Growth January 22, 2021

[Discussion] Is Indie Hacking purely luck?

Nikola Kretschmer @Nikoisonfire

I've been reading success and failure stories lately. One question I still haven't been able to answer myself is:

Why do some people have wild success on their first try, and others build multiple startups over years and years and never make a penny?

How can you explain some people making $60k in the first 24 hours of selling their product, while others burn themselves out and never make a penny?

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    It's about ten percent luck, twenty percent skill, fifteen percent concentrated power of will, five percent pleasure, and fifty percent pain.

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      And a hundred percent reason to remember the name

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    Why do Federer, Nadal, Djokovic win 57 grand slams. And other tennis players not make it as a professional?

    Also... I think behind “60k in 24hrs” is often 5 years of not getting anywhere. And you only see the 24 hrs.

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      Tennis, or any sport for that matter, is a much more ability based skill. You can practice as much Entrepreneurship as you want and still not get anywhere.

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    For me it's the same why out of 1000 bands that are equally "good" (maybe 'capable' is a better word than 'good'), only 1 will find success.

    Same as the 1000 people who set out to become pro athletes or A-list celebs - all equally capable - only one or two will succeed.

    Yes you do need a base of "capability"; that being talent, tenacity, drive, ambition, the correct personal attributes etc etc - but you also need the "right place right time" factor, which is essentially luck.

    So i do think luck plays a part but it's not the be all and end all. You do also need the correct implementation of the correct idea that solves the correct problem.

    NB: For the pedants among us I'm not claiming that there is 1000:1 success rate. The numbers are just for the sake of discussion.

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      Furthermore, while the world is filled with struggling actors, musicians, etc., you don't really hear about them - you hear about the few that "made it" (through their lucky break or whatever), which gives many people a misleading impression of the struggling:made-it ratio.

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        Yes I believe this is called "survivorship bias".

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      The only difference is, in Entrepreneurship you don't need to get to $100m ARR to "make it", lots of people can survive on a $1-2k income - opposed to something like Chess, where only two handful of people can even make a living.

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    There is such a thing as blind luck, I think. But there is a kind of art to luck. James Austin talks about this in his book on creativity and luck, Chase, Chance and Creativity: The Lucky Art of Novelty (MIT Press, 1978). He says that luck falls, more or less, in four different categories:

    • Chance I: Blind luck, things just happen.
    • Chance II: Chance that favours those in motion (or, as Austin writes, “the posture of creativity is forward-leaning”)
    • Chance III: Chance that favours the prepared mind.
    • Chance IV: Chance born out of a distinctive personal “flavour”.

    You can read this piece that I wrote about it if you like. It was written with writing students in mind, because much of my work is involved with teaching writers, but it is more broadly applicable.

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      It looks like a nice book. Thanks for sharing!

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    In surface it is but it's not. And it's important to define luck. If you search for water in deserts, odds are quite low.

    I'm having trouble understanding the question, because I have two imagery about the topic.

    One who gets lucky by surfing the wave. Catching the hype. We can't call this luck because it requires some degree of skill to observe and provide the necessary solution asap.

    Second one, those who appear out of nowhere and makes those $$. Uses network effect. I wanna call it circle-jerk even it sounds bad. Essentially they back each other on marketing create their own bubble and milk their cows together. Plus there is no guarantee those numbers are correct. That tactic used by many scammers to show a dashboard to convince their business is profitable. And we people are keen to admire those success(!) stories despite they are true or lie.

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    Luck favors the prepared.

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    My favorite part of the movies about tech/business startups is the part where it jumps years ahead to tell the story from the big moment event rather than all the time spent leading up to it.

    I think it's rarely luck.

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    I think there are other factors at play here that you're not accounting for. Mainly, their reach. You may think it's lucky that somebody makes $60k in the first 24 hours of selling their product, but you have to look at how that happened. Sure their product was only up for 24 hours, but that individual may have been hustling and building an audience and reputation for YEARS. They've likely got a decent following of dedicated supporters, including others with equal or even larger reach, all willing to help out and promote that product. If this is the case, that product could be in the faces of 100k+ people within hours of launch. Sure, the product has been up for 24 hours, but the work has been going on for years to allow it to sell $60k worth in 24 hours.

    On the flip side, if you've got no followers, no brand, no reputation, and no marketing plan, you can build 1000 products and never make $60k from them.

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    How can you explain some people making $60k in the first 24 hours of selling their product, while others burn themselves out and never make a penny?

    I think luck plays a role, but not exactly in the sense of it being totally random and a coin toss. Taking paid courses as an example: you might spend 5 years learning a technology that becomes outdated and unpopular, or you might become an expert in a tool that explodes in popularity. That's luck.

    But in terms of why something is successful when something else isn't, I feel like you can shrink the role that luck plays by stacking the odds in your favor. Learning about marketing, building an audience, becoming a better educator, and doing the hard work of research and user-testing are all things that increase the likelihood that you'll be successful. There are no guarantees, but you'd have to be really unlucky to fail when you do these things right.

    At least, that's what I'm hoping for, as I prep for my first-ever launch!

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    I like the concept of 'Luck Surface Area' put forward by Jason Roberts a while back. Basically: Doing (your skill, how good your product is etc) * Telling (how many people know about or interact with you/your-thing) = Your luck surface area.

    The larger your luck surface area the more likely you are to be successful. Maybe after years of effort increasing your skill/improving your product/expanding your outreach you get 'lucky' and are in the right place at the right time with the right offering. Or maybe some randomly thrown dart just happens to hit your tiny bullseye!

    I wrote recently about how after struggling to get to double digit downloads on my extension, a journalist wrote about it and suddenly I had thousands of users. Pretty much luck that it happened to strike a chord with him when he needed some content; but only after I'd tracked a number of people who had written about similar extensions and done some cold outreach (not to mention pouring my heart and soul into the app!)

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      Have you tried press outreach before that?

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        The one that hit was part of a wave of outreach I did after my initial post to the Chrome store went nowhere. I posted here on IH, on a bunch of relevant sub-reddits, responses on various blog posts etc. My son, trying to be helpful, also posted it to ProductHunt where it sank without a trace!

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    There's so many people who appear to have overnight success. You just haven't seen the years of failures or abandoned projects along the way. I've lately been listening to the IndieHackers podcast a lot whilst out running, and there hasn't really been any success story that hasn't involved abject failure or a ridiculous grind in some form or another.

    Even those who acknowledge their "luck" such as having a contact that gets them an amazing early reference customer had to put in the hard yards to work at Company X before hand etc.

    The other part of my answer would be why even ask this question? For most of the "success" cases I hear, normally the success is just the reward. The interesting/exciting part is the journey. Focus on that and you are more likely to win.

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    Success involves luck, but requires skill.
    Failure can be a matter of bad luck, but is all but guaranteed by lack of skill.

    Most failed projects fail for quite obvious reasons, such as:

    • The project never gets finished and released. This is by far the most common failure mode.
    • The project gets finished and released, but doesn't get sold and marketed effectively. This is another quite common one.
    • The project is not something people need, want and are willing to pay for. This is also incredibly common.

    All these guarantee failure. But once you have a product that is good enough to sell, does something that people need, want and are willing to pay for, and you have a way to tell people about it and get them to trust you enough to give you more money than it cost to reach them, you have a business.

    At that point, there are still many ways to fail, but by avoiding the aforementioned ways, you are ahead of the pack.

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    I personally think it's pretty clear most people fail (obviously) and very litle succeed. Definity some luck but also timing, execution, etc.

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    it's quite rare, people who are overnight success also might have done something to make it possible.

    The types of luck also matter -

    1. pure luck - like slot machine
    2. opportunity luck - poker, keep playing according to prob/stats over many games luck will find you (for many , not all)

    mostly it's just media hyping up just the highs and the lows, for every 1 overnight success and 1 beat down no luck for life there are a million people who had success some day in life maybe not first or last

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      I don't think that pure luck even exists. The slot machines you mentioned are rigged in favor of the casino (obviously).

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        That's true everything is rigged in a casino to make casinos rich. But in a two-player game against who wins more in the slot machine, it's just pure luck. Unless we play lurking game.

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