Smart or Lucky?
“Want to create a revolution, empire, industry standard? Read this book. It provides the formula for smarts + luck.” –Christine Comaford, CEO Coach and author of Rules for Renegades
“Smart or Lucky? takes you on a fun ride through the information technology industry. Judith Hurwitz brings together a wealth of personal experience and historical fact in analyzing the successes and failures of tech companies. There are countless lessons to be taken away about corporate ignorance and corporate arrogance. ‘Luck’ or, in truth, rapidly changing market conditions, catches up with every company. The true strength of those companies that have survived and thrived has been a willingness to change and to allow the market, their customers, to guide them.” –Steve Mills, Senior Vice President and Group Executive, Software & Systems, IBM
“Judith Hurwitz is known for her talent at anticipating technology trends—and communicating their importance to business leaders. She’s done it again. This book has great insights on cloud computing and the massive shift underway that is profoundly changing everything. ” –Marc Benioff, Chairman & CEO, salesforce.com and author, Behind the Cloud
“Hurwitz deftly dissects dozens of winners and losers in the constantly churning tech industry, and offers concrete advice for entrepreneurs wanting to achieve and sustain success.” –Don Tapscott, author, Wikinomics and Macrowikinomics
“I've worked with some of the smartest and luckiest people in High Tech, and I am now certain that luck is intentionally created via pattern recognition, partnerships, and paying attention. Want to create a revolution, empire, industry standard? Read this book. It provides the formula for smarts + luck.” –Christine Comaford, CEO Coach and author of Rules for Renegades
“Judith provides valuable lessons on building sustainable technology companies and reminds us that initial spectacular market opportunities and brilliant execution are just table stakes in long lasting market ownership.” –Ann Winblad, Managing Director, Hummer Winblad Venture Partners
“Smart or Lucky? is without a doubt a walk down memory lane with commentary that is concise and most of all insightful. It is hard to find someone who can objectively write about whether people are good or lucky in context with the most explosive era of information technology. This book clearly puts the reader in touch with consequences and events of those turbulent and dynamic years. I highly endorse Judith’s book as a must-read for anyone who wants to put sense into the mosaic of our industry” –Sam Greenblatt, Chief Technology Officer, Global Enterprises, Hewlett Packard Corporation
“In her fascinating book Smart or Lucky?, Judith Hurwitz recounts many of the companies and characters whose innovations and luck (or lack thereof) have made the information technology industry what it is today. As someone who knew many of the actors and even played a small part in the drama, I found this a fascinating and illuminating read. I recommend it highly to budding entrepreneurs and others who want to understand the industry and how it works, and want to learn from its past so they can repeat its successes but avoid its failures.” –John Swainson, former CEO, CA Inc
“This book should be required reading for all technology start-ups and their investors. Judith Hurwitz has captured some of the history and a great deal of the spirit of our industry's evolution. She most poignantly describes how some of the most successful tech companies suddenly found themselves in a world of hurt. Smart or Lucky is a guidepost to help current and future entrepreneurs avoid the sins of the past.” –Alan Nugent, former CTO, Novell and CA, Inc
“As someone who has watched thousands of technology firms come and go, Judith Hurwitz has rare insight into the dynamics that shape technology markets. Whether you're a newcomer to the field or a grizzled veteran, read this book to understand how to survive in a cutthroat business that is only becoming more unforgiving.” –Paul Gillin, author, The New Influencers and Secrets of Social Media Marketing
I have been an industry analyst, writer, consultant, and advisor to leaders in the technology market for almost three decades. In that time, I have watched the most promising technology efforts fail miserably only to find that five years later a company will a similar offering becomes an overnight success. I have also seen companies come out of nowhere at just the right time and grow into powerful leaders. Sometimes these leaders are able to sustain their market position but often they are surpassed and fade away.
This book provides context to help you understand the dynamics of one of the most important and dynamic markets in the world: technology. There are many lessons to be learned, no matter what market you are focused on. In Smart or Lucky? I analyze the companies that have been lucky and then remained smart. It also examine the smart companies that never made it.
This book is less about pure innovation and more about luck, good fortune and the smarts necessary to sustain that good fortune. I have watched thousands of companies come and go, from the earliest firms that almost no one remembers, like Univac, Burroughs, WordPerfect, Commodore, Altair, Prime Computer, Data General, and Wang Laboratories, to the newer companies like AltaVista, Netscape, Excite, and Lycos. While none of these companies exists today, they all combined initial luck with lots of innovation. They just couldn’t sustain their success over more than a few decades. In their day, these were hugely powerful and profitable companies, but none of them managed to last longer than 30 years. Different companies, but common themes: each was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time; each became overly arrogant or consumed by internal politics; and each failed to adapt to changing circumstances.
This book sets forth what I have learned over the past 30 years about sustaining success in business. It describes both stunningly successful high tech companies like Google, and disappointing failures like Wang. What did the successful companies have in common that the failures lacked? Companies that are successful focus on innovation, pragmatism, and radical change.
Innovation matters. Innovation is key to staying ahead of the competition. Successful companies are highly innovative and challenge market incumbents by changing customer expectations. But innovation isn’t enough. Pragmatism keeps a company grounded in solving customer needs in the current market. Innovation is only valuable when and if it solves customer problems – either today or sometime in the future. If a company develops an innovative technology for the sake of demonstrating cleverness, before long it becomes just an interesting footnote in a fast-changing story, not a game changer. And successful companies change. These companies create a long-term roadmap that anticipates change. Companies that fail to change because they grow too attached to their existing products are doomed to fail. Companies that withstand the pressures of competition and changing technologies are those that innovate, solve customer problems, and are prepared to change as markets evolve.
There are plenty of smart people in the world. But being smart isn’t enough. After almost 30 years of working with entrepreneurs, I can tell you that innovation alone rarely guarantees success. On the contrary, success in the business of technology requires a combination of intuition, persistence, intelligence, and teamwork, as well as luck. Luck often plays a bigger role in the early success of a company than anyone likes to believe. For example, there were many early Internet search companies that hired brilliant computer scientists who created incredible technology. Yet companies like Inktomi and AltaVista went out of business or were sold for a fraction of their earlier value. Enterprise computing companies such as Sun Microsystems, with all of their advanced technology, could not sustain their market position and in the end were either acquired or went out of business. Other companies, like Apple, Inc. and Microsoft, started out as niche desktop computer players, and were then able to transform themselves into innovative juggernauts. Lucky companies bring excellent products to market at exactly the time when there is a demand for those products. Smart companies recognize that that initial lucky phase is just the opening stage of a long journey. They recognize the element of luck in their success and understand that they must harness their luck, build on that spark, and move quickly to take advantage of their window of opportunity.
Furthermore, all types of luck are not the same. For example, if you go to a casino and play the roulette wheel, you might get lucky and hit a winning number. There is no advanced planning involved. This is not the type of luck I am talking about. Taking advantage of luck in the high-tech world includes the following elements which I will discuss in greater detail throughout the book:
- You understand your customers and know what will solve their problems right now.
- You have a roadmap to follow if you gain market traction.
- You don’t over-engineer your products. Products need to be good enough to solve customers’ problems and stay ahead of the competition but not so complex that customers are intimidated.
- You don’t worry about immediate success. You focus on how you will succeed after competitors challenge your market position.
- You worry continuously about being in the right place at the right time.
- You worry about innovation only if it makes your customers successful.
- You care more about commercial success than about simply being famous.
- You are patient. You are willing to get some quick hits to put your company on the map, but you also have a long-term strategy. You can always answer the question: what’s next?
- You aren’t afraid of change. You aren’t afraid to kill a once successful product that is holding you back from investing in the future.
- You are keenly aware of your luck. You don’t believe your own marketing hype. You are realistic and honest about why you have been successful and what challenges lie ahead.