Work output * Strategy * Luck = Success

June 23, 2017

I'm getting tired of seeing the debate rage on about whether, as a startup founder/employee, you have to work 20 hour days, 7 days a week and not see your family or children in order to succeed. There's DHH, clearly on the side you don't need to. Then there's Keith Rabois and Mark Suster clearly on the side that you must.

What I keep being amazed by is how these smart people can't see past a little bit of black and white. I'm increasingly convinced the formula for success is actually quite straightforward:

Work output * Strategy * Luck = Success

Breaking it down:

  • You can't be successful without producing something -- the work output. If you leave strategy and luck constant, the person/startup who creates more work output will be further ahead and win. In an environment where competition are also of equal intelligence to create work output, the one putting more hours in will produce more work output.
  • You can work 20+ hour days forever but if your competitors are pursuing an order of magnitude smarter and more effective strategy, well, then I don't care how much you work because you're going to lose.
  • Don't ever tell me that luck doesn't play a massive part in success. Being in the right place at the right time and getting lucky is critical to success. Without some amount of luck, success will never happen.
  • The equation is multiplicative, not additive. That is to say, each of these factors magnify each other, and if you have a zero on any of these factors, you can not succeed. To some extent, though, you can choose where you want to place your bets -- a smarter strategy, more output, or more luck.

I personally reject the notion that you have to give up everything in your life to be successful in startups, but I believe hard work is a critical component to success, right alongside being strategic and getting lucky.