What’s luck got to do with it?

“Luck and timing. The success of your startup has as much, if not more, to do with luck and timing in addition to your blood, sweat, and tears. Always remember that.” That was how Harpal Sandhu, CEO at Integral Development Corp. opened his fireside chat with Tom Chavez at our most recent Show N’ Tell at super{set}. It was a great reminder of what’s become one of my top 3 interview questions: “Do you consider yourself lucky? Or, how has luck played a role in getting you where you are?” An answer that I got has stuck with me is, “I consider myself extremely lucky to have been born in the family that I was born in.” That certainly is true for me too and that will be the subject of another post. Which is to say that as I reflect on my life, there is a long list of things that I put down to plain old luck. And timing. Because without the two, I would’ve never met Tom and I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now.

I moved to the Bay Area in June 1998 from Denver to join a young start-up called Imparto Software. Java was all the rage back then but 14 months in there was talk at Imparto about changing the tech stack to Microsoft COM. Impressionable, passionate, naïve young me didn’t want anything to do with Microsoft so I started looking for another gig. Now, I am a bit more pragmatic and Microsoft has made a lot of progress so I can happily consider using Azure. To keep things interesting and mix things up — ‘cuz why not — I decided to look for jobs in San Francisco, Boston, and Denver.

Finding recently funded, early stage startups wasn’t as easy in the late 90s as it is now. I spent a lot of time on Craigslist and through that I found a couple of companies in Boston that I liked. One of my ex-professors connected me with a company in Denver that was doing some interesting work building auction based marketplaces for petroleum markets. The other strategy I came up with was to visit the portfolio pages of VC firms like Accel, Kleiner Perkins, Sequoia, Mayfield, Benchmark, etc. and identify newly funded companies. Given my background in Math and CS, I was looking for companies that were building enterprise software anchored in Math. Today, such companies are dime-a-dozen — in fact there’s an entire category of such companies. But back then, it was slim pickings.

After many, many hours of surfing, I came across a company called Rapt Technologies on the Accel website. And I really liked what I read — Rapt was building software that would help companies like Sun Microsystems optimize their supply chain for components like memory boards, hard disks and processors that were used (shared) in the assembly of Sun servers and workstations. The challenge was to compute procurement plans for components with long (~13 weeks) lead times to meet future demand for servers and workstations where the demand was described by a probability distribution. Fun, right? Today, Rapt would be positioned as a Data/AI/ML company. In 1998/99, the term Data Science hadn’t even been coined. Better yet, Spark didn’t exist. Neither did Hadoop. As usual, I digress.

Tom Chavez was one of the founders and the CEO of Rapt. At the time I found them on Accel’s website, the company didn’t have any other employees other than the founders — everyone else was a contractor. I wrote to Tom on a Wednesday afternoon, waxing eloquent about how my background in Math and CS would be perfect for the company, etc., etc. He responded on Thursday and asked me to come in for an interview on Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoon found me at Rapt’s offices — a one-bedroom apartment in Potrero Hill that had been converted to an office where ½ of a wall was just stacked up with empty Pizza boxes and right across from the apartment was a tennis court in the apartment complex itself. And I thought to myself — pay dirt! Coding, pizza, and tennis — the perfect early-stage startup experience. I wanted this job!

I was interviewed by Tom and Adam Galper, co-founder and CTO. My interview lasted roughly 90 minutes and luckily for them (and me), Rapt was not using Microsoft COM. When the interview ended, Tom drove me to an alley called Ritch Street in SOMA and showed me Rapt’s new offices — in a small warehouse like building on 324 Ritch Street. My mind was racing with all sorts of questions — why is he showing me around the new offices, did I crack the interview and do I already have a job — I was confused. As I was trying to make sense of all this, Tom said, “look, I don’t know where you are in your job search but it’s clear to me that you have a lot of gumption when it comes to problem solving and early stage company building and I’d like you to come work with us at Rapt.” My first (internal) reaction was, “gumption? Really? People use GRE words in day to day conversations?” I did summon the good sense finally to express my gratitude for the offer and that I’d get back as soon as possible.

Along the way, I had interviewed with and also received offers from companies in Boston, Mountain View, and Denver. Somehow the idea of moving to Boston or Denver was more appealing before I started my job search than after I had concluded it. Ultimately, inertia won and I accepted the job offer from Rapt. So, what about luck and timing then? Well, I would later find out that the day I found Rapt on Accel’s website was the day after the portfolio page was updated to include Rapt and it was a week after Rapt had closed their Series A with Accel.

What luck! And timing! Yes, inertia and gumption helped too. I don’t know what would’ve happened had I not been on Accel’s website that day and found Rapt. What I do know is that I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for the perfect alignment of the sun, moon, and the stars — otherwise known as luck — that began my partnership and friendship with Tom.

Serial entrepreneur and technologist; Co-founder and General Partner, super{set} startup studio;