Luck, Skill and Startup Success

I don’t think most people on Wall Street are particularly moved by the protests of the #occupywallstreet movement. I think they feel that they have earned their wealth through hard work and intellectual horsepower. In general, high achieving people want to attribute their success to their skill, expertise and effort.

Daniel Kahnman reports in the New York Times about how again and again he’s seen people deny the implications of data against their intuition:

The illusion of skill is not only an individual aberration; it is deeply ingrained in the culture of the industry. Facts that challenge such basic assumptions — and thereby threaten people’s livelihood and self-esteem — are simply not absorbed. The mind does not digest them. This is particularly true of statistical studies of performance, which provide general facts that people will ignore if they conflict with their personal experience.

Bringing the discussion closer to home, there are many who compare doing a startup to playing poker. I’m not a big player myself but it appears true on a surface level: both involve many losers and a few big winners,  taking calculated risks, and strong elements of both luck and skill [1].

This is a long-winded way for me to follow up on my announcement of Ridejoy say that I feel incredibly lucky to be here. My startup Ridejoy just launched on Techcrunch, we graduated from the prestigious Y Combinator program and we’re now in a position to hire some great talent. It’s surreal.

I know my team and I have an enormous opportunity to make a dent in the universe [2] and I approach it with unbridled enthusiasm — tempered by the recognition that making good moves and busting your ass neither guarantees nor earns you a huge startup success.

I’ve put a lot into Ridejoy and I’m going to do everything I can to make it a success – and hope to share more of our story as it unfolds.

Ultimately we all have to recognize that we do not live in a just world. Luck has already played and will continue to play a huge role in the success of Ridejoy, and of any venture.

So those who have been given great opportunity have the responsibility to tackle it and work it to the maximum – and then use it to bring more opportunity to others.

Thanks for reading and for all your support.


[Photo Credit] Adriano Agulló

[1] Steven Levitt of Freakonomics Fame has published a working paper that suggests there is “strong evidence in support of the idea that poker is a game of skill.”

[2] Thanks Steve




Please support this site by sharing:

Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and advocate for Asian American men. He's written extensively and spoken all over the world about how individuals and organizations develop their competitive advantage. Follow him at @jasonshen.

Latest posts by Jason Shen (see all)

Related Posts:

1 Comment


Leave a Reply

Comments are closed.