Is there a “success” model?

It isn’t just about working hard. Success comes from devotion, timing, and a bit of luck.

In the startup world, there’s been no small amount of effort devoted to trying to understand why certain companies succeed and others fail. It’s easy to see why. If you can understand success, if you can break it down and quantify it into something that can be bottled and sold, then you have the metaphorical keys to the kingdom and a fair bit more. Obviously, finding the keys to success is no small feat or someone would have done it by now. The real question: Is it even possible? We think so, but maybe not in the way that you would expect.

It takes devotion and timing. But it also takes luck.

Much of the advice on success often devolves into basic platitudes that ultimately aren’t very helpful. Stay motivated. Have drive. No excuses. Work harder than the competition. While these are good, solid life lessons by which any enterprising person should live, success won’t be achieved with just these elements. The bad news is  there’s no secret sauce for success that can be thrown onto whatever challenge you’re facing.


One of the core misconceptions of the theory on success in general is that there is no catch-all solution that can be applied to every given venture. Every startup in every field will have to pave their own way toward success rather than following convenient ruts in the road. To make matters worse, the best means will constantly change as consumer interests evolve and the rate of turnover is speeding up every day. The key to success is not about finding one solution that has always worked and will always work. The real answer is a bit more complicated.

Anyone with a vested interest in understanding success has probably heard Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers” quoted at some point or another. There’s a good reason for that. There’s nothing out there with a better grasp of some of the basic mechanics that have lead certain people to unprecedented success. Gladwell debunks the idea that some people are successful because they are gifted or in some other way naturally better than the competition. This may be comforting. But unlike many others, his conclusion isn’t that you’ll succeed if you just work hard enough.

It’s not that simple.

For Gladwell, success is a combination of devotion, timing, and a bit of luck. Yes, working hard will always be critical to success in any industry. A clear show of drive is both a benefit in and of itself and also a projection that will appeal to anyone from the outside looking in. People, even investors, love to see an inexhaustible work ethic and a willingness to accept variance and to meet it head on.

That second part is important in the context of Gladwell’s framework for success. It’s easy to look at luck as a factor and just give up, but it’s much harder to accept that fact and to use it to your advantage. Part of success is undoubtedly about being in the right place at the right time. The trick is finding why you and your idea are in the right place and how to leverage that knowledge to your advantage. There are simple tools out there useful to everyone, but this basic mentality is crucial too. Success isn’t about catch-all solutions, success is about ignoring the risks and the variance and finding out why you are lucky after all and what you can do about it. 

– ZK