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The Bristol Case Studies on luck and serendipity

In this video, entrepreneurs from the University of Bristol past and present talk about how luck played a part in their story.
So, did luck or chance play a role in my story? I think actually, I’m a big believer and I always say to people, ‘There’s a huge degree to which you create your own luck’, so the fact that my co-founder had experienced a problem that she wanted to then solve and she was working in a venture capital fund, and I was a consultant and we had really good complementary skills. Well, she called me because we’d worked together when I, you know ten years before when I was the sports president University of Bristol and she was my vice president.
So there’s a kind of serendipitous result that goes on there, but I think that’s really about people being proactive, people thinking long term with the way that they do stuff and who they interact with and then stuff does happen and it’s really freaky sometimes when that stuff happens but it’s really exciting all the same. So in terms of helping create your own luck, I think again it goes back to the way that you act on a consistent basis in the long term. It’s about the relationships you hold with people and hanging out with people that you that you like, that you admire, that you find interesting and that are good to you and you’re good to them.
All of those things, you might not, you can’t expect a kind of short-term return from that. That’s just about being a person and a good person but I think if you if you do that consistently then that will lead to the luck creation if you like. Totally. Definitely. If they hadn’t talked to me about the topic I wouldn’t have spent the last three years working in menstrual health and becoming obsessed with periods and being the ‘period Queen’ as lots of my friends like to call me. It would, you know, just wouldn’t have featured in my life.
So yeah, luck and chance are big parts of of creating the organisation and everything that’s happened since like the homelessness project only came about because someone approached me and said, ‘I want to do my dissertation in homelessness and menstruation’ and again I was like, ‘Why have I not thought of this?’ You make your own luck if you are putting yourself out there, people know what you’re interested in and you’re telling others your ideas and you’re open to going in different directions.
Those opportunities wouldn’t come about if you weren’t kind of saying that, that you’re open and ready for new and exciting things and that’s where the luck then comes in I guess, of who you meet and yeah how that happens. I don’t think anybody gets anywhere without luck or chance particularly the deeper you look at it. So the fact that I did my PhD and I happened to end up in the same lab as Ben one of the co-founders who is a sort of mathematics and algorithms genius, there’s no chance we would have made it to where we are today unless he happened to be in the same lab as me and think that’s, that’s a huge amount of luck.
So I happen to go to an event at a restaurant and it was University of Bristol event, bump into somebody who runs a few restaurants and he happened to have the contact card
to the CEO one of the largest entertainment companies in the world: completely disconnected but just happen to find these things along the way. I think to a certain extent you can create your own luck but I also think there is a large element of you’ve got to make the most of the luck that you get. I see luck as opportunities opening but then you actually have to grab them for yourself and do something with it. I think you make your own luck. I think luck is a little bit overstated and actually have to create your own opportunities. There’s definitely an element of serendipity, especially when you start.
Sometimes you get that push and it forces you into doing your own thing and sometimes people need that push to start a business. But I think at the very start you try and go to as many events as you can, meet as many people, talk to as many people. A big part of it is actually vocalising your project, is actually speaking to people and saying ‘this is my idea, this is what I’m going to do.’
Because unless it’s an idea that you’re confident enough to speak to other people about, you often just play around with it for months and you don’t get anything off the ground, so I do think at the start you really have to push opportunities and create your own luck. One of the most important things I did for creating luck within the magazine was meeting PR agencies before launch. A huge amount of what we do is based on PR agencies sending us information and new restaurant openings and content, and the only way to start receiving that information is to be on their radar. So actually much before we launched, three, four months before the website actually launched.
I was speaking to people as if it had already existed and saying, ‘this is what we’re going to do’, and we took trips before it launched and we had really great information coming through so we started that process much before. I think luck is, luck’s played a huge part in our journey and anyone that says it hasn’t I think is lying. Our biggest break was, so very early on we kind of started talking to a lot of people about stuff and we went and had a coffee with this guy Peter Holbrooke that runs Social Enterprise UK, that’s the kind of support body for social enterprise.
I don’t really know why I had a meeting with him but I just kind of sent him an email and he was nice enough to give us an hour of his time and we explained the idea and he thought it was cool and that was kind of the end of it, and then about 18 months later we got a call from UK government from DFID that were interested in starting this program called Develop First and they had gone to Peter Holbrooke and had said, you know, ‘we’re looking at doing this idea,’ and Peter said ‘you should go and talk to these guys Balloon because they’re already doing this’ and that contract was worth kind of almost like three-quarters of a million pounds or something, so overnight our organisation went from three employees to fifteen employees and it was a huge stroke of luck that they’d gone and spoken to Peter, Peter pushed them through to us and and then it’d come about like that.
I think all you can do as an entrepreneur or someone in business is you can try and make the right decision as often as possible, so as long as you, or hopefully, as long as you make as many right decisions as possible you’ll get enough luck.

Here, we go back to the Bristol Case Studies you met in Step 1.6 to ask them about the role luck or chance has played in getting them to where they are now.

Think about your own story and where you are in your life at the moment:

  • Did luck or chance play a role in your story?
  • Can you tell us how that happened?
  • Do you think you did anything to help create your own luck?
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