Chance Encounter

"Chance favors the prepared mind" — Louis Pasteur

My love/hate relationship with the Economist continues here on this post. I love to read the Economist as it is, in my opinion, one of the best written (if not the best written) magazine in circulation. Because of the breadth of international topics and the density of its articles, it take me quite a while to hammer through it. I hate how they stack up as I try to find time to get to them, but well worth the effort… So, here is a second post from the most recent issue.

In the Economist article "The Universal Diarist",  it talks about the formation of and on-going success of Six Apart. (Quiz: what is the origin of the name…and it is not Kevin Bacon). Since I blog on their platform and have looked at using most of their offerings, I am quite familiar with the firm. I am debating using their most recent offering, Vox, for more personal applications. Mena Trott uses Vox to chronicle her life with uploads of video and photos (including cell phone shots) from her day to day life for descendants. I digress here.

What I find most interesting in this article is how "accidentally" they came across their business. At 23, Mena started posting personal observation about childhood, pets and such on her site Dollarshort. In one post (about her husband), she surprisingly began to receive a variety of comments from a broad array of people, giving her advice or expressing emotion about her situation (buying a banjo of all things). She was surprised by the breadth of readers and about their willingness to dive into dialog with complete strangers. The light bulb went off in her head…the era of mass media was being replaced by "intimate media" in the web 2.0 world.

Like Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of Penicillin, Mena stumbled upon the core idea for Six Apart by chance. The same can be said of Pierre Omidyar in the founding of eBay (wanted to create a site for his girl friend to buy and sell her Pez collectibles). Chance plays a key role in the creation and success of businesses. However, being tuned into and on the lookout for opportunities in the noise is also a key ingredient. For every issue or problem or set-back, you also have a potential opportunity for a solution. However, our normal reaction is to bemoan our situation and struggle through it. It is rare that we tune into where there may be opportunity. This needs to be reprogrammed into our daily living in a very systematic manner whether it be personal encounters or business setbacks.

Bill Miller, one of the most talented investors of our era, recommends a book on chance called Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and Markets by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Worth the read for those into this kind of work.

4 thoughts on “Chance Encounter

  1. I believe the eBay Pez origin story has been discredited as the work of a sleazy PR person — who later gloated about fooling the media with the faux-fuzzy story.

  2. I think the best creations and businesses have to do more with being in the “zone”. This is the zone that atheletes refer to when they feel unstoppable and everything slows down around them. Intuition has a lot more to do with it then we think. Being paranoid and stressed out about building the next big thing gets in the way of natural intuition. VCs would be wise to focus more on the psychology of innovation rather than mainstream thinking.

  3. There is a lot being written these days around the concept of “Flow”. That said, tenacity is often core to grinding through a lot of the curve balls fate throws at you as an entrepreneur.
    TITLE: Do what you love
    BLOG NAME: thinks
    DATE: 11/30/2006 09:05:07 PM
    Recently, Warren Buffet said that folks are a success when they do what they love. Thats it.
    See, the thing is this. You can try to convince people that youre something that youre not, or you can actually be the thing you wan…

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