13 Entrepreneurs on Whether Luck or Skill Grew Their Startup

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

By Suzy Strutner, managing editor

When a startup succeeds, is it due to the founding team’s luck or skill? 

The entrepreneurial spin on an age-old question is one NPR's Guy Raz has made famous among founders by asking them at the end of every episode of his podcast, “How I Built This.” Over the years, legendary business leaders have generally agreed that the success of a company -- whether it’s Dyson, Warby Parker or Bumble -- comes when preparation collides with chance.

This St. Patrick’s Day, we’re adding the voice of Grow Wire’s founder community to the debate. We asked 13 (a lucky number, duh) entrepreneurs for their take on how they got to the gold at the end of the rainbow, so to speak. 

Their views, below, will inspire you to roll up your sleeves and get to work -- while keeping an open heart and mind.

 

“Luck is the dividend of hard work.”

“My family was lucky to arrive in Malaysia in a tiny boat on the biggest ocean on Earth when many others did not survive. Whether on the Pacific Ocean or in running my company, I would say 90% of our success is from persistent hard work and 10% of it is from being smart and the skills acquired along the journey. Therefore, luck is the dividend of hard work. ‘The harder you work, the luckier you get!’ There is not any other way around it.” 

--Andrew Ly, president and CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery

Andrew Ly, president and CEO of Sugar Bowl Bakery

 

“The meta-skill of business is getting the most out of the 80% of things in your control.” 

"Other than winning the ovarian lottery of being born in the United States in the 20th century, business success is 80% skill and 20% luck. The meta-skill of business is getting the most out of the 80% of things in your control. That requires making high-upside, low-downside bets and preparing with extreme paranoia. " 

--Jesse Koltes, co-founder of LonoLife

 

“It’s a little bit of both.”

"I think business success is a little bit of both luck and skill. You certainly need to put forth the effort, but sometimes it’s being in the right place at the right time!” 

--Betsy Thagard, founder of B. toffee

 

“It’s about 88% skill and hard work, 12% luck."

"I really only think of luck as an extension of moments of opportunity and chance openings. [Business success] takes absolute vision, preparation, dedication and focus. I'd say it’s about 88% skill and hard work, 12% luck.” 

--Riana Lynn, founder of Journey Foods

Riana Lynn, founder of Journey Foods

 

“You can create your own luck.”

“I’m a firm believer that you can create your own luck. Just like gambling, if you play long enough, you will win. With your own business, you do not have to play with cash necessarily. You can use your own time and energy essentially as ‘house money’ (free money). If you put yourself out there long enough, remain fluid enough for opportunities presented to you and/or can stay in the game long enough, luck will eventually come your way. The more skill, intelligence or hard work you can bring to the table, the more ‘house money’ you can play with.” 

--Tim Thwaites, co-owner of Coda Coffee Company

 

“Most of the beauty in my life, including the success of my business, has come when I finally let go.”

“I often imagine a river of life that I am floating down, and I wonder how much of my success is a result of swimming vs. surrendering to the natural flow of the river. There isn’t one answer, but I do believe most of the beauty in my life, including the success of my business, has come when I finally let go and let the universe take over.” 

--anonymous co-founder of a a 200 employee ed-tech company

 

 

“It's 20% luck and 80% grind.”

"Most companies, AirGarage included, are predicated on a few fortuitous events coupled with extended persistence. To quantify that, it's 20% luck and 80% grind. The lucky moments are finding an overlooked problem, stumbling upon a clever solution or approaching the perfect customer when they happen to be desperate for your product." 

--Scott Fitsimones, co-founder of AirGarage

 

“Luck is being there when opportunities come up.”

“Luck is being there when opportunities come up and you’re able to leverage them for your benefit. For us, synergy and partnerships have been a huge part of our DNA -- but it takes hard work, skill and intelligence to make sure that they’re a fit and will grow along with us. We’re not afraid to take chances and hop on trends before they become mainstream. For us, it was aligning with new bands or sports, like snowboarding 30 years ago. Today, Wahoo’s Fish Taco is successful because we’re flexible and make sure whatever we get involved in is better than how we left it.” 

--Wing Lam, co-founder of Wahoo’s Fish Taco

Wing Lam, founder of Wahoo's Fish Taco

 

“It’s doing hard work that you’re really passionate about.” 

“I’d never say [my company is] a success -- I think the moment you think you’re a success, you become a sitting duck! I think we’re experiencing so much growth because we never think we have things fully figured out -- we’re constantly curious, and we keep questioning everything. Because we’re so passionate, we keep working really hard, and because we’re doing what we love, it never really feels like work -- it’s just us doing what we love! So in a nutshell, I think it’s doing hard work that you’re really passionate about, and if you stick to that focus, you end up outpacing pure luck, and you end up having a blast along the way.” 

--Craig Dubitsky, founder of Hello Products

 

“You create your luck through your work.”

“[Business success is] 10% skill, 90% luck and hard work. You create your luck through your work. If you do not do the work, you will miss opportunities. You can plan and have all the skills needed, but at the end of the day, there are external factors that are beyond your control.” 

--Bruce Krinsky, chief problem solver at Tov Furniture

 

“Perhaps wins are ‘lucky’ because that is the word we've been taught to define good happenings by."

"I don't attribute much of [my business’ success] to luck. There was some doing on my part, whether conscious or not, that manifested all that is Kadyluxe. Everything I've done or thought up to now is the sum total of where my business is today, good or bad. Perhaps successes or wins are ‘lucky’ because that is the word we've been taught to define good happenings by, but I don't think it was random or that I had no part in these wins. It may be as fractal as showing up to a Denver StartUp event, being partnered up with a woman for an exercise and then three years later having that same women reappear in my life at the exact time I needed her to ultimately introduce me to a private equity firm that wouldn't have considered me otherwise. This is the magic! We are all connected. It's the unlearning of worrying about the ‘how’ that opens us up to receive everything we are meant to have in this life when we decide to call it in." 

--Kady Zinke, founder of Kadyluxe

Kady Zinke, founder of KadyLuxe

 

“Hard work trumps everything.”

“Success in business requires a reasonable amount of skill and intelligence, but hard work trumps everything. The harder you work, the more opportunities present themselves. Apologies to the leprechauns, but luck has nothing to do with it.” 

--Jim Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of Taradel

 

“Hard work breeds luck.”

“Our philosophy/ethos is that hard work breeds luck. Rather than luck, I think ‘timing’ better defines circumstances that you may not control. In our case, we entered the market of fashion/celebrity/social at the perfect timing. While our foresight led us to the space, our timing allowed us to be one of the first to market. In startups and entrepreneurship in general, we feel the most important component is to put your head down, work hard and most importantly, never give up. If you can continue to do the work even when it's hard to see the upside, things tend to fall into place. And of course, a baseline of skill and intelligence are important to help scale the company.” 

--Karl and Jaynee Singer, founders of LA Collective