Don’t be lucky – be ready for chance

October 13, 2020

In 2018, Scientific American columnist Scott Kaufmanwrote that “luck and opportunity” are “underappreciated” when it comes to how people succeed in life. Citing a number of studies and simulations, Kaufman concluded that talent has only a modest role in success.

But what about being prepared for luck? Successful scientists, athletes, business owners, and educators don’t cross their fingers and hope for results. They develop processes and teams which allow them to take advantage of opportunities, overcome obstacles, and find gold nuggets where the rest of us see dirt.

“Luck” favors the accidental success. “Chance” favors the prepared.

Zoom to success

The B2B teleconferencing company Zoom had its “chance” in Spring 2020. Originally designed to be “frictionless,” Zoom had little security and was simple to use. That became a disadvantage after the COVID-19 pandemic hit and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, college students, and newly-remote workers began using the technology. The company had to adjust to an expanded market or risk being seen as unreliable.

The company’s CEO told CNN that it took some time to get security in place and make other adjustments, but the results speak for themselves. Web traffic was up 3,000 percent from December to May. Zoom stock has gone from $67/share to nearly $500/share from December 2019 to now. Its mobile app was used by 173 million people in late May, up from 14 million in early March, according to one estimate.

Like Microsoft Teams, Gmail, Webex, and other competitors that have grown less dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom’s leadership ran into chance. They were ready by recognizing the opportunity, understanding the company’s weakness, and using available resources to overcome the weakness and scale.

Build your expertise, operations, and team to prepare for chance

Most roofing contractors are not ready for chance. They run small operations run with a single truck, minimal equipment, and one or two low-trained staff. Their infrastructure is weak and unprepared to scale.

I was raised in the industry by the one-eyed man in the industry of ill-prepared professionals. My father spent four years building his skills and reputation, securing dozens of happy customers and finding the right staff, subcontractors, and suppliers. When a major resort came calling, On-Time Construction delivered a quality job on time at the contracted price.

This “chance” job led to other highly-desirable customers. A few years later, “chance” struck again when a resort serving a different market contracted On-Time Construction to do a massive roof before the busy season. Other contractors estimated several months to completion; we were done in seven weeks. On-Time Construction’s supply chain delivered materials on time; staff was trained to accomplish the job; and our processes were efficient. The company made a major profit and all staff received four-figure bonuses, including my teenage self.

Each of these “chance” jobs led to On-Time Construction becoming a multi-million-dollar company.

Expand your market

Zoom is the story of a company that “chance” could have helped or hurt. On-Time Construction is the story of a company that was built to be ready for “chance.” But in both cases, the companies expanded their markets. Zoom went from serving businesses to serving schools and governments, and expanding its business market. On-Time Construction expanded both its target region and its non-residential market.

One company that has dramatically expanded its potential market due to “chance” is General Counsel, P.C. Based in Northern Virginia, its revenues were down 25 percent for the year in August because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry instituted coronavirus-related rules for businesses, General Counsel founder and managing partner Merritt Green saw his chance.

“For a small business struggling to stay open, these new regulations might fall through the cracks,” Green told me. “With fines up to $135,000, one mistake could put a company out of business – but even following the regulations could cost thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees.”

Green and his team created a website where small business owners can put in their information and receive the paperwork necessary to comply with the coronavirus standards. The prices? $250 or $350, depending upon your company’s size and COVID-risk factors. The potential? Virtually limitless, because:

  1. There were nearly 724,000 businesses in Virginia in 2018. If just 500,000 have survived the pandemic, and if just one percent of those companies pay $200 each for the paperwork, Green’s company will gross an additional million dollars.
  • If two percent of the state’s businesses visit the site and one percent of them hire General Counsel for their legal needs, the company has brought in 100 new clients.
  • Green created Business Compliance, LLC to help General Counsel build and implement the site. If the new company can keep the site updated as the state’s mandates change, and then add in non-COVID compliance paperwork, the website may become a long-term source of new, statewide revenue.

Nobody can predict when a great customer will cross your path, when a ski resort will dial your number, or when a pandemic will crush the world’s economy. But the prepared company will take advantage of chance when it’s good, survive when it’s bad, and overcome it when it’s questionable.

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