Are You Feeling Lucky?

When we think of an entrepreneur we think of a creative, passionate, visionary, determined, hardworking, competitive risk-taker.

Amanda Thurman, 31.01.2013

But what combination of characteristics leads to outstanding success? Is it a combination of personality and a certain amount of serendipity, good old-fashioned luck?

That hard work, dedication, creativity, good business sense, and the heart of a gambler are some of the traits of a successful entrepreneur is clear, but there is also an element of luck and serendipity at play. Successful people are able to react to life’s uncertainties and maximize events that come their way. What combination of the right traits and luck does it take to be a success and what can we learn from these “lucky” people?

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In Get Lucky: How to Put Planned Serendipity to Work for You and Your Business (Jossey-Bass, 2012), Thor Muller and Lane Becker set out eight essential skills to teach us how to generate a greater number of serendipitous opportunities. For Muller and Becker, success is far more about process than personality – it’s what they call planned serendipity.

Mike Tiong and Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh are two dynamic, creative, risk-taking entrepreneurs in different parts of the world who exemplify a combination of traits needed for success and an element of serendipity that gives them a decisive edge.

Mike Tiong, Group CEO of McCoy Holdings and Aalto EE alumnus, is a success by any measure. McCoy Holdings and its wholly owned subsidiaries, McCoy Components, McCoy Bespoke, and McCoy Consumers, offers a wide array of renowned partner and in-house brands across the technology, digital lifestyle, health, and education industries. Headquartered in Singapore and with operations across Asia, the company has won the Emerging Enterprise Award 2008 and the SME1 Entrepreneur Award 2012.

Create Your Own Luck

In Tiong’s opinion, all successful entrepreneurs share certain traits, “the most common of which are tough-minded optimism, a willingness to take risks and advocate change, and a focus on the positive. We all have a defined purpose or vision, are willing to work under any conditions, and are highly disciplined.”

He adds that it is also important to be optimistic and willing to take the first risky steps to develop a new product or brand, as he and his company did with Gavio, their digital lifestyle electronics brand. He adds, “Work should be what we love. I was born to be an entrepreneur and I am happy working as an entrepreneur.”

Tiong also believes in the need to be prepared for the unexpected. “According to a Chinese belief, we need 30% luck and 70% hard work to succeed,” says Tiong. “Hard work can only take you so far – successful people seize and make full use of opportunities that come their way. The opportunities presented are ‘luck,’ but the ability to discover opportunities in everyday life is what makes people successful.”

Tiong feels it all comes down to self-belief. The degree to which you feel lucky or unlucky will shape your success. Feeling lucky opens you up so that you are able to take advantage of propitious events that come your way.

Gavio is a good example of how McCoy Holdings turned luck into success. The Gavio WRENZ speaker, shaped like a small bird, was launched in Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Germany, the USA, and Japan, but its success in Korea and Hong Kong wasn’t anticipated. Tiong says it was the element of luck that helped generate the success.  “Our initial ‘test market’ product launch made us number one and the fastest growing earphone supplier in HMV stores in Hong Kong.”  

Gavio took off on the Hong Kong and Korean markets, garnered several awards, including the Singapore Prestige brand award 2012, IF Design award 2011, and Stuff Gadget for 2011 and 2012, which made it known globally. “We got so much press coverage for it – and I think this is something very lucky,” says Tiong, who is clearly proud of his product.

Another consumer favorite developed by McCoy is the Biounme laundry ball, an environmentally-friendly product that saves water, electricity, detergent and time on each wash and has been the number one selling laundry ball in Singapore for the last four years.

“It is the ability to minimize and manage risk in our business model that defines our success. We were the first to launch a laundry ball, taking on the giant detergent and washing powder suppliers,” says Tiong, “and against the odds became the number one selling laundry ball for the past four years – we even outsell the Chinese imitations.”

The Serendibity Factor

Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh is the founder and CEO of Sugru, the high-growth startup company that makes the moldable, self-setting, multipurpose adhesive that sticks to almost any surface. With over 155,000 customers in more than 100 countries and all seven continents, sugru has become a worldwide phenomenon.

Ní Dhulchaointigh is an Irish fine artist who accidentally became a materials scientist. Thor Muller cited her story in his article for TechCrunch in 2012 as a lesson in how great entrepreneurs systematically create their own good luck. He says that hard work, training and process may be the foundation of success, but serendipity is where the magic happens. To Thor Muller her amazing success is the result of mastering the skills of planned serendipity.

In 2003, Ní Dhulchaointigh, a sculptor, returned to the Royal College of Art in London to study commercial product design. With a strong interest in solving design problems and how things are used once they are made, combined with her experience with sculpting, she began to play around with new materials to see if she could find a better way to ‘hack things.’ She began looking for material that would be easy to mold, durable, and adhere to as many surfaces as possible. “It started as a random experiment and a simple idea,” she says.

Ní Dhulchaointigh mixed silicone adhesive and sawdust into small balls that looked like wood but bounced when thrown on the floor. She became fascinated with the possibilities of what she could make. She began using leftovers from batches of the rubbery material around the house, modifying a knife handle to be more comfortable, and enlarging a sink plug that was too small. Unconsciously she had come up with a product that was a natural fit with her belief in repairing her things instead of buying a replacement – she hated waste. When her boyfriend pointed out how she had been using her ‘funny rubber’ to repair or customize things, she saw an opportunity and grabbed it.

An artist with no business training, Ní Dhulchaointigh faced innumerable technical problems to make her product work. To turn sugru into a success, she would have to rethink her career path. She began telling everyone about it and created enough press attention and public interest to receive a grant from Nesta, National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts. She then trained as a technician, set up her own lab and gathered together a group of scientists to work on it. It was risky, but she says, “I’m naturally quite comfortable with taking risks because I think things through carefully and seek a lot of advice from people who know more than me about whatever I’m working on.” To her, risk is part of the creative process: being experimental allows lateral ideas to emerge.

Two years of painstaking experimenting later, sugru was patented under the name Formerol. The name sugru comes from “súgradh,” the Irish word for play.

Initially Ní Dhulchaointigh was urged to launch sugru on the mainstream DIY market, but this route didn’t translate into success. She then realized she could create a brand designed to spark people’s imagination and allow them to create their own uses for it. The company’s slogan would become ‘Hack things better.’

In 2008, five years after she first came up with the idea, with a product almost ready to launch, she found herself close to running out of money as promised investments from major manufacturers failed to materialize. With her small team of partners, they decided  to go it alone and build their own ‘little cottage industry factory.’ It was picked up by a tech blogger and the result was an instant hit. The first 1,000 packs, made with the help of friends and family, sold out in just six hours to customers in 21 countries.

Openness and Community

In November 2010, TIME magazine listed sugru number 22 in their 50 best inventions of 2010 – the iPad was number 34. At the heart of the product’s success is the online sugru community. More than 100,000 people in over 100 countries come together on the website to show how they have used sugru to ‘hack things better.’ The site focuses more on community creativity than on the product itself and some of the many standout hacks have become part of the product story.

Ní Dhulchaointigh says, “I think it’s an amazing opportunity that is particular to our times that people can get that engaged with a product or a brand – and it is so much more fun for everyone! It is my favorite part of what we do.”

Entrepreneurs Mike Tiong and Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh are risk-takers who share many of the characteristics of successful out-of-the-box thinkers, including the ability to harness planned serendipity.

The Roman poet Ovid wrote, “Luck affects everything. Let your hook always be cast; in the stream where you least expect it there will be a fish.” As Lane and Becker suggest, what was true then is true now: keep your options open, have the right attitude, and be receptive – luck will find you.

PROFILE MAGAZINE 1/2013 page 18
TEXT: AMANDA THURMAN
 

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