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Factor L

Another re-run, this one from 2004:

Why do some products and services succeed while others fail? Why do some ideas go viral, rocketing across the marketplace, while others wither and die in obscurity?

It's not the quality of the ideas. Go take a look at X1 ( Here's a really cool utility that can instantly search all your email (I have more than 150,000 on file from the past six years) to find any word. This Google for your hard drive works pretty well, and it's cheap. The Web site is really well done, too. The reviews are good. The trial is free. But do you have it installed? Probably not. Most of the 162 million Internet users in this country don't. I wonder why.

On the other hand, consider "Baby Boy," the top-10 hit by Beyonce. She certainly has talent, but is this the very best song from the very best album by the very best singer in the world? It's been a hit for weeks. I wonder why.

What, precisely, is going on here? I have no idea. You don't, either.

We'd all love to know the series of steps to follow, the calculus we need to run, the hoops we need to go through in order to launch a product or service that is guaranteed to succeed. It would save us a lot of angst and disappointment if we could put our hearts and souls into something with a reasonable expectation of success.

It used to be that way, of course. If you had a very good product and a fairly sophisticated ad campaign (and enough money to keep both of them going), you could buy attention and turn it into market share. Creating new products was largely about having the will (and the means) to get your market to sit up and notice.

Today, it feels like more of a crapshoot.

What is it about Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, for example, that suddenly turned them into a profitable fad--and then a phenomenon? Sure, they're good, but are they that much better than Dunkin' Donuts? Friendster, the online social networking service, is the latest viral rage. It recently turned down a chance to be acquired by Google for $30 million. Just a few years ago, though, was offering almost precisely the same service, and it's no longer on the radar. has more than 1 million subscribers, while other political sites struggle. Some politicians catch fire; others (with arguably better records) never gain traction.

It's easy to call the game after it's over. It's easy to explain what the market liked about product X. The hard part, of course, is doing it in advance. I don't think we can. I don't think you should even try.

Sure, you should work hard to maximize your chances of capturing the imagination of your market. But all you can do is all you can do. After you've done that, you should stop tweaking.

The L factor is about luck. And as any gambler will tell you, you get to keep playing until your money runs out. After that, you don't get any more chances to win.

As our marketplaces have changed, our approaches haven't. We still overinvest to ensure success. We still make sure we have just a few eggs, in just one basket, and then we watch that basket really closely. Big mistake.

We live in a world of fashion, not rational computation. A world where everything from brake linings and ball bearings to clothes and airlines is chosen for unpredictable reasons.

The way to grow in the future is to acknowledge how important luck is and to diversify your risk. Do that with lots of products, not just one or two. Cut your overhead so you have plenty of chips, ready for another spin of the roulette wheel.

Take the case of Levi Strauss & Co. This company was lucky, plain and simple. It makes a garment that was the clothing of choice for a generation of free-spending consumers. But instead of recognizing the luck, Levi imagined it was smart branding, or its employment policies or even its ad agency that had somehow enabled it to grow. Once the luck ran out (and it always does) Levi shrank fast. In just six years, sales dropped more than 30%, and every U.S. factory was closed.

Every time you launch a product or service, every time you apply for a job or start a nonprofit, you're either going to hit or not. If you get lucky, you're entitled to deny that luck had anything to do with it. But if you fail--and you probably will--understanding the role of the L factor will keep you sane. And if you've planned for it, it will keep you solvent as well. Solvent enough to try again and again, until you make it (and take all the credit).


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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Factor L:

» Luck or common sense? from Ali`s Blog
Seth Godin has an interesting post about the Luck Factor. What he is trying to say is, there are many excellent products/services which are created and do everything right, but they still arent used. Why? Because of Luck, or the L Factor as he c... [Read More]

» Luck or Meant to Be? from Can I Make Big Money Online
Seth Godin has this great post from 2004 that I didnt see in 2004, but just read because he re-posted it this weekend. Check it out by clicking here. In the post, Seth argues that luck is a strong factor in a companys success. I sort ... [Read More]

» getting lucky? from ReveNews - Tim Storm
Seth has a rerun on his blog today, from 2004 - Factor L. While there is no question that "luck" certainly exists, I do believe that there is more to business success than just "luck". I consider it luck when... [Read More]

» Diversify Your Search from Blue Sky Resumes Blog
Seth Godin is rerunning an old piece today. He's writing about the role luck plays in launching a new product or service. But he makes an important point that applies to career marketing just as much as it does to... [Read More]

» Well Then, Wish Me Luck from Scott Ahlsmith, CTC's - Roads Less Traveled
Seth Godin, my marketing guru, dusted-off one of this 2004 blog posts called, Factor L. Before your mind goes racing for words that begin with the letter 'L,' I'll save you the trip. 'L' stands for Luck. My apologies to [Read More]

» Hit or Miss from
Its funny that Seth Godin is posting a few throwback posts while Im reading The Long Tail. In a thought apparently from 2004, Seth said: Every time you launch a product or service, every time you apply for a job or start a nonprofit, you&... [Read More]

» Noah’s Super Secret Marketing Tip: Do Nothing from
I think this is my most powerful marketing tip yet. “Dude has Noah lost it since he left for Korea?” Possibly. Let me try to explain myself a little better and you can let me know what you think. What are some of the most well-known and successful... [Read More]

» Seth Godin on Luck from
Seth Godin has a post about luck in which he gets away with claiming the LUCK plays a more and more important role in todays marketing. Take the case of Levi Strauss Co. This company was lucky, plain and simple. It makes a garment that wa... [Read More]

» Why use new channels? from Alternative and Internet Marketing - hosted by Ariel
Seth re-posted a blog entry the other day that I thought contained a good reply to the question: why should we try this new channel (be it blog, RSS, eMail, mobile, what-have-you). ... [Read More]

» A-lister conspiracy theories and dreams of easy success from Sparkplug 9 >> bizhack
Theres an interesting conversation happening right now about the equity or insularity of the blogosphere. Partly, its the perrennial A-lister bitch-session: why am I not in the Technorati Top 100? Partly, its the angst of someone ... [Read More]

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