This post is the finale in a series of ten posts about the 10 key reasons your consumer startup will succeed.
I speak with hundreds of aspiring consumer entrepreneurs and review thousands of executive summaries and pitches each year. From all this activity, certain patterns emerge that remain consistent with successful consumer startups. In this series of 10 blog posts, I will list the top 10 reasons consumer startups succeed. Note that all seem necessary, but none on their own are sufficient.
There is a dirty little secret to building billion dollar consumer startups: you can find product/market fit for a vision worth fighting for, assemble an amazing team, draw on intense passion, and work incredibly hard… but at the end of the day, you’ll also need a fair share of good luck for your startup to achieve massive success. The last nine tips I shared for consumer startup success are necessary — but on their own, are not sufficient. You will also need good luck and fortunate timing.
The Bebo Story
I’ll share a favorite memory from my time at one of the largest social networks at that time, Bebo, which illustrates just how much luck can influence the trajectory of a company. Not only was Bebo blessed with a great team, talented founders, and a vision worth fighting for, but it was also one of the luckiest companies I ever worked at.
A quick background: I had lived through a nightmare scenario just before Bebo where the tech team couldn’t get new, unproven technology to scale for massive consumer growth. It was a disaster. At Bebo, we decided we weren’t going to make that same mistake. When it came time to choose our database server provider, we stayed with Oracle at the beginning, a more established provider. It was an unconventional move, but less risky if we hit product/market fit and started to grow quickly. And that’s exactly what happened for Bebo. We started to grow like crazy in Europe and became the largest social network in the UK and Ireland and third largest in the U.S.
This database decision served us well, until one day, the site just stopped working. Our engineers were working around the clock to uncover and fix the problem with little success. There were millions of Beboers at the time, and if our site stayed down, we knew we’d lose them and it would kill the company. As one of the only emerging tech players still using Oracle, we reached out to our senior contacts there. They knew how important this was for us (and for them) to fix ASAP. They couldn’t fix the issue locally, but routed us to a very sophisticated Oracle database consultant based in the UK. We thought our prayers had been answered! We emailed him and he replied almost immediately… but not with the response we were hoping for. He knew how to fix the problem, but he wasn’t going to, because he was “too busy”. At this point, the site was still down, and we truly felt we had exhausted all of our options short of showing up at his office in person. We went to bed that night with a plan to fly to the UK the next morning.
Our Lucky Fix
Very late that night, we received an email from this Oracle consultant that included the code to fix to the problem. We implemented it, and like magic, the site was up and running. Disaster averted, company saved!
We just had to know what changed his mind, and here’s what he shared: he woke up the next morning and was having breakfast with his teenage daughter. She was in a terrible mood and stomped into the kitchen, complaining that her favorite website, Bebo, was down. Her dad recognized the name and told her our team had reached out asking for his help — to which she responded that he better get on it immediately, or she was going to leave the family! And that, a thirteen-year-old girl from across the globe, was who saved our business. We sold the company a year later to AOL for $850M.
What I Learned
Here’s the silver lining to this “dirty secret”: you can influence your luck. We didn’t just wait for Oracle to come up with an answer to our tech problems. We didn’t repeat prior mistakes. We were relentless in building the right relationships and exploring any means to success.
My advice is to keep your eyes open for those special, lucky opportunities and take action when they present themselves. You cannot control your luck, but you can help to create it. Hustle, do your best, and always be prepared to take advantage of new opportunities. You’ll be surprised at how the groundwork you lay now will prepare you to make the right decisions and move quickly when great opportunities arise. Be fearless to take calculated risks when you see the openings created by luck.
As the old adage goes: “better to be lucky than good.” It’s so true. But even better when you’re both, like Bebo. I wish you the same good fortune as you go on your journey to build a lasting and successful company!