When I was a kid one of my all time favorite things to do on friday nights was to have a movie night (who am I kidding, that is still one of my favorite things to do). My mom and I would go to Blockbuster to pick out a movie or two and then we would skip next store to Papa Murphy’s to pick up some pizza (I will contend till my dying breath Papa Murphy’s is by far the most underrated pizza on the planet. So good). One of the movies I distinctly remember watching during multiple movie nights was Serendipity The Pink Dragon. Serendipity was a pink sea dragon who lived on a magical island with all of her friends learning life lessons about friendship. I have no idea why we ever picked this particular movie out, but I do remember watching it more than once (to this day, my go to nickname for a Lapras in any Pokemon game is Serendipity).
I was reminded of Serendipity the pink dragon while listening to this interview from Sara Dietschy with Nik Sharma and David Perell. This episode is definitely worth listening to. They cover a lot of ground from influencer marketing to direct-to-consumer brands to their own stories and how they got where they are today. As part of this last part, they spoke about the role that serendipity had in each of their lives. They drew a line in the sand between serendipity and luck. Luck is something good that just happens to you. Serendipity is something good that happens to you because your hard work and patience put you in a position where it could happen to you. I love this distinction.
If you talk to anyone with a modicum of success in life, the vast majority can point to a handful of “lucky” events where they caught a break or were given a chance to take on a project they were woefully underqualified for. Rare, however, is the successful person who had this happen to them while watching Netflix and eating cheetos on a Thursday afternoon.
Luck is a factor in everyone’s story. What differs is how prepared people are to take advantage of the situation when the dice start rolling their way.
That is where Serendipity Vehicles come in.
Serendipity Vehicles are a concept coined by David Perell in this post. He talks about purposefully building structures that increase the likelihood of both serendipitous things happening to you as well as increasing the chances that you are able to take advantage of them when they occur. Serendipity vehicles can range from simple structures like attending a dinner party to more much more complex things like writing books.
This blog is one of my serendipity vehicles. Twitter is another. Both require relatively minimal, but consistent, effort to maintain. Both have lead to significant outsized opportunities far and above what I would’ve ever expected.
Now all of this talk of lifestyle design may sound complicated, but I think the most important thing is simply the way you approach it. I think the best way to think about designing your serendipity vehicles is to make yourself into a Mentos. Mentos are a type of spherical candy that are sold all across the world. To be perfectly honest, I think they are pretty average. What is not average are the explosive effects they have when combined with any sort of carbonated beverage (but especially Diet Coke). There is a whole lot of science behind why this happens, but the short of it is that even though Mentos looks like smooth spheres, on a microscopic level their surfaces are very rough. This increased surface area acts environments where bubbles can form, launching soda up into the air. The key is the surface area.
You can make your life resemble Mentos by increasing your surface area so you have a lot of different places where serendipity bubbles can form.
Say yes to thing even if they are outside your comfort zone.
Cultivate curiosity in a broad range of subjects and areas.
Go out of your way to go to new places and meet new people.
Jump at opportunities even if the timing is not always ideal.
Create excuses to talk with interesting people.
Provide value to people instead of just asks.
At the end of the day, your goal should be to have as many areas in your life where serendipity can form as possible The challenge is to recognize serendipity and then make sure you are able to take advantage of it.
This advice is equally true for both individuals and startups.
Well designed startups are a lot like giant serendipity vehicles. A lot of work goes into designing them so that they are in a position to shoot for the stars as soon as a serendipitous customer connection or technological development breaks their way. As a founder you need to balance the need to stay focused on what you are building with providing yourself as much surface area as possible in order to take advantage of connections with investors, talent, customers, etc.
I can’t tell you what the right balance for that is. You will need to figure that out for yourself. But I can tell you what the wrong balances are. There are two.
1) Ignoring any thought of the outside world to focus solely on your business.
2) Ignoring your business to focus solely on hoping something happens in the outside world.
Everything in between is fair game.
No matter where you land on the spectrum between focusing your time and energy on building your business and increasing your surface area to optimize for serendipity, there is one lever that you can pull to maximize your chances for success.
Responsibly managing your burn rate as a startup is one of the most important things you do as a founder. Burn too fast and you won’t get enough at bats to have something serendipitous happen for your business, no matter how much you optimize for it.
As an individual and as a business, design your life so that you can take advantage of serendipity when it comes knocking at your door.
That is how you and your company achieve success.