“It really wouldn’t surprise me if in five years I’m doing something because someone who I met at some random point has contacted me with a great idea.” – Sam

Sam Priestley talks about one of the ideas central to the way he does business. Serendipity. And how he prepares himself and remains ready for unforeseen opportunities.

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What is serendipity? [1:58]
Positioning oneself for serendipity [3:32]
Serendipity as an action [05:17]
Finding opportunities in current events like Brexit [06:02]
Sam explains the arbitrage opportunity on the 2012 US presidential election [07:43]
How the table tennis bat business came about serendipitously [09:35]
Having flexibility to pursue rare opportunities [10:52]
On transferable skill sets and being nimble [12:43]
Opportunities with Emma’s supper club [14:18]
The importance of networking everyone [15:21]
Creating useful contacts [16:43]
How to spend your time [18:32]
Why does Sam listen to a lot of podcasts? [19:22]
The limits when you start a business [21:46]
“Thinking time” in a full time job [23:15]
Muses on the medium of podcasts [24:35]
How Sam and Ben became business partners [25:32]
The benefits of brainstorming without any clear things in mind [26:48]
Discussion on risk taking [28:10]

Sam: Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Lazy Entrepreneur. I’m your host, Sam Priestley and as usual I’m joined by my lovely wife, Emma. Before we get started today, I just want to say that each episode I generally change a few things around, like how the sound recording works and how the studio is set up and it should be getting better and better each time, but if you are going from episode to episode and the audio changes volume or something in between I’m sorry for that hopefully as we get better at this it all gets smoother and smoother. So now we’ve both got our own microphones we’ve got some soundproofing some muffling in the little studio and it should be getting better and clearer and also my post-production should be getting a bit better.

Emma: It’s very high-tech in here.

S: I should start taking some pictures.

E: Yeah!

S: It’s got a little sound mixer thing on my computer as well all this technology I know nothing about but that’s alright! Okay, today I want to talk about a concept that I think about quite a lot and it’s quite important to the way I do business and the way I live my life I suppose. It is one of my favourite words and I’m not even sure I’m using it correctly that’s the funny thing I’ve kind of made up a meaning for it. There might not even be true both say I’ll define it how I think it what I think it means and then if that’s wrong that’s right so the word is serendipity so let’s see what wikipedia says we could be the serendipity is the occurrence and development of event by chance in a happy or beneficial way so what does that mean well the way I interpret it it’s that you are positioning yourself or you are ready to take to make the most of opportunities when they come up you don’t know what that is going to be you don’t know what that happy or beneficial event is gonna be you know what that what what the future holds but you are ready for when something good comes up and you are able to make the most of it. I think the concept is slightly countercultural because it often means doing nothing, it means waiting. Not doing anything particularly productive but just being ready for when stuff happens. I know that’s a bit wishy-washy so I’m gonna try and sort of mail it down a little bit kind of maybe give a few examples from the last few years when I’ve used it and talk about how I’m kind of using it at the moment and then also talk about what it’s not yeah let’s talk about that first so what it is not is doing nothing it’s not annex serendipity waiting for something better to come a long way for an opportunities come along it’s actually a slightly active thing it’s not sitting around playing video games all day. That might happen, you might get a call from Chelsea or something asking you to play in their first team but it’s pretty unlikely that a great opportunity will happen without a lot of work put into it.

E: Well yeah like you’re you’re waiting for an opportunity to happen, it is an active thing

S: Yeah it is all about positioning yourself and making sure you’re ready and prepare kind of actively looking for these opportunitiy. It’s hard because we don’t know what the future holds and I think that a lot of people overestimate their abilities to predict what’s gonna happen unless early the case of that is when I plan out things I want to be like well I think whatever is going to be the next big thing and I want to do this or I think in two years time I’m gonna be doing this but really whenever I look at where I thought I’d be in two years time I’m never that at all I’m not doing to be completely different two years ago. I say three years ago I wondered if I’d be doing a gin business, before that I probably would be getting traveling, or getting married. I was starting a coffee shop, or I’m running the tech startup or having a successful blog or a podcast because I hate the sound of my own voice.

E: Yeah are these things on in your five ten year plan?

S: I do have a five ten year plan but not having the details defined out yeah it’s quite important. Okay so that’s kind of the concept let’s talk a little bit about some examples.

E: Yeah yeah I think that will help I think it will help.

S: It’s hard to kind of describe because it is quite wishy-washy and abstract because you’re basically relying on luck.

E: Yeah.

S: But it’s like it’s like the same you make your own luck and you make your own luck by being able to have the time or the money or whatever it is to jump on whatever opportunities come up and also having kind of a mindset where you’re looking for those opportunities. Yeah so one thing that I’m doing at this moment in time and I wrote a blog post about it a few weeks ago but recently I sold an investment and so I got quite a large chunk of money land on my bank account and instead of just putting it straight into long-term investments or buying whatever or on a rental property, I purposely put most of it aside in short-term investments really to be used when an opportunity comes up and really what I’m thinking about here is Brexit Britain is leaving the EU we don’t know what that deal is going to look like. We don’t know what’s going to happen to the stock market and house prices. We know what business opportunities are going to occur we don’t know what arbitrage opportunities are going to occur and I just want to be ready for whatever they are. I often get asked you know do I think the house prices are going to crash. I don’t know. If I did know then I be acting on that one I don’t know what will hapen so what I am doing is I’m leaving myself open for that possibility whatever opportunity comes up I’m kind of ready for it. Another example with money is um I’ve kind of plucked out because it’s quite a nice little story. I often investigate kind of random ideas so I have float set aside to invest in these ideas opportunities they’re often very short-term things that will hopefully pay me back quite quickly and these spend quite a bit of time looking around and I’ve come across quite a few in my time and one of them that I want to tell you about is during the 2012 presidential election. The US presidential election here in the UK we all considered it at pretty obvious that Obama would win but in USA, in the u.s. that was not case and all the prediction markets had it kind of a 50/50 probability.

E: Yeah.

S: Now the thing is you can you can put your money where your mouth is when it comes to these prediction markets both here in the UK and the USA so I had a look and I discovered that the odds, the payout I would get if I kind of bet on Mitt Romney in the US would be a lot higher would create an arbitrage opportunity if I was betting on Obama here in the UK. yeah quite a big difference and so I was able to put my entire kind of opportunity float that I had on this one opportunity which paid me I think it was about a 30 percent return in kind of a couple of weeks.

E: That’s really good!

S: And that’s not the only example of that there’s other similar things. Even a lot of my businesses, if I had a start like that like with the table tennis business which is currently my most profitable business, that was one of these situations. I had a little float set aside for investing in kind of random ideas and and that’s what we did we didn’t put much thought into it and we spent I think it was under, a few thousand pounds might be three thousand pounds or something on an initial stock of a turbulence bats that we didn’t put much thought into and decided to try and sell it and see what happened. Basically, actually let me go through a little bit deeper. The concept was that my friend Ben had a popular table tennis blog where through which he was referring people to certain websites by chance bats and he was earning a slight Commission on it and he was selling maybe something like 20 a month or something like that so he fought well instead of doing that him earning five percent, why don’t we start our own table tennis brand and he can you know that we are at least as good as these other ones and we can get those 20 sales for ourselves so he had a side date with well he’s gotta get 20 sales. There’s not that much risk, it was an opportunity to do it so we tried it out and then it developed into this huge business which is now running today. That’s kind of it so I have a little float I set aside ready for these rare opportunities, stuff that I would never go for. And like people ask me are you really into table tennis? I think I’d never played table tennis before starting this idea and I now got quite a bit into table tennis and I ended up doing a bunch of other stuff in table tennis but at the time it was that it was an opportunity that we saw and wanted to take advantage of. So that’s the money side of it but really the most important thing is is with your time, it’s one of those things where you need to have the flexibility to work on something that just appears like I’ve taken opportunity. That could be anything. Let’s say I’ve got a phone call from a popular TV show that wanted me to appear on it to interview me about one of the products I’ve done and it was in LA and I had to like fly off and do it.

E: Yeah.

S: If I was working full time on a business and doing all that, then I would have to turn on those and sometimes it is the right thing to do, sometimes you’re in the midst of an opportunity and it is the right time to turn down an opportunity that appears but then other times it’s not. Another times you want to be had the flexibility to go and do that and that could be anything that could be going along to a networking event, it could be being interviewed by someone, I keep going on to conferences. It could be all sorts of things, but generally your opportunity is probably going to take quite a lot of time, especially if it’s a business which is kind of what this podcast is about. If the opportunity that occurs is some sort of new thing maybe the next fidgets spinners come along you can just act on it. Finish spinners is fidget spinners is probably quite a nice example because nobody could have predicted that fidget spinners would become this huge thing.

E: Yeah they random

S: They’re so random but certain people were in better positions to benefit from it than others and it’s not because they thought of fidgets spinners, they just already had the experience with setting up logistical supply chains and finding factories to do that and are able to act on it. Also something I’ve been thinking about recently with our Pipehouse Gin business. Gin is a bit of a craze at the moment and we love it and… but most people talking about what is the next craze and the answer is I don’t know but when we do know, we’ll be in a very nice position to benefit from X we’ve already got all the legal sets out we already know exactly what we’re doing transitioning from gin, one type of alcohol to another type of alcohol is going to be very easy yeah we’ve already got bars, we have relationships with distributors, we already know you got all the legal sorted out. We we know how much bottles and stuff costs and labels

E: Suppliers.

S: Suppliers. We’re in a very good opportunity to benefit from that even though I don’t know what that might be. I’ve also been thinking a bit about your supper clubs so mi you have a small business where you host supper clubs people come round to our house every few weeks. They are paid guests, you have about eight people come and you cook like a three or four-course meal for them. That is never gonna be a huge business on its own. There’s only so many, we can only fit ten people in our house.

E: And I can only host so many.

S: Yeah but it does open you up to other opportunities should they come up. Someone might come to your supper club who might be a publisher in cookery books, and they might love it and then you would be positioned to start that, or you could start developing social media following, start doing YouTube videos, or whatever. Your current approach is quite often by people wanting to do joint venture supper clubs of you.

E: Yeah in bigger places yeah particularly from the hosting point of view because because I do the hosting and the cooking. There are quite a few professional chefs out there that are looking for people to to host and to understand the evening and then kind of be behind the scenes because you tend to be one or the other and not really both in the industry which is quite interesting.

S: And I mean it you have an idea of how to get your clubs in front of customers, how to get people around, you know a little bit about what it takes what is kind of stuff or there could be an opportunity that comes up that neither of us have even thought of.

E: Well yeah yeah someone has a really good idea or yeah they want to meet with me for coffee to offer me an opportunity and the thing is if I wasn’t doing supper clubs I wouldn’t really be putting myself out there.

S: You wouldn’t be in the food industry we’re doing yeah cuz you do spend quite a lot of time going for coffees for people just because you’ve got similar interests. Which you’ve then, people are doing similar things with food, doing innovative things in food who you never would have met if you weren’t running your own albeit it being a small food business.

E: Exactly and it’s all about contacts in whatever industry you’re in. It’s knowing the influential people, it’s knowing the people that have the budget, make the big decisions, running other events etc

S: Definitely which neatly brings on to my next point which was you should try and be serendipitous with your approach to networking and the people I mean it’s quite easy to not want to meet up or network with people who you can’t think of a direct reason that would be beneficial to your business or whatever you’re doing you often see a networking event where people will do the rounds they’ll speak to someone and then as soon as they kind of get their job description, or if they don’t meet the person that is useful to them or not then if not quickly extricate themselves and move on to the next conversation maybe that works for them maybe not um whereas I think of it as a slightly different angle is that people who are doing anything interesting I want to know about I want to get to know him anyone who I think is a sort of inspirational person or doing something unusual or different or it’s got anything to do at all with what I’m doing, he’s really interesting. I remember I was um I was out in Malta and I have a friend and there was someone there who runs a beard oil business it’s one of the favorite people I’ve ever gone and chatted to

E: Yeah

S: I’ve got another friend who sells like stuff like dehumidifiers or things like that really interesting so I wanted to speak to him um obviously there’s all different people all our competitors who are making Gin, now competitors but still interesting people to talk to and all these people I take inspiration from the beard oil guy he gave me lots of contacts, so I met him and then a year later we started the Gin business and I contacted him to ask about labeling companies in the UK and he gave me lots of tips and stuff for that which was useful deep dehumidifier I know he’s quite keen to do a joint venture with me. He’d be very up for like a big business is what he’s kind of thinking something where we’d raise kind of seven figures and I know that he’s a bigger person I know that he’s got a real strong work ethic he’s a smart guy and he’s able he’s built this big business himself so even though dehumidifiers are what he’s working on currently it’s not something I’m interested in he is all that person could they’re not doing something with really good but there’s loads of that sort of thing there’s loads of people who at the moment there’s no kind of link with yeah but actually in the future and it really wouldn’t surprise me if in five years I’m doing something because someone who I met at some random point has contacted me with a great idea and I feel like that’s also great idea there that’s good yeah and vice-versa I was going to many people who I contact because I’ve met him at some point I’ve had my day and I’ve been like Joe Blanc’s is perfect for this I think they’re already kind of a diverse network is very important. It’s not about just focusing on your industry it’s about people that have the characteristics that you like and making that something that you take seriously as I said even if there’s not anything that you can do it in right away

E: Yeah with the projects you’re currently working on

S: So we’ve spoken a little bit we’re still kind of talking about time how you spend your time and one of them is it’s so funny what’s up my phone is lit up with someone asking me to do a joint venture to do with a slow Gin anyway [Laughter] What I’m saying is there’s all that time you know networking blah blah so I think and I’ve already mentioned having the free time to grab opportunities isn’t a case of doing nothing and waiting for it happen it’s not playing video games all the time it’s funny it is finding stuff that is productive but isn’t a commitment to your time so one thing I do is I listen to a lot of podcasts all sorts of things from kind of fitness lifestyle development biographical I have ones about cults and crime kind of a real wide range of stuff but all of which they’re not they’re not necessarily just consumption for the sake of consumption they’re all kind of stuff which I know could lead to some sort of inspiration or an idea or something and I do a lot of that and I’ll binge listen if it’s something I hope the people maybe do with this podcast it’s having it on in the background while there so I listen to a podcast while doing my accounts because they’re quite boring and they don’t really take any brainpower and I’ll just have podcast playing back to back in the background. Same with reading books I read a lot of books I listened to a lot of audiobooks as well again stuff like there’s all the kind of self-help books out there there’s business ebooks theres management books and then there’s biographical books about influential people. There’s historical books I get a lot of inspiration from history and how sort of people have done stuff in previous eras and I like to translate how that would work on today but all of those things if an opportunity came on I could just drop them all and move straight onto it so watching documentaries spending quite a bit time doing that, do all stuff which is useful to do so I’m going to networking events as we’re talking about going to conferences meeting up with loads of random people for coffee building your network all this stuff you can just drop for no reason because even though it’s useful something better and come up that is more useful or you might get inspiration for something and go and spend all your time doing that so it’s productive but not not something you have to spend not say well I said it’s a productive easier time but it’s not sure it’s not something you’ve committed yourself to to do regularly whereas what I find with people who maybe start having recently started their business or even people are quite deep into business is that they are a hundred percent in the thick of it and they don’t have any spare time at all for anything else same with people it’s hard for me to be a bit snobby about people of jobs but if you have a job you’re spending all your time working on that job and if a great opportunity comes up you can’t just drop it and move on to that but maybe you can with your free time you’re doing yeah your evenings your weekend’s evenings your weekend maybe the thing is if you have a full-time job is not booking up every weekend or evening with social event

E: Yeah

S: Having that time for serendipity time for you to think of fruit for inspiration

E: Yeah I was gonna say about timing things through because that’s a really big thing with you

S: Yeah actually it really is and it’s something I probably should have put into that productive time and then what I spent a lot time doing it’s not just consuming stuff for inspiration but also actively thinking through stuff working on my ideas I’ve spoken a bit before about kind of the ten ideas habit I kind of stole from James Altucher where I’ll think of a topic and then just come up with loads of ideas for it but even just that I’ll spend a lot of time kind of musing over how things are going kind of ideas thinking about what I could do for the future yeah and

E: That really got my attention because I was used to working in a 95 and actually we didn’t have any time to think the thinking time was when we weren’t working so it was evenings and weekends when you didn’t want to be thinking about work you wanted to switch off so I found that concept of I don’t know going to a coffee shop listen to listen to a podcast sitting there with a cup of coffee and thinking actually quite strange because it’s not something I’ve done before

S: yeah I don’t know if Google does it anymore but they used to have, I don’t have the exact details of it but it’s something like every employee would have something like 15% of their time would be for their own projects for whatever they wanted to work on and that’s where a lot of Google’s greatest stuff like Gmail or things all came from yeah these people just their employees we let loose to do whatever they want but had that free time and then when a great when something great appears from one of these employees and Google runs a bit and turns in something even greater yeah is yeah I hope I haven’t been too wishy-washy in this episode because it is a bit of a wishy-washy concept and it’s one that I don’t really have a very good definition for

E: well this is the whole point in the podcast isn’t it it’s to talk about you’re like how you think about a topic in your own head and in your own words you’re not trying to come up with these are the five points to having the perfect life to make the most of opportunities you know it’s your musings yeah yeah and something where um hopefully it’ll be useful hopefully you’ll spend 25 minutes listening to this and go there, that’s a good idea so let’s just leave you on a one final example or serendipity and how we positioned ourself for serendipity and it ended up working out so my long-term business partner Ben Larkin and there’s actually one of the bonus episodes of this podcast is the interview of him you can listen to. Ben Larkin is a longtime business partner of mine but the reason he became a business partner is because I just sold my business ET advisor and I was left with an office that I still had a lease on it was I think we had about four months left in this lease it was a six person office and at that time it was just me in there. At the time Ben was working full-time as a table tennis coach and so I spoke to him and I said why don’t you drop down a couple of days a week you can come in to the office and we’ll spend two days a week working together and just try and come up with something. We had an idea at the beginning I had asked him, I am trying to remember what it was, it was like a Groupon style website for casino bonuses

E: yeah

S: something very random

E: Specific

S: it’s very specific it was an idea I had and I was looking for someone to work on it and I always wanted to work Ben because he really kind of inspires me like the way he thinks and approaches stuff and so I watched him to come in for two days a week pretty quickly it turned out that that business didn’t work out but he kept coming into the office and we kept him kinda doing a bit with his own thing, talking through ideas did a bit brainstorming not with any real clear thing in mind and then and it worked out and eventually the first inspiration kind of struck which was the table tennis bats and we’ve been working together ever since now we do that we have our Gin business together I did the expert in a year project with him all sorts of things and it all started because he made that commitment to quit two days a week of his job in order to he was working he had a good contract something that was really – people in his industry really wanted which was he was coaching at schools five days a week he quit two days a week at various schools in order to see what happens in order to allow serendipity in projects that he didn’t didn’t visualize think about the difference between a table tennis equipment business and a like Groupon style website for casino bonuses they’re completely different and there was no kind of predicting kind of either one but yeah so he made that commitment and it worked out for him

E: yeah I’m really glad you bought that example up because I wanted to as well here’s the point I wanted to make it was about taking risks hmm because it was a risk that Ben dropped down some of his coaching time but also during that time you were trying lots of different businesses and lots of different ideas so you were open but also willing to try different things and and it was a bit risky

S: Yeah I mean I haven’t talked about what I was doing which was I just sold a business so I suddenly had all this free time but I still get into the office five days a week trying to find out what the next thing was didn’t really have an idea what it was

E: But you’ve got to get yourself out there

S: Yeah, just waiting for that serendipity to happen. All right on that note we’re gonna say goodbye I hope you’ve enjoyed the episode and as always if you have any feedback or you just want to speak to speak to us just email me at hello@sampriestley.com and also I’d really appreciate it if you could leave us a good review five stars please adios