A Key Success Factor That Many People Overlook

If you were a startup founder, what would you identify as your most important factor for success?

To find the answer, Bill Gross did an extensive study that covered hundreds of startups in multiple industries. He examined five factors as possible answer: ideas, teams, business model, funding, and timing. He then shared his findings in a TED talk.

As it turns out, the most important factor is timing. It’s not the ideas, teams, or business model. It’s the timing. If you start your startup at the right time, there is a good chance that you will succeed. But if you don’t, the odds are against you.

The history of many startups confirms this. Microsoft, for instance, started at just the right time: the dawn of the microcomputer revolution. Had Bill Gates and Paul Allen started Microsoft a few years earlier or later, they might not have achieved the success they enjoyed.

Another example is Amazon.com. Back in 1994, Jeff Bezos already had a good corporate job—but he saw an opportunity with the rise of the Internet. The timing was right: the Internet was just beginning to take off, so he decided to seize the opportunity by founding Amazon.com.

I believe the lesson here doesn’t just apply to companies, but also to individuals. Timing is essential for success. It’s not enough just to take the right opportunity; you must also take it at the right time. Otherwise, you limit your growth potential.

My iOS app business is an example. I started it in 2011. That was three years late because Apple opened its App Store back in 2008. Had I started earlier, I could have gotten better results.

So what should you do? You should develop your sense of timing.

Here are some steps on how to do that:

1. Stay informed.

To take the right opportunity at the right time, you must first know what the opportunities are. You must know what is happening and what is coming.

The founding of Microsoft is a good example. Bill Gates and Paul Allen saw their opportunity through a magazine article. Had they missed that information, they could have lost their opportunity.

So stay informed. Keep yourself up-to-date. Reading blogs, books, and magazines is a good way to do that.

2. Be observant.

As I wrote in How to Get Lucky, lucky people notice things that other people overlook. They see things that other people miss.

To spot an opportunity, you need to be observant. Other people might have the same piece of information, but only those who are observant can see the opportunity behind it.

In the story of Microsoft, many people read the same magazine that Gates and Allen read. But for most of them, the story in the magazine was just a story. Gates and Allen were the ones who could see the opportunity behind it.

3. Know the window of opportunity.

After spotting an opportunity, you should recognize the window of opportunity. How much time do you have before the opportunity expires?

Back to the story of Microsoft: they knew that they had to become the first ones to come out with a product for the new computer, so they wasted no time. They spent eight weeks working full-time on their product.

4. Take risks.

If you think the opportunity is good, you should be willing to take risks. Bill Gates’ term for this is “making bets.”

The fact is: you can’t be sure that you will succeed. There is always a possibility that you will fail. But you need to take the risk. If you wait until everything is certain, it will be too late.

5. Keep your life balanced.

In taking an opportunity, remember this: keep your life balanced. Some people are so obsessed with their goal that they neglect other parts of their lives. Don’t do that.

If you want long-term success, not just short-term, life balance is key.


With the steps above, you will develop your sense of timing. And with that, you will be able to take the right opportunity at the right time.

Photo by Robert Anthony Provost


  1. Eng Ogwang Denis
    Eng Ogwang Denis

    I am greatly inspired by this article. As a startup founder, I gotta take it home and store in my archives. Keep up with the great articles. I am a fun of your writings.

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