Alex Schiff / Uncategorized

5 Ways You Can Maximize Your Luck Surface Area (Alex Schiff)

One of my favorite weird startup concepts of all time is that of the “luck surface area” (LSA). It was coined by Jason Roberts, an entrepreneur and co-host of the podcast TechZing, on his blog Codus Operandi. Basically, he argues that your luck is a function of what you do and how many people know about it. If you’re doing something that creates value, and a lot of people know about it, serendipitous moments are bound to occur. It’s as if good luck follows you around, whether you’re doing a startup or something else people find interesting.

So I wanted to give some advice on how I go out of my way to increase my LSA and create my own luck.


1) Write, write and write more.

I write a lot. In addition to my bi-weekly columns here, I also blog on our company blog and write guest posts for other outlets as the opportunity arises. This is because in all of my positive chance encounters, at least one third of them have either come from me talking to someone for a story or someone reacting to a story. With all the self-publishing and distribution platforms available on the Internet, anyone can find you. If the right person does, things can go viral. My post “Why I Didn’t Get A Real Job” blew up after it shot to the top of Hacker News and was re-tweeted by the co-founder of AOL, Steve Case.


2) Never eat alone. 

I’ve got to give credit to Keith Ferrazzi for coining this phrase, but it’s been extremely beneficial for me. When I eat lunch alone, I consider it a failure. Meals are a great opportunity for you to interact with someone in an informal setting — be it to catch up and relax with friends or to create new connections. Need a reason to put yourself back in front of an influential person you met a few months ago? You both need to eat. Want an excuse to pick someone’s brain? Go eat together. Plus I don’t like coffee (the standard of meetings), and I feel awkward ordering Diet Coke or hot apple cider. Even though hot apple cider is delicious.

Besides, when you’re having a meeting that is more networking in nature (i.e., not specifically related to getting business done), networking over lunch allows you to salvage the productive parts of your day for the work you really need to get done. Utilize your down time efficiently.


3) Reach out to everyone you possibly can. 

I get made fun of for how much of an avid networker I am. I treat every blog post, tweet, Quora post, etc. that I find relevant as an opportunity to reach out to its author and make a connection. In my favorite example of this, I messaged the head recruiter of Quora to introduce myself as a fellow Wolverine and ask him for feedback on my startup. He did, and then he asked me if I knew anything about the “Harvard: Michigan of the East” T-shirts they sell on campus (apparently they don’t sell them online and it’s a big mystery among Silicon Valley Michigan alums).

Flash forward a few weeks and I sent him and Quora’s CFO two of those shirts and he sent me a Quora shirt. This shirt is now undoubtedly my favorite article of clothing in my wardrobe because of 1) this story and 2) how awesome Quora is. Plus it created a great connection with two very influential people.


4) Be a super-connector and help everyone you can.

I try to go out of my way to connect people that I think can help each other. A girl I met at a football game said she was interested in maternal health in Ghana, so I put her in touch with my friends at DIIME that are doing exactly that. A friend was recently complaining to me that he doesn’t know many people that he can talk to about the stock market, so I introduced him to my other friend who literally lives and breathes it. Nothing might come of either connection, but at the very least it shows you’re interested in helping them. Once you get in the habit of looking for opportunities to do this, it becomes really easy.

But this extends beyond just connecting people — you should always try to be a genuinely helpful person. Do favors and share everything you have. In the last month, I’ve sent a handful of people all of my pitch emails for Fetchnotes that landed us the great PR last month. Whenever I meet someone professionally, I try to end every conversation with “here’s my email. If there’s any way I can help, let me know.” Not only does this give the impression that I actually know what I’m talking about (the jury’s still out on that one), but it makes people want to help you out too.


5) Seize the spotlight!

Most people shy away from public speaking. I know did for a long time — I still remember my knees shaking and teeth chattering while reciting a poem for 6th grade English class. But that melted away after a year of doing nothing but presentations and phone pitching for business school and my job at Benzinga, respectively. Now, I jump at every chance I get to stand on the soapbox.

Some of Fetchnotes‘ most serendipitous moments have come from presentations we’ve given. Two of our first potential company-level customer approached us following presentations we gave at startup meetups and exhibits. Presenting at the Student Venture Showcase is how I met one of the founders of TechArb, and he helped get me into the summer session. I admit I’m a bit of a spotlight whore, but hey, it works.


Doing things like this, you can create your own luck. No, not every random lunch meeting will lead to you getting a job or an investor. Of course some people will look at you funny as you get giddy about “knowing the perfect person for them to talk to.” And sure, not everyone will respond to your email about their blog post that really equates to “Hi, will you be my friend?”

But if you’re doing something interesting and tell everyone you can about it, it’s only a matter of time before serendipity strikes.


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