2012 is almost here. Wow, what a year 2011 has been! Just 12 months ago I was beginning my 6th semester at UIUC, wouldn’t have thought about dropping out, and knew almost nothing about Silicon Valley or startups.

Everyone makes lists of new year’s resolutions, but I rarely see people make lists that reflect on what they’ve learned. I believe they’re equally powerful, especially on the internet, where we can all share lists.

Let’s have a go at it. I’m going to do this in three parts, so here is the first of my three lessons learned from 2011:

How To Make Yourself Lucky

There’s a pretty lame saying that you’ve probably heard 20 times already: “Luck is where preparedness meets opportunity”. Awesome. Pretty easy… except most people view opportunities as luck in the first place. Everyone says the’re prepared, but the opportunities never come. I don’t think the two variables are distinct.

Actors and Musicians get lucky when they’re discovered, Zuck was lucky to have D’Angelo and Parker, Jobs was lucky to have Woz. Accident or purposeful, they were all in the position to find the opportunity. Let’s assume you’re prepared for opportunities that come across your way - what now? Are you done? Hell no.

If I’ve learned one thing this past year, it’s that opportunities don’t arrive from a random number generator. Find opportunities or have them find you.

  1. Identify clusters of opportunity that relate to your passion

    I took a consulting internship in Chicago for the summer of 2011. On day 2 of my job, which was actually interesting, I quit. I quit because I got an email, and then a call from a startup in Silicon Valley that needed designers. After spending $2500 on the summer’s rent in Chicago and winning incubator space for my Chicago-based startup, I said screw it, and flew out to the valley. Why? Where a single opportunity arises, more will follow. As anyone looking for a job knows right now, this doesn’t happen all the time. No companies seem to be hiring, but in the valley, every company is hiring. There is a true talent shortage south of San Francisco. What ultimately ended up happening seems so random and “lucky”, but it wouldn’t have happened if I had stayed in Chicago. Turns out Backplane, this crazy opportunity of a company that I’m now developing, started in the same building as the initial startup that flew me out. Opportunities cluster. When you identify clusters, move towards them and get excited.

  2. You always have resources

    And if you don’t, put yourself in the position to find them. Resources turn into opportunities. Last year, I joined my school’s entrepreneurship advisory board to help administrate and guide faculty-led events. From the board, I heard about the Cozad Competition. 4 months later, Jason Febery and Myself fleshed out the idea for Contendable, started building the product itself, and beat out 65 other startups to take the gold and $15,000 worth of prizes with it. Even your teacher’s are resources: the initial spark for Contendable came when I was chatting with my Technology Venture Marketing Professor. If you’re not still in school, it’s a tad harder, but there are still resources. Go to meetups in your area, start a local event for like-minded people, and utilize the internet.

  3. Shamelessly publicize yourself like a company

    Companies get opportunities by generating leads from advertising and publicity. Do the same. Set up a blog, put yourself in public channels, use your network to spread your message. All of these things are extremely important because you can never have too many friends or too much publicity, unless, of course, it’s because you got really hammered at that party last night. Ultimately, everything you do is more powerful with an initial group of people behind it. Your friends, your co-workers, and even strangers across the world can be that group.

So what have you learned this past year? Email me, tweet me, reply to this… I dont’ care! Just share your newfound wisdom. It’s valuable.