April 29, 2019

The role luck plays for us indie hackers

Youssef Selkani @usfslk

If we roll back and play time again, would we likely have the same outcome? Would "Google" be today's "Google"? Would "Netflix" be today's "Netflix"?

The answer is highly unlikely the the same things would succeed at the same order of magnitude. This is exactly what happens to my last business idea, I posted the same app on ProductHunt but using two different names. The first time, I called it "LongLiveSS" got 67 upvotes then two weeks later I posted exactly the same app but named as "UrusParadox" got 2 upvotes


The Bachman experiment is very inspiring, trying to find an answer to the "talent versus luck" question Stephen King decided to publish a book under a pseudonym. The book Thinner (1984) sold 28,000 copies during its initial run—and then 10x as many when it was revealed that Bachman was, in fact, King.

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    What would you say that indie hackers can learn from this? How can it help us think about our projects and efforts in a different way?

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      Good question, I believe that most of indie hackers do not take the luck factor into consideration, I am doing some research on successful entrepreneurs and pretty much all of them have been lucky at some point in their career.

      Hard work and talent are required for your startup to succeed, don't get me wrong, but there's something outside of your control, you can call it luck, circumstances or whatever...

      At the end of the day it's impossible to predict winners. Go ask music producers how to cook a HIT. If you can lose on purpose then there must be some skills, otherwise it's blind luck.

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        The luck thing is funny. Because to this day I feel I have been very lucky with my indie business. Lots of people around me say I deserve it and (must have) worked hard for it. And I did, but I still feel like I was lucky that I started something at the right time.

        I'm probably too humble for my own good too, hey ho.

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        At a core level, even your talent and industriousness are outside your control. None of us can choose our genes, the environment we were born into or even the next thought to enter our minds after reading this sentence.

        It's not very productive to dwell on how illusory free will is, though.

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        Interesting, just updated your post title to make it clearer

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      This is (almost) a fantastic question. I think the question should be: what should we take away from this post?

      Edit: I just reread your comment, and I think you more or less did ask the question that I just asked in your second question. I just wanted to acknowledge that. :)

      If you haven’t already, listen to Indie Hackers podcast #088 with Jason Cohen. He explains better than I ever could why asking “what can we learn?” from everything is not always the best approach or question to ask.

      Because in fact, I didn’t learn anything new from this post. We all know that some people get luckier than others and that its still an extremely open question as to how much luck plays into success. There is no scientific consensus on this issue (as far as I’m aware).
      So, its mostly opinion.

      What I took away from this post was a reminder. Its a reminder that our inability as indie hackers to become the next Bill Gates or Warren Buffett is not entirely in our control. Its a reminder not to be too hard on ourselves because we weren’t so lucky. I think a lot of people don’t like to talk about the luck of success because they equate that to an excuse for being lazy. To me, that’s a fixed-mindset view that, quite ironically, accomplishes very little and is quite lazy in and of itself. Let’s start thinking of ways to use these very interesting points to our benefit, as opposed to running away from them and saying “what’s the point in thinking about that?”

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        I think focusing on luck is counter productive. I've never met anyone who was convinced that luck was the key to success make a major positive life change. Instead, that belief is generally used as a excuse.

        Obviously there is a higher level analysis that's important for evaluating decisions of yourself or others. Poker players talk about this quite a bit—more important than whether or not a move was successful, is whether or not it was the move most likely to be successful.

        In a broader life context, the most productive line of thought around luck is probably this: "What can I do to increase my luck?"

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        I like your last paragraph very much! (You should post that as a discussion post and tag it with #fyi :) )

        And yes, I listened and enjoyed Jason's podcast so much that I made notes on it. :)

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          Nice notes! And thank you for sharing them.

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    It's far more useful to think of it in terms of probability than luck. The factors that help collapse the probability wave are Strategic thinking (Opportunity) and Consistent Action.

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    @naval's posts on different classes of luck is very relevant here.

    Consider the different phrases we use to talk about chance and their very different connotations:

    • "dumb luck"
    • "fortune favors the bold"
    • "chance favors the prepared mind"

    Jason Roberts' idea of "luck surface area" is also relevant.

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      So if you drop Bill Gates in a random street in Nigeria or China in the 70s he'll build a company as successful as Microsoft? I am not saying my POV is correct and yours is wrong, I just know that maintaining a belief despite evidence that firmly contradicts it is a real thing. It is ALWAYS a combination of skills and luck.

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        That's not at all what the podcast said. It said there's a continuum of luck which ranges from pure chance to something almost closer to destiny.

        I don't know if billg would have made it in Nigeria in the 70s, but if he were Chinese, I'd give him a 50-50 shot of still being a billionaire. More importantly, I think you could spin up 1,000 slightly different parallel universes where he grew up in the US in the 60s or 70s and he'd be rich in nearly all of them. Not necessarily the richest person in the world, but with his level of activity, ability and ambition, it would have taken something extreme to keep him from doing well.

        The million dollar webpage guy on the other hand... he probably only made it in a few dozen parallel universes.

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          Obviously, if you nitpick about your “theoretical parallel universes,” you could conceive 1000 different universes that have no impact on Gates’ success. Did he step with his left foot or right foot first when he woke up on June 22nd, 1981? Did he chew bubble gum at 8:37am on March 2nd, 1976? It really doesn’t matter because him taking those actions could, or could not, have any impact on his outcomes. Thats the problem with answering this question and that is what I believe Mr. Cohen referred to in the podcast.

          Its fun to imagine what could have been and its fun to imagine what could be. There’s nothing wrong with that and it has its advantages, but I also think its dangerous to use that as the basis for naive ideals and philosophies, which is what many people who say success isn’t luck try to do.

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            You blame me for my "parallel universes" because I am just a random dude https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OF4JCmqF6ec

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              I never said I “blame you” for anything. What does that even mean? I just don’t entirely agree with your line of reasoning and I’m contributing my point of view.

              Also, that video is really cool :).

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                This comment was deleted a year ago.

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        Perhaps success is a combination of skills, luck and privilege?

        There are so many people that have to work so much harder at everything just because they lack the privilege of others. Of course, you could call that 'bad luck', I suppose. But that feels so, so wrong to say.

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        To be honest I get a lot of email from Microsoft sent from Nigeria. They are always nice and just ask me to transfer money from and to several of my bank accounts.