Stay Alive Long Enough to Get Lucky

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Hey friends 👋 ,

Happy Monday and welcome to the seventh issue of Through the Noise!

Today we're diving into Charlie Songhurst's success strategy: staying alive long enough to get lucky.

It's time to strap in and enjoy.


Stay alive long enough to get lucky

Charlie Songhurst is a prolific investor. He's invested in 500+ companies globally and has held senior spots in some of the biggest firms in the world.

He started as an analyst at McKinsey & Company in London before running corporate strategy for Microsoft. Songhurst was involved in both the Yahoo and Skype acquisition whilst focusing on partnering and M&A.

His success strategy? Stay alive and get good.

In a podcast with @patrick_oshag, Songhurst explains how the act of surviving is what puts you over the experience curve. The goal isn’t just to stay alive and get lucky. The goal is to stay alive and get good– let's dig a little deeper.

People spend a lot of time studying greatness. They don't study failure. People want to study Mohammed Ali. They don't study all the heavyweight boxers that lost the first match. Songhurst attributes success to avoiding failure modes. So what are failure modes?

If you only study Mohammed Ali, you miss out on all the failures along the way you didn't want to see. Songhurst said it best:

"Don't study greatness, study failure, and work out how not to be that."

Let's take it back to 1943 in World War II. The US Military are suffering severe losses of their bomber fleet from German air defence. When examining the damaged aircraft, the Americans conclude that armour needed to be added to the areas of the plane that were most hit.

Enter Abraham Wald. Wald was a member of the Statistical Research Group (SRG) at Columbia University where he applied his statistical know-how to military problems. He proved that the US Military reached the wrong conclusion...

The military were only considering aircraft that had survived the missions and returned home. Aircraft that were shot down weren't able able to be studied and thus ignored. He argued that armour must be added to the least hit areas of the aircraft instead.

This brings up the idea of "survivorship bias". A common cognitive bias where we only consider things that pass a given selection process (winning in the case of Muhammed Ali) and not losing. This leads to individuals becoming overly optimistic forming incorrect correlation-causation relationships and false conclusions.

What most people see as success is really the result of staying alive long enough to get lucky. Songhurst adds:

“It’s not that good soldiers become veterans, it’s that lucky soldiers become veterans, but veterans are good soldiers.”

Like me, you may have to read that twice...

In a corporate setting the ladder is shorter than what is seems. The turnover is high from industry churn, career preferences and cyclical shocks. Are those left over there because they were the best? Probably not!

Like war veterans, they're the best because they survived. The wombo combo = survival + learning.

Successful founders with unicorns make this look easy. Yet from the outset you don't see their years of failed initiatives, bad hires and poor strategy decisions. Instead, new founders must study how to get your startup past all the common early points of failure.

This phenomenon can be seen in life itself. Comparing yourself to Jeff Bezos is the wrong approach. You don't see these successful leaders with the millions of failures behind them. Each failure is a lesson about what not to do.

So maybe if you study all the boxers who lost to Mohammed Ali, you'll find a commonality in their mistakes. You'll learn what not to do. This will move you much further up the experience curve compared to your peers and make it look easy from an outsider's view.

We can apply Songhurst’s success strategy not just to the investing arena but our own jobs, careers and communities.


Through the Noise Podcast

E7: Rex Woodbury - Investing in the Creator Economy

Last week we recorded the seventh episode of the Through the Noise podcast.

Our guest was Rex Woodbury, Partner at Index Ventures, one of the leading venture firms of the last decade with a portfolio including the likes of Deliveroo, Discord, Dropbox, Notion and Slack. At Index, Rex focuses on early-stage and growth investments in the creator economy with a particular interest in consumer tech, Gen Z, web3 and digital economies.

This was a lot of fun to do! We dived into:

• Surrounding yourself with exceptional people

• NYC startup ecosystem

• How Gen Z is shaping the future

Catch the episode on SpotifyApple and Callin.


That's all for today friends!

As always feel free to reply to this email or reach out @thealexbanks as I'd love to hear your feedback.

Thanks for reading and I'll catch you next Monday.