Missed Opportunities

dlr33892.gifSomewhere along the line I have heard a quote that goes something like this. Success is 98% perseverance and 2% luck. If you persevere enough you just survive but if you have that 2% luck, you succeed.

Over the years I have come to appreciate how special luck is but I have also learned that 98% of the people are not willing to make any effort, let alone persevere. Luck is staring them in the face, in some cases screaming and kicking! Yet so many willingly allow these precious moments pass.

In a high-school business class I wrote a business plan for a store that rented out beta-max movies (yes, I am dating myself!) and software on floppy drives (remember the 5-1/4’s?). I believed it was an idea that had potential, but I never dreamed how big the movie rental business would get! I did not come from a family of means nor was I a teenager willing to get off his lazy a$$. While I don’t really consider this a “missed opportunity,” (there was nothing to decline) thinking about it makes me go hmmm.

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When I was nineteen I learned about a limo company that had shut down due to a family issue. One day everyone was working and the next there were several dozen limos collecting dust. I friend was presenting me with a one-time opportunity to buy as many limos as I could for $5,000 each. At the time, conservatively they were worth $8-$15,000 each. There was money to be made just flipping them. Of course I was thinking about the customer base this company left behind! I had already invested my money in a house. With little credit and no cash, I had to pass.

My first “house” was what most would refer to as a townhouse. In fact it was a condo with a crappy design. It was a two-level built over a “garden home.” The entry was ground level but immediately inside the foyer was the stairs to get to the first floor. Can you believe… no doorbell! A quick $100 in parts at the local hardware store and I learned that running wire inside walls was not a typical DIY job. I then cobbled together a homemade wireless triggered door bell. There was nothing like it on the market at the time. Today you see them in stores across America, unfortunately these are not mine. I never showed for the appointment with the patent attorney.

In the old days when the Noid was still around and pizza delivery was still free if not delivered in 30 minutes, I had a roommate from Russia.  He could not get over the joy he found in delivery pizza. He loved this country! He would stare out the window watching for the driver with one eye while the other was on the clock. He would watch the drivers slowly drive down the street, sometimes with flashlights in hand, searching for the right address. To solve the problem he dreamed up solar powered street number signs. I recall he made contact with some manufacturers a potential partner was trying to get me to invest (sweat equity mostly). I declined. I don’t know if he ever followed through himself but again, you can find versions of this idea in stores today. While he or I are not making a living off the idea, there are people out there than managed to do so.

For me, “the one that got away” was what I called the DishMaster. With only one or two people in a house I had no use for a dishwasher. Yet it is still a chore I wanted to make easier and faster. Many years ago I conceived a hand-held motor driven device to help scrub dishes while cleaning. A partner and I were working through planning and prototypes when the project collapsed. I was convinced that consumers would never be comfortable putting something electric into water. As a result all our designs were based on a water driven system that just didn’t produce enough torque to make it viable. Fast forward a couple decades and I still get ticked every time I see one of the commercially available battery powered dish scrubbers.

If it is true that success is 98% perseverance and 2% luck, you would need both.

Looking back on my missed opportunities I see that none guaranteed success, they only provided a possibility. I also realize that we are not blessed with unlimited opportunities.

In most cases you may be ready and willing to invest the time and money but luck is not with you, opportunities are usually few and far between.

In the rare case that you have opportunity, when it presents itself, are you willing to take action, to persevere?

Readers: Please share, did you have “the deal that got away”, and what was it? Would you be willing to risk your savings if a new opportunity presented itself?

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18 comments to Missed Opportunities

  • Lean:

    That’s a formidable list of ideas – from high school until now! I like the correlations you make, have you ever read Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell?

    My uncle once told me that the first people to drop out of medical school were those with the highest MCAT scores, and those who made it through were the ones willing to dig in their heels.

    At college happy hours, we’d start off talking about girls but always venture off to business ideas. Even as kids, we “invested” in comics & baseball cards betting on appreciation.

    Yes – unfortunately, I have a missed opportunity that I’m not sure I will ever live down. 🙁

    I had the chance to participate in the Visa IPO. I placed a sizable order, but got cold-feet the night before since I was more or less “betting the farm”. I would have doubled my money. What makes it worse is I had a SECOND chance to purchase around the IPO price during the March 2009 lows.
    .-= FinEngr´s last blog ..Managing Fear and Expectations =-.

  • That’s pretty crazy and inspirational..I’m young and to think back to when things weren’t so easy and everything wasn’t already invented..sounds like the land of opportunity like our forefathers dreamt about.

    Personally, I have had a ton of ideas. The only one that I really regret was a website for recipes. I milled it over for about a year before acting in it in any way. I had a poor business plan and didn’t really know how to explain my idea. Turns out during that time, someone else came up with the exact same idea and got it all put together..you can see it here: http://www.supercook.com

    Basically the exact idea I had, almost down to design elements.

    On the flip side, have there been any opportunities you wish you had passed on? All the MLM’s I was sucked into..I really could have done without some of those..
    .-= Jesse´s last blog ..Free Business Cards from UPrinting.com =-.

  • By the way – See you tonight!
    .-= FinEngr´s last blog ..Managing Fear and Expectations =-.

  • kt

    looking over my life, i have had very few opportunities for making a boatload of cash and the waves that came, i rode for their durations. Nothing fancy, just a few things to put some cash in my pockets. I hope i get a few more of them. They make life very exciting.

  • I always end up talking about ideas and inventions with buddies (of course it is usually after a few drinks) but I never do anything about it. Reading your post literally made me feel like an asshole – and I thank you for it.
    .-= Evan´s last blog ..The Wife and I are Expecting a Baby! =-.

  • I had an idea of a website that acted as a reminder, where you go in and set appointments: anniversary dates, birthdays, etc… Then on those days, the system would send a phone message telling you about your appointment until you go into the website and click it as completed.

    I also had the idea of an internet grocery delivery business with a twist.

    I had other ideas too, but I never created a prototype like you did!!! kudos to you!

  • I hear ya! My husband has had lots of terrific ideas, I call him my idea man. However, sometimes it’s the wrong timing, too little money, or some other reason why it never got off the ground. He’s been entrepreneurial since he was about 8 and opened up a kite rental stand. So that 2% luck really does play into whether an idea will take off or not!
    .-= Little House´s last blog ..Tuesday Tips, Week 7 =-.

  • Another thought-provoking piece.

    How interesting to read the comments and realize that I’ve never sat around with a group of women friends, say over drinks, to discuss business ideas–ever! Crazy. I’ve discussed business ideas while schmoozing with guy friends. . .I think that’s a potential post in and of itself. I think in a way that not doing as many ‘mental exercises’ with friends could be a limiting factor. . .

    Back to the initial topic, I view potential business ideas not only for their potential but also for the risk and opportunity cost involved. So I don’t feel too badly about not running with every idea I get. (I also have not had ideas that could be duplicated millions of times that would give me royalties. . .so I have less reason to ‘kick myself’).

    As you mentioned, with the example of your house, you can only invest your money in so many areas–the same holds true for your time. You can only follow up on so many of your ideas/schemes. I think it’s rather difficult to chose which ones to invest your time in. . .I mean, in your case, taking over the limo company would have been a rather wild ride, right? Taking on a new business involves a steep learning curve and quite a bit of upfront work because you don’t want to alienate your customer base. . .perhaps passing up on the limos allowed you to work on something else.
    .-= Simple in France´s last blog ..Radical simplicity, frugality-for couples only? =-.

  • Great article, Coach! In my case I’d say that success is 98% *initiative* and 2% luck. Then again, perseverance can probably be extended to mean initiative.

    I’ll share two quick ideas I had that I failed to move on that cost me a fortune.

    The first, was for a website devoted to rotisserie sports enthusiasts. I started playing rotisserie sports in the early 90s, way before it became mainstream. In the mid 90s I even wrote a complete business plan as part of my MBA studies for a business, but did I move on the idea? Heck no, I was “too busy” with my real job to bother. I’d be independently wealthy by now if I had followed through on my idea.

    The second one is related to the kitchen. As the family cook, I have cooked more than my fair share of ground beef over the years. For years and years I have always complained to the Honeybee that I should invent a device that easily crumbles up the ground beef as it cooks. Guess what? A couple years ago I finally saw one in a cooking catalog!

    Somebody “stole” that idea too. 🙂

    All the best,

    Len Penzo dot Com
    .-= Len Penzo´s last blog ..The Great Paper Towel Test: What Brand Is Your Best Value? =-.

  • We indeed are ingenious but many of us lack the confidence to leap….. Your ideas all sounded great!

    They say every person has one hollywood movie in them, I am sure this applies to all aspects of coming up with this.
    .-= Forest´s last blog ..Where To Find Cheap One Way Flights =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    @FinEngr – I’m not sure a stock counts but you too will have a list when you are as old as dirt. It just takes time to have a lot of things fall through you fingers :-). Yes I have read Gladwell, great stuff!

    @Jesse – Supercook looks very cool, neat idea! Opportunities I wished I passed on? My first marriage!

    @kt – odds are against the “boatloads” for most of us but we can never arrive in the right port unless we first sail. Keep up the great work!

    @Evan – I know you mean that in the best of ways. So what are you going to do about it?

    @MoneyReasons – Thanks for the kudos! I would argue however that you have succeeded in creating at least one great thing, your blog.

    @Little House – Your husband certainly understands what I’m talking about. Though if I recall correctly he has built up a respectable business of his own already. He’s the one that really deserves MoneyReasons kudos!

    @Simple in France – I certainly did work on something else and I don’t regret the decision. Truth is, with my immaturity then, I probably would have spent more time with my buddies in the limos than generating revenue!

    @Len Penzo – I swear my wife does it on purpose! She leaves clumps of ground beef in our taco mix and pasta sauces. I’ve got to find that gadget for her. What a great idea.

    It is never too late for something like the fantasy sports site. You’ve just got to build something that adds more value to your customers experience than your competitor.

    @Forest – To your point and Len Penzo’s about initiative, you are right. Confidence is a difficult barrier, but it is little. Once you pull that trigger it gets a lot harder!

  • You know what? There isn’t something that stands out as something that has ever gotten away. I don’t know if I’ve been extremely lucky, or just ignorant.

    There are PLENTY of stocks I could have invested in that I didn’t, as well as some fine real estate investments. But I donno…. I tend to have some private equity investments and have gone for everything I could that makes sense.

    Maybe I’m too easily satisfied though, and that’s why I can’t really recall. Hmmmmmmm. I wonder.

    .-= Samurai´s last blog ..Nick Vujicic Shows Us How to Get Up And Never Quit =-.

  • I would share my missed opportunities with you my friend, but I’m thinking I’ll make this my post of the week in my Weekend Reading tomorrow which means I’ll need to keep something back for then! 😉

    Pop over and see it!

    Thanks for making me think.
    .-= Monevator´s last blog ..Don’t forget your can opener =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    @Samurai- If you have no missed opportunities, perhaps you are not extending yourself far enough? If however, you have taken advantage of all then like you said, you are either very lucky or very ignorant.

    @Monevator – Just checked it out and commented. Thanks for the highlight and I’m glad I made you think. That’s what it is all about, right! Weekend Reading: Opportunity Knocks

  • jan

    when we were kids my mom came up with an idea where you have a box that you put a piece of paper on a spinning wheel…pour paint in thru the top and it made a ‘tie-dye’ look…she contacted a major toy manufacturer with her idea and they told her it was ‘dumb’ and would never work…what do you know…1 yr later here comes this type of toy…(the actual name escapes me now but hopefully you remember what i am talking about…it made it big)….it’s a shame we didn’t understand patents back then….

    i’ve been following your blog for a few months now and have really enjoyed reading the topics and comments from your posters…thanks

    my newest endeavor is a blog aptly named FinallyGettingtoEven.wordpress.com
    please stop by and visit me as i hit the groung running hard….

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    @Finallygettingtoeven – Sorry for the belated reply, the day job has life buried the last couple weeks. I got far behind and I am forced to catch up with the blog a few minutes at a time.

    I think what you were talking about is Spin Art or maybe Twirl O Paint. I remember them and the wife said she had one and loved it.

    Thanks so much for the compliments and best of luck to on the blog! Let me know if I can help.

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