A Game of Luck

You can call it what you like, luck, good fortune, coincidence, serendipity, right place at the right time, or even ‘hard work’, but I think no one has defined this mysterious element any better than the Roman philosopher, Seneca who some two thousand years ago said, ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.’

And then there are those other serendipitous situations that come along perhaps once in a lifetime where being in the right place at the right time can tee up an opportunity with no preparation at all. When that happens it falls to the individual’s ability to recognise the situation for what it is and seize the moment.

My friend, let’s call him Antonio, was raised in Santiago, Chile and eventually attended California’s prestigious Stanford University where he would earn a postgraduate degree in Business Administration and Behavioral Sciences. One day, while he was attending Stanford, Antonio was standing at the back of a long line outside a movie theatre when he and the stranger next to him were told that the show had sold out and they’d have to come back another day. Equally miffed, the two of them struck up a conversation and, with some unanticipated free time on their hands, ended up going for a cup of coffee together. Over coffee Antonio asked what the stranger, who was also attending Stanford, was up to and was told that he and a fellow student were working on a research project that was something to do with search engines. As they parted company the other student handed over a copy of his research paper and suggested my friend read it over and they could talk some more the next day.

Antonio said he tried reading the highly technical document that night but the bulk of it was all about algorithms and the like and way over his head. He was, however, highly intrigued with the object of the exercise which was to organize the vast amount of information on the web according to the popularity of the pages. In short it struck him as an idea that had a lot of market potential. When Antonio met up with his new friend the next day, therefore, he asked how he could get involved. He was told they were in the early stages of raising capital to launch their business, that was valued at a million dollars and they’d love to have him as an investor. In what was to become the watershed moment of his life, Antonio responded by saying, ‘Well, I have $10,000 that was earmarked for a second-hand car but I might consider putting it into your company instead. What would that get me?’ He was told it would give him a one percent ownership stake and so they agreed that they had a deal.

If you haven’t guessed it by now, the student Antonio had been speaking to was one Sergey Brin, and his partner went by the name of Larry Page. Although it was initially named ‘Back Rub’, the plan had been to brand their company ‘Googol’ after the mathematical term but they opted to change this to the quirkier ‘Google’. A wacky word, perhaps, but one that was destined to become part of the vocabulary in just about every language on the planet.

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