make their following ventures successful - or at least more likely successful than if they had started with little more than their skills.

There are old, wealthy people who have made a life out of repeating "successes". Some find their way into positions of great global power, and they unfortunately believe they know more than anyone else (and will state such without any shyness).


>I'm sure sociologists have a name for this, but to me it represents people who have a big hole to fill regarding self-worth.

Fundamental attribution bias? "Everything bad that happens to me is because of external factors beyond my control. Everything bad that happens to you is your fault." And the opposite: "I'm skilled, you're just lucky."

Nothing teaches this better than a game of Dota2.


When someone works really hard, goes through lots of hard moments and eventually succeeds the general public or not so close friends see the end result but don't see all the struggle. Then they try to explain how this happened and when they fail to connect the dots it all looks like magic to them and all they can say is that luck was involved.

The hard truth is that everyone comes by opportunities in life (call it luck) but very few people have the knowledge and experience to achieve something meaningful out of those opportunities.


I am curious. I live in a place where ecom is just taking off. While there are lot of brand dependency I see a chance to actually to do private/white label stuff. So curious if you know some tips on how to get started on Amazon FBA.

Unsolicited random suggestion I would do if in your position: Find the most popular household/kitchen item being sold on amazon - and whitelable that.

And source the most popular kids items from Alibaba and use language to market it to whomever your locale is.


> He wanted to believe everything he did was perfect and he got his wealth purely from skill

He did, his skill was to get on it at a right time in a right place. His skill was to keep working on it and believing in himself. Saying it was due to luck is just pure disrespect.


It's both - if he didn't have his skills, he wouldn't succeed either. But for him to deny that luck played any role is naive. We should work our hardest so we're ready to shine when the opportunity comes, but we need to remain humble because not everyone gets the same opportunities.

he had the skill to be born a man of a certain to certain parents in, i'm assuming here, was a western country in the last 60 years or so. a less skilled person would have been born a farm worker 3000 years ago.

A lot of comments here about “luck” ignore the essential nature of it: its subjectivity. Objectively, there is no such thing as luck, but only circumstance. Circumstance can certainly be beyond our control. Luck, however, is our subjective interpretation of circumstance, and is very much within our power to control.

Are you lucky or unlucky? Are your circumstances lucky or unlucky? Your answer to that question doesn’t impact your circumstances — what happens to you — but it does significantly impact your mindset and behavior — what you make happen. A person who believes in bad luck is disempowering themselves. A person who believes in good luck does the opposite: priming themselves to see patterns of opportunity where the unlucky brain sees patterns of obstacles.

Do these beliefs change anything about the real opportunities or obstacles that come our way? Not one bit. But beliefs dramatically affect what we see and what we do.

Having said that, in my case I am special. I actually am objectively the luckiest person I’ve ever met.


My last sentence was (I hope) obvious as tongue-in-cheek: I try to cultivate a mindset that sees opportunity, and telling myself I am lucky is a good hack for that.

But I have a good example and anecdote here. I used to work at a startup that went from 60 million views a month to a few billion (Facebook videos). Some people would say, “you were just at the right place at the right time, when Facebook decided to promote video.” That’s true, for sure. However, the right way to describe it is, “I am a really lucky guy. If it hadn’t been Facebook promoting video, it would have been some other lucky break.”

Another anecdote: divorce. Whenever I encounter a thought that starts to resemble self-pity, I remember how lucky I am, and that for the next three days, instead of sulking to myself about not seeing my kids, I actually have something most parents never get: three days of distraction-free time to work on a product that I believe will change the world.

Perhaps I’m deluding myself? There’s no perhaps. I am most definitely deluding myself. But some delusions can help. Being lucky is definitely one of them, with perhaps one additional caveat: that being lucky doesn’t mean I win lottery tickets. It means if I never give up, and I work as insanely hard as possible, and have the humility to change as circumstances dictate, that my good luck ensures I can’t lose. Oddly enough, it is my belief in luck that encourages me to never stop looking for it to be realized. Pretty silly, but it works for me!


> Do these beliefs change anything about the real opportunities or obstacles that come our way? Not one bit. But beliefs dramatically affect what we see and what we do.

Wouldn't it be better to believe the truth that beliefs don't change the circumstances that come our way instead of believing in good or bad luck? The downside of thinking you're lucky is a tendency to overlook problems. I've noticed that when people (including myself) are being overly optimistic, potential challenges and pitfalls are minimized.


> The downside of thinking you're lucky is a tendency to overlook problems. I've noticed that when people (including myself) are being overly optimistic, potential challenges and pitfalls are minimized.

One could argue that it is that exact overlooking of the problems that enables many to embark in entrepreneurial pursuits to begin with.


Many millions of people (or more) have the same lucky factors that you list, and don't have the same success. Hence, those might not have been the most critical factors.

Speaking of luck, this article was on front page sometime ago and had lot of good things about how to attract good luck.

The key to good luck is an open mind - [http://nautil.us/blog/-the-key-to-good-luck-is-an-open-mind]

So luck can be a factor, but may be that also could be a trait?


In hindsight, all these stories seem to have a clear thread running through them which can be replicated by anyone with reasonable intelligence, drive, and time.

In practice that particular thread likely required all kinds of environmental details to occur - details the entrepreneur might not have noticed at the time, might have forgotten about later, or might be discounting as unimportant.


One of the things that helps the most, it seems to me, is having the self-confidence to take the risk. You also have to be motivated enough and in good enough health (eg: not burnt out) to be able to work on this side-project after your job. Then of course you need the right skills, the right timing, and the free time and financial resources to execute your plan.

However, at the end of the day, you are taking a risk, it's a gamble. What stops most people is the fear of failure. This fear isn't necessarily unwarranted. As the author points out, he has a previous failed startup. Most people don't have the drive to work hundreds of hours after work and possibly invest their own hard earned cash in a project they suspect deep down might not actually pan out. I know I find it difficult.

Still, I don't dislike these stories. It's good if it inspires people to take (calculated) risks, and it is possible to learn from failures. Though I would also say that yeah, there's probably some self-selection going on. The people out there with 2 or 3 failed attempts at monetizing side-projects probably don't feel super eager to write a blog post and tell us all how we can improve our lives by following in their footsteps.


It’s immensely easier with hindsight. Everything’s laid out right in front of people. This is like a sports fan sitting at home saying, “How could they miss that? I could see it right here. Even I could do that.” The difficulty is deceiving when it’s all seeing and no doing.

It's totally true that there are lots of people in the world who don't have the circumstances to make a business like this happen right now.

But there are many, many people who do have the circumstances to make it happen, and who would benefit from it, but who make wrong choices and waste their time elsewhere. Those are the people who the article is intended for.

Speaking more broadly - The fact that this business strategy isn't immediately available to every person on Earth doesn't seem that fruitful of a point to make. Why does this come up every time someone posts about anyone doing anything entrepreneurial and succeeding? What is the message for disadvantaged people in our society? "You have no chance of succeeding because of your circumstances; give up now"? Somehow, this external-locus-of-control [0] viewpoint seems very attractive to people to the point that they actually want to spread it memetically. And yet it's been pretty well demonstrated that this style of thinking is actually harmful to people to who engage in it.

Even for many of the people who can't immediately carry out a strategy like that in the blog post - many of them could, with some time and preparatory action, get themselves into a position where it's possible. Consider someone who lacks skills, connections, and experience. They cannot reasonably expected to start a company right there and then. They can be expected to get a job, spend a few years getting experience and connections, move up a rung or two, then perhaps quit and go entrepreneurial. If that's out of the cards, they can likely study to move towards the point where getting a job in the target field is feasible.

Yes, there are people who are so downtrodden that they can't even take steps towards getting into a position where they can do better. And some people won't get all the rewards they deserve, in some moral sense. But the great majority of people can do something to improve their lot, even if it isn't exactly like what goes on in this blog post.

Even consider the author of the post - he didn't just start this business from college; his success here depended on the years of work he did before and the connections and experience he built from that.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locus_of_control


What was your side project, if you don’t mind me asking?

But it has to be more than just luck. Many kids get computers at the age of 5, have lots of educational opportunities, etc. Very few do what you did. I agree that a "guideline" like this is not worth much. It probably takes some luck and a lot of skill..



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