The unbearable probability of succeeding

Posted: March 2, 2010 in Misc

One of my strong beliefs is that, when it comes to building a company, the probability of succeeding is a constant.

With the help of top mathematicians, I’ve formalized this theorem:

P(success) = C

(Stephen Hawking remarked that each equation in a book halves its sales, so I guess the title just halved the audience of this post to three people. That is, however, the price one has to pay for scientific rigorousness, and I have no alternative than to live with it.)

What does the theorem mean in practice? Basically, I claim that the probability of succeeding is independent of the aggressiveness of your goals; a startup trying to change the World is as likely to succeed as another one going for a smaller, “more realistic” goal. The most significant implication of this is that you should always think big and aim as high as possible.

In case you find the idea profoundly stupid, here is the reasoning behind it:

  • It is much easier to attract top talent if you have a larger-than-life mission. This applies to co-founders, employees, advisers, partners, investors – you name it. It is true that if your goal seems almost impossible to reach and/or you are short on street credibility, most of the people just ignore you or think you’re nuts. However, today the World is both small and flat, and you’re likely to find enough superstars who share your passion. And when you have a kick-ass team, the impossible goal starts to look… less impossible.
  • If you aim very high, even a partial success could be a life-changing event for you. Despite of the common belief, the startup game is not based on the winner-takes-all rule – it’s more about winner-takes-a-lot. If you tried to create a billion dollar market cap company, but ended up exiting, let’s say, with only 1% of this valuation, it’s still $10m, i.e. a lot of cash. (By the way, I don’t think it is in general a good idea to think about the exit when founding a company, but more about this in one of the later posts.)

So, are you aiming high-enough? Am I? I think we better leave this topic.

Welcome to my new blog!

I guess it was about time to continue my once so flourishing blogging career.

I wrote my first blog post on August 16, 2006. The post was probably quite a conclusive one, since I haven’t really felt like writing another one in the last 3+ years. As a matter of fact, back in the glorious Jaiku days, I used this apparent (and quite universal) lack of creativity as one of the main reasons why microblogging is going to be a biggie. Well, I’m now back, angrier* than ever, so expect new posts in the near future.

*) “angrier” means here “anxious and slightly frustrated, but in general very happy”.

My interests have shifted a bit in the last years, but most likely I’m going to focus on the Nordic (especially Finnish) startups, seed investing and technologies and tools I find cool. I may even touch the related ecosystem-level or political topics. – Yes, my friends, I’ve become that old!

Regarding the industries, having recently founded Lifeline Ventures with Timo Ahopelto and Jarkko Joki-Tokola, I’m likely to write mostly about health, well-being, mobile and Internet services. I no longer think that mobile is a particularly interesting category of its own, but, nevertheless, I’ll probably cover it every now and then due to my background and the fact that it has finally become a significant access channel to Internet (“cloud-based”, as they say) services.

To explain the origin of the blog title, I quote my earlier post:

About the name of this blog: There does not exist a good word for entrepreneur in Finnish. The closest one is “yrittäjä”, which can be translated as “trier”. According to Oxford American Dictionary, a trier is “a person who always makes an effort, however unsuccesful they may be”. It is no wonder Finland was recently ranked the 26th country [out of 35 countries)] in the ratio of entrepreneurs triers per capita, which was less than 5%. It is encouraging, however, that the general start-up scene in Finland seems to be revitalizing and there are already a few success stores such as Habbo/Sulake and a number of game and 3D graphics boutiques.

Finally, I believe that all of us Nordic entrepreneurs and investors should commit ourselves to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of creating an internationally recognized cluster of growth companies in a few select industries. No single project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important to the long-range survival of the Nordic welfare state.

My next move is to reach out for my earlier, fanatic audience (of one person, i.e. Jyri Engeström) and inform them him that I’ve moved from Vox to WordPress and that there are some cool texts in the works. After that, I’ll address the rest of the Nordic startup scene.