Please stop misusing the word “Luck”

“OMG! You’re So Lucky!”

In the amazing journey I’m taking with my startup Swayy (first NYC, and now Berlin) I get the chance to meet a lot of new people, and to take part in a lot of interesting conversations.

On one of the recent conversations I had, I spoke about myself working on something of my own, which is something I enjoy doing. Since this is not necessarily true for most people – The other person immediately perceived me as being “Lucky”.

To be precise “Oh my god, you are so lucky!” was that person’s reaction. I spent a lot of time thinking about this reaction later that night, which led me to write this post.

My current status in life has little to do with luck.

As a matter of fact, describing a person’s life status using the word “Luck” underestimates him and overlooks the bigger picture.

 

One of world’s greatest athletes Serena Williams described it amazingly:

“Luck has nothing to do with it, because I have spent many, many hours, countless hours, on the court working for my one moment in time, not knowing when it would come”

- Serena Williams

 

Luck has nothing to do with it (The File Drawer effect)

Overlooking the bigger picture and missing additional facts and data is better known as a File Drawer Effect (affecting a research because some of the studies were never reported).

In life – you only hear about those great stories (or extremely bad ones), which affects your perspective over the statistics of success.

For me, it took almost two years of hard work and a lot of failures in order to get to the point where I’m standing right now.

For the person I was talking to, statistically, I have a 1/1 success rate, and this is why that person mistook it for “luck”.

The File Drawer Effect alters our perspective in many day to day events, and that’s what causes us, as outsiders, to consider luck as a factor of success:

Think of that friend of yours who told you how lucky he was to get the best parking spot. Did he ever tell you about the bad parking spots he got? I’m sure he didn’t.

Statistically, we’ll get a good parking spot once every hundreds of tries.

 

So What’s Luck Anyway? (Hint: Probability)

My world view is that “Luck” is an occurrence of a positive event against the odds.

The question is, how do you increase your odds to succeed and omit luck from the equation?

To begin with, different people have different odds achieving something they want.

Growing in a rich family, or a city filled with opportunities, might increase your odds to succeed, over people from a lower socioeconomic status. So those “lucky” people actually start their journey to success with higher odds than the rest.

From this starting point we can easily look at our odds to succeed in a mathematical way, using Probability Theory.

If you’ll think about it, for most things in life we can determine our approximate probability.

Let’s say you try to succeed in something that has a 0.1 success rate, and you need at least one success:

  • If you only attempt once, you get a 0.1 (or 10%) success rate.

  • Two attempts – and your odds will increase to 1-0.9*0.9=0.19

  • If you won’t give up, and try 15 times you’ll get a 1-0.9^15=0.79 success rate. Almost 80%.  And that’s not too bad.

 

So in my eyes, a “lucky break” means I succeeded on the first or second attempt. But if I succeed on the 15th attempt, it is no longer luck, it’s persistence – so what do I need luck for?

“Accidents happen. That’s what everyone says. But in a quantum universe there are no such things as accidents, only possibilities and probabilities folded into existence by perception”

- Dr. Manhattan

 

Luck Only Comes to Those Who Try

There is one simple “rule” that is pretty clear – eventually, if you won’t try at all, you won’t even get the 0.1 success rate. Luck doesn’t help those who are afraid to try or who give up in advance.

Lets say everyone gets the same chance of meeting that “one in a thousand” person you were looking to meet. So yes, you can get lucky and meet that person on your first try.

But meeting him/her is still under your control – Go out and meet as many people as you can. I guess 1000 people would suffice.

Remember that entrepreneur that met his investor in that meaningless meetup? What’s the difference if this happened on his first meetup ever or on his 50th? Go to as many meetups as you can – Increase your odds. It’s up to you.

I let this way of thinking guide me – Go out and tell your story to as many people as you can, ask for question, introductions etc.

I do marketing, and finding a successful marketing strategy is hard – not all attempts will lead to a good ROI – but you cannot stop on your first or second try.

If you generate one success every ten tries – go out try ten different strategies.

Some people have better starting points than others, and some fall into situations you might not have been “lucky” enough to fall into. So those people have bigger odds to begin with.

It’s up to you now to understand how to increase your odds. If there is anything to be learned from Probability Theory – it’s that you should do more and try more. Go out and increase those odds.

 

Image Credit: alxhee on Flicker

The 4 Acts For Convincing and Persuading

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Entrepreneurs and startup founders often face situations where there is a very limited amount of time to pitch and get someone interested in what you are doing. If you seize the opportunity and make the most of it, these encounters have the potential to change everything for your company.

Besides your clarity, delivery of message, metrics, product, and all the other things that could make or break a meeting, there are a few extra tricks to use. These small tricks derive from the art of persuasion and rhetorical theory, which I learned to use not only when pitching, but in everyday life as well.

When I was studying communications with the TAI Group, I started reading more about persuasion. I also listened to famous rhetorical speeches, such as Roosevelt’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and Churchill’s “This was their finest hour” (which was actually more for fun).

Whenever I talk to someone about my startup, Swayy, I try to keep the following four acts in mind:

Gain initial trust

Try to start the conversation off easily and get the other person to feel comfortable and trust you from the beginning. People will tend to give extra chances or be more patient when you start by earning their trust. This usually involves giving a short introduction of yourself.

 

“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today.”

-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Imagine that”

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This is probably the most successful and easy method, as it involves getting someone to use their imagination. Whenever you try to describe a situation, fact, or even a feature, use the words, “Imagine that”.

Read these two sentences:

1. People in the supermarket are in a rush and impatient.

Compared to:

2. Imagine that you are shopping for groceries, and you have to pick your kids up in thirty minutes so you can home early to finish urgent work for tomorrow’s board meeting.

Putting the other person into a situation they can understand is a good transition to making your point, and creates empathy for whatever it is your are about to present.

 

Back your statements with facts

When you explain why your solution is right, and why people need your product, you are making assumptions. While these assumptions may be true, they are still only assumptions, and can’t be masked as fact.

If you back your assumptions with commonly recognized preliminary facts, it transforms your assumptions into potential facts. Create statements that combine three well-known facts about your niche, market, need, etc., and the fourth (your assumption) will sound much better.

Try this example:

The smartphone’s battery life problem should be solved by public charging services.

Comparing to:

1. The average user has 41 apps installed on his phone.

2. The average user spends over 2 hours a day on his device, not including regular voice use.

3. Batteries for handheld tech products haven’t changed drastically in more than 15 years.

4. The smartphone’s battery life problem will* be solved by public charging services.

* The assumption becomes a semi-fact when ‘should’ change to ‘will’.

Without being an expert (and most people aren’t experts), I can say that these four statements sound more reliable, make sense, and are more convincing than just throwing out an assumption, as true as it might sound.

For EVERY assumption or opinion you wish to say, three preliminary facts go a long way to making it sound better.

 

Be funny (but don’t overdo it)

This is the hardest act of all, because it’s less involved with preparing in advance or your past experiences, but actually about who you are as a person. Being funny will always make you look more likeable, charming and confident.

Having a sense of humor makes people like you more, and better relate to what you are saying. Erika Andersen wrote a great piece on Forbes, describing a story of how being funny can give you leverage over someone else.

Injecting a bit of humor makes it easier for people to identify with you, and can make your point seem true.

“If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can [make you] laugh at a particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge it as true”

- Comedian, John Cleese

 

Try to practice as much as possible

I was once told that if I can’t pitch my product to a first-grader I should go back home and practice more. I pitch to almost everyone I meet, from friends and family to strangers at a bar (which is surprisingly easy) – it’s important to learn how to explain what I do, regardless of who I’m actually talking to. Practicing your pitch using these acts of convincing and persuading makes the job easier in the future, and you will get better the more you do it.

 

I would be happy to hear your thoughts, how you tell your story better, and your best methods for improvement – comment here or talk to me on Twitter @liordegani.

 

Images Credit:   © Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
The power of imagination makes us infinite – MikeVC

Don’t Sell the Problem – Sell the Solution

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One of the most important stages in the process of building a product is choosing your marketing strategy – including your target and goals (especially if you are on the marketing team).

Frankly, when you’re a marketer (or least not a developer), the initial product development period gives you time to think, plan, and act towards your marketing strategy and decide how to approach bloggers, customers, users, etc.

Your marketing strategy should involve many aspects such as social media, public relations, and SEO, in order to broaden your reach as much as possible. To keep it simple, Kissmetrics covered these points in an amazing guide called “The Ultimate Guide to Startup Marketing

Getting to know and choose your market (the first point in Kissmetric’s guide) is not only about defining demographics and market size, but about the message you are going to deliver to each one of these potential users.The first thing to understand is that you are not selling your users the problem, you are selling the solution.

 

We want to help people who have a problem sharing content

Earlier this month, we released the private beta of our new product, Swayy, a tool that brings you content to share with your community. As founders of a startup, we worked hard keep our social media accounts active on a daily basis. This in large part involved finding engaging content for our followers to consume, and thus grow our community and position us as thought-leaders in the industry. That was OUR PROBLEM. No one had to explain me why I should be active on my social media outlets, what my goals should be, how time-consuming it is, and how painful they are to maintain. When you are familiar with the problem, you understand the solution.

Once we had our first version of Swayy ready for beta testing, we decided to devote the first few weeks to pitching it only to close acquaintances and asking them to test it in order to get early feedback.

 

The feedback was divided into two clear groups:

Those who had the same marketing problem as I did focused on the quality of the content and the necessary components of the system.

Those who don’t understand the point of sharing mostly gave feedback on the UI (which should not be discounted).

I instinctually had the urge to explain to the second group why they should share, why it’s important to be active on social media, and why they should want to grow their community. After enlightening them, how could they not fall for Swayy?

 

You can’t convince people to solve a problem they don’t have

The defining moment in our marketing efforts was when we realized that we cannot sell the problem itself. We’re not here to explain the importance of social media for you and your startup, we’re not here to explain what sharing can do for you. We aren’t the messengers of blogging, content marketing, and content sharing. We’re here to solve a problem for the people who already know they have it.

 

Filter feedback from “fake” users and ignore their metrics

Having more users onboard is a good thing, but it’s a bad thing when it negatively affects your usage percentages. The users that didn’t understand the point of Swayy or social media marketing were not counted as signed up users, and their activity on Swayy was ignored. These “fake” users are great for getting feedback on UI, UX, the onboarding process, and so on. Their feedback is important, and we made a point of never ignoring it.

 

How we approach user growth at Swayy

At this moment, several weeks into our private beta, we’ve better learned more about who our users (or potential users) are and are not. We also learned which channels to use for finding potential users, and which should be avoided.

The most important lesson we learned since launching the beta is to not waste time explaining why Swayy will help one solve a problem someone might experience in the future. We’re here to solve an existing problem for those who know they have it.

 

I would love to hear about how you find your potential users, and the ways you reach out to them. Leave comments or be in touch on Twitter

 

If you are interested in using Swayy, leave your email at www.swayy.co to join our growing private beta.

 

Cheers.

 

Photo Credit gem66

Why You Should Learn To Code Even As a Non-Technical Founder

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Being in a technical environment my entire professional life, I came across programming several times:

First, as a System Engineer I came familiar with basic scripts programming, and DB structures. Later on, during my engineering studies, I learned some basic C and Java programming.
I never became an expert or developed the desire to be a programmer, but by knowing the basics of programming and how systems are built, I understood how it helps one become a better startup founder.

Got my hands dirty

I was always capable of having decent coding conversations, so when we needed an extra hand in the development of SUMMER, it was clear to me I could step up to help with the client-side programming.

I took the minimum time necessary, and expanded my “knowledge” with HTML, CSS and Javascript. My contribution to the product was negligible, but I became more familiar with the product, got myself involved in techie conversations, and ended up with a different point of view in regards to my marketing role.

I fell in love with this status. When I was asked to program for my studies final project using any programming language I wished – I took the opportunity to learn Python (our server-side language), and wrote an entire program based on it.

As I expanded my knowledge of programming, I began to better understand the bigger picture.

Get explanations from the programmers

I’m no longer involved in a programming role, but I’m still doing my best to know about the inner workings of our products. I initiate frequent discussions with my technical co-founders, I want to know the flow of our system, what it takes from us to do certain things, why some take longer than others, and so on.

Understanding the background of your system, and how beneficial it can be for you is a huge advantage for several reasons:

1. Know How Stuff Works

The basic and most common advantage when you know how your system works, is actually absorbing the daily routine of startup life. Additions and improvements to your product might be something you talk or think about frequently.

Encounters with bugs, unclear scenarios, and other weird cases happen all the time. Knowing the cause of these issues, and understanding the situation is important as a founder of the company, rather than waiting helplessly for the problem to be fixed.

2. Pitching & Meetings

Startup founders often find themselves in situations where they need to talk about the startup and the product. When in a marketing role, you can find yourself with people wanting to know more than the general explanation of the product. Some people will be interested in the technology behind it, learn about future capabilities, technical advantages, and so on.
Having the answers to these inquiries can improve a meeting or a discussion, and prevent questions from awkwardly hanging in the air.

Picture yourself speaking with potential collaborators, interested bloggers, or a journalist wanting to cover your work – having the right answers allows you tell a better story, and even can be a time-saver for both parties.

3. Product Support

In an early-stage startup, all of the founders handle customer support. If you are the person behind the social accounts, you are the first stop in the support process. Knowing the answers to technical questions from customers saves their time, your time, and the precious time of your fellow programmers. With my understanding of the product, I am able to easily answer questions regarding low-level bugs and user feature requests, leaving the development team out of the communication.

Trust me, you and your teammates will greatly appreciate streamlining of this process.

I would love to hear if any of you non-techies had the chance to learn to code, and how it affected you in your startup.

 

Picture credit: Hans Braxmeier

How to Manage your Time Better as a Startup Founder

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A lot has been written and said about Lean Startup, Minimum Viable Product , and Bootstrapping your idea to a product quickly and efficiently.

The techniques are known and well described and the unending amount of tools that help you to achieve it are also common knowledge by now.

But getting to know how to do it, doesn’t mean you can set your mind to accept it.
So HOW do you get yourself to become that person? How can you adapt to lean thinking?

Seinfeld Moment: When Karmer told Jerry he’s gonna make his Rickshaws in NYC idea happen, he explained how he’ll do it quick, efficient, and with a minimum cost:

“We’ll start out with one, and then when it catches on, we’re gonna have a whole fleet!”

I used to be

Before starting my first venture, I used to work in a Telecom company for around 5 years.
This is a completely different type of work, with different working methods – Selling Cycle is long, we got to make sure everything is perfect, and things may take some time. In many cases a very long time.

So when I started my first venture it was obvious to me I knew the right methods, Quality Assurance was a top priority, and everything should be well polished.

Worst part? my partner was working in the same company as me. We were both screwed.

needless to say this first venture failed, but during that time of failure, I came across the principles of being Lean.

Getting to know those principles, on the other hand, doesn’t make implementation easier.

How to make that mental switch

Diving in my second venture, SUMMER, left me no other option but to decide (quickly) what’s important and what to focus on.
When you don’t understand what’s important, you spend all your time on every single part of the product, and on every single and useless feature that comes to mind.
It took me one failure to learn NO ONE cares about most of what you’ve done, and to get my mind not to care either. To be more conservative – I’ll care when I’ll need to.

So I came up with a Pareto concept for my Time usage:

Spend 80% of your time for 20% of your product elements

paretoG2

Picking out the features under the 80% percent in the graph is great for you to be agile, smart, and efficient.

Decide your 20%

Recently, me and my partners were thinking about some cool stuff we wanted to create, and we didn’t want to waste our time on anything. Every one of us has his Pareto in his area.
During the weeknd, mighty Rambo Oz built the Social Bar so we could test our assumptions on some part of our bigger idea. We knew exactly what’s important, and what we should spend our time on.

Many people already explained and shared their case studies on how to do everything right.
I would like to focus only on how to choose what to work on, and how to spend your time.

1. 100% of the visitors that will get to your landing page will see, well… your landing page.
Your Goal – get as many of those visitors as possible to understand your message.

2. considering how good you did on this first part, some portion of your visitors would like to go on with you. Your Goal – Keep your sign in process quick, easy and clear as possible.

3. Those new users you just owned now want to use your product, or actually try out this one thing you promised them, and caught their eyes. How many of those will start using your product immediately?

4. The rest of your product – Leave it for when it becomes necessary.

5. My Tip – Even with the slimmest product you build, let the users leave a feedback – they will from the get-go, and you’ll get a lot from it.

72 Hours of hard but precise work, led us to #1 on Hacker News with our “Show HN” post of Social Bar, getting thousands of visitors, and hundreds of sign ups almost immediately.

That can only be done with the right time usage, and knowing which elements to focus on.

How do you split your time when building a MVP?

Photo Credit: mararie on Flickr

If You Have Competitors, Go On With Your Idea

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So you did it, you had the big A-ha! moment. You encountered a problem and come up with the solution; an idea that you find really helpful or needed in so many ways.

It might have arisen from a personal need, or be a new use or twist on something that already exists. It could be anything.

The funny part about ideas is they take a second to come up with


After this one-second spark of brain lightening, comes the interesting part. Who is already an innovator in this field, who is trying to solve the same problem, and how they are doing it?

It’s a hard search to start – you don’t actually want to see others doing the exact same thing, and even worse – succeeding. 

While building and improving upon SUMMER and other previous projects, I used competitive analysis as a metric to assess where the business stood. The process of understanding where my business was relative to other taught me the value of competition.

Someone is already working on your idea


The important kick-off point is the fact that even if no such thing exists already, someone else is working on it right now. And it’s probably several people.

Whether it’s the exact same idea or something similar, the point is that people around the world are using their existing technologies to implement solutions, or inventing new products to solve the very same problem as you.

What if there are no competitors?


You should stop and think why there is no one else doing it.
If no one is experiencing the problem you are trying to solve – can you think of keywords people will google to hit your landing page?

There is a chance someone tried this already and failed? Try and find out why.
Is it because there was no demand for the product? Or perhaps the problem was implementation.

Reasons for failure can be a bad marketing approach, and often times it can be that the solution was simply born ahead of its time.

In any case, by doing this research, you will find out whether to go for your idea or not, and more importantly – how.

Why you should WANT someone else to work on the same idea


The equation is simple:

Someone working on your idea = They share the same problem = You have a market

Of those who are having a problem, only a small portion will do something to solve it, and the ratio stays the same the larger the problem is. From the other side, the more people you have as competitors – the bigger your market will be.

Get yourself an edge (learn from your competitors)


Competition is good for your idea – it challenges you to the next phase of development – beat them.

In addition to finding out why your rivals might have failed, try and see what they are missing.

Funds

Research the competitor’s Cruchbase and AngelList profiles, find out if they received funding, when they got funded, and who are their advisors.

Business Model

Check out the features they offer and how much they cost. Figure out which feature is the most expensive one and why.

Engagement

Peek at their Facebook and Twitter accounts – see if they’re active enough, and how many people are engaged with the company.

 

So the next time you’re glowing with a new idea – pray for some competitors and then get to know them well. Your idea will become much better, faster than you can imagine.

 

photo credit 50mm on Flickr

How a Broadway Show Made Me Meditate

ImageAround 10 years ago, a friend of mine convinced me to join him on a meditation retreat. While I appreciated the beauty of silence, I found that five minutes was more than enough.

That was my last attempt at finding pure quiet. In the 10 years since then, technology added heavily to my list of distractions, and I realized how rare it is to do nothing. Think: Could you make it two hours without watching TV, emailing, texting, Facebooking, sleeping, or eating?

Catch a Broadway Show

During my last visit to New York, my girlfriend wanted to see a Broadway show. Of course I said yes, although this was not a matter of my enjoyment. Not only does theater not interest me in the slightest, I have bad vision.

After waiting for hours in a discount line we ended up with seats in the very last row. Ten minutes in, I gave up trying to enjoy the show and surrendered to my waste of time and money; I couldn’t see, I didn’t know what was going on, and most importantly, I didn’t really care.

Meditation Time

Here is the biggest problem with being bored in a Broadway show: It’s forbidden to do EVERYTHING.

I couldn’t open my phone, I couldn’t talk, it wasn’t comfortable (or appropriate) to nap, and of course leaving is out of the question. Afterall, I did pay $80.

That’s how I found myself meditating on Broadway.

For the entire three hours I completely tuned out the show and focused on sorting out the noise in my mind. I thought about the product I was developing and the setbacks it was facing. I thought about why some ideas worked but their duplicates did not. I replayed the last company meeting in my head and looked for points that I could improve upon. I saw it all.

Three hours of pure thinking without distraction – on some level it felt divine.

Bravo!

The show finished and I was the first up to give the actors a standing ovation (I’m sure they deserved it) – it had indeed been a significant life experience.

When I returned home, I began searching for that ultimate focus in my everyday life.
I tried taking longer showers, but longer than 15 minutes just felt excessive. I tried listening to music, but my phone kept distracting me. I even tried laying in bed with the lights off, but (to no surprise) I kept falling asleep.

There’s only one way for me to find that pure silence – find a show with seats in the back, pay too much money, and catch a Broadway play. It may seem a bit extravagant, but that overpriced meditation session was invaluable. I walked away feeling balanced, with renewed energy and a clear mind. When you get away from everything for a few hours, all you have to focus on is yourself and your thoughts.

Tips for meditating on Broadway:

During the show, sit up straight, or you might fall asleep and lose valuable thinking time. Intermission is a great time to retain your sanity/check your phone.

 

photo credit @robyoung

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