Learning From The Very Best Is A Mug’s Game

The odds that an idea becomes a business are something like one in 50. Probably more if I look back on how many brilliant ideas have been put in front of me and how few have got to the stage of trading.

The odds that a funded business sees an initial public offering (IPO) is about one in 20. So, being generous the odds of becoming an IPO listed public company are about one in a 1000.

And the odds that a public company gets to a billion dollars of revenue is one in 20 again. So, the odds of turning an idea into $1 billion business are about one in 20,000. To give you a sense of how long those odds are 20,000:1 is like one day every 54 years. Pretty scarce.

All the snake-oil salesmen sell people the promise, “you can be richer than your wildest dreams”, but clearly it is a nonsense. The numbers just do not stack up. 20,000:1 is bonkers and 1,000:1 to get to IPO is pretty remote.

My point is that very few businesses make the big time. And there is no shame in not making it big. The problem is we look at the winners, of which there are very few, like Google, Cisco, and Microsoft and for some bizarre reason they are used as the yardstick to measure the remaining 99% of businesses.  I agree that we can learn from their stories but we are not comparing like with like so just how much can we learn that is of value.

So, maybe it is better for most of us to learn from those who are like us but doing really well. By really well I do not mean 10,000 times better than us but maybe one or two times better.

The sooner we compare ourselves with other ambitious and more successful companies the better. When learning guitar, I found Hendrix, Clapton and Keith Richards inspiring but I learnt more from my peers. When learning to play football I found the England football team inspiring (sometimes) but I learnt more from my classmates.

Did I ever play with the Rolling Stones or the England football team?


I was never the one in 100,000 destined to make it to the top. And nor are you, I suspect. I never had the talent and even if I did, I probably didn’t have the attitude, environment, or luck to make it big. I apologise to those that believe in the Law of Attraction. I am afraid the numbers win every time.

It is unlikely you will ever be in the precious minority that breathe the rarefied air of exponential growth. That is OK. You can make more than enough by simply running a great business. Stop thinking you should learn from the exclusive minority and start learning from people more like yourself.