What are the odds?

Khruangbin performing at the 2019 Haldern Pop Festival

Mark: Wanna start a band?
Laura: I’m not a musician…
Mark: Are you willing to learn?

In 2007, Laura followed a friend to his place for lunch. In the living room, she saw Mark watching a documentary about Afghan music. What are the odds, she thought. Wasn’t I the one studying Middle Eastern art history? Talking about that part of the world, in the middle of Houston Texas, made for a quick bond. The next day, Laura found Mark on MySpace and sent her number. A couple of weeks passed, and she picked up her phone to a text message: “The universe smiles upon you.” She knew immediately who it was from.

The Universe Smiles Upon you — Khruangbin album cover
The Universe Smiles Upon you — Khruangbin album cover

Mark was a guitarist playing in a Houston church gospel band together with his drummer friend DJ. Laura started crashing Mark and DJ’s weekly Tuesday post-church hangouts. They ate hamburgers, played darts, and talked music. For three years.

Laura wasn’t a musician, let alone a bassist. But Mark thought she could play bass. Mark and Laura started jamming in an old barn his family owned near Houston. They would open the doors and play their music to the cows. Soon they brought DJ to the mix, which marked a new beginning for the wonder trio. Laura had to leave her job, and start a new life as the bassist of Khruangbin. The name means aero plane in Thai, and it was her favorite word when she was learning how to speak the language.

Khruangbin — Photo by Andrew Cotterill

Khruangbin has a unique sound. It’s something you’ve never heard, yet it feels like you’ve always known it. It’s so simple, yet complex. It has layers of multiple cultures, dimensions, and time. It’s like all Tarantino movies combined.

It’s not only their sound that’s unique; it’s also the way they create music. First, DJ creates drum patterns and sends them to Laura. Laura then creates a bunch of bass lines and passes them to Mark. Mark listens, plays his guitar, puts them together. They then come together, practice, play and record at one time. Usually at Mark’s parents’ barn.

Khruangbin’s album Con Todo El Mundo cover features cows from Mark’s parents’ barn

Why am I telling you this story? Well, besides being my current audio obsession, Khruangbin made me realize this: In order to create something extraordinarily awesome, you need to make room for random coincidences.

Khruangbin is not the only Twilight Zone tale of “extraordinary success of random coincidences” story. Take Martin and Marc, two sports car enthusiasts who bonded with a guy named Elon over the fascination with the possibility of interplanetary civilization at Mars Society members gathering. Tesla, the startup they founded, is on its way to being the most valuable company in the world, while showing the world what an environment friendly, self-driving, S3XY car looks like. Take Eren and Oktay, two extraordinarily smart Turkish immigrants meeting Gagan at an entrepreneurship event and starting Udemy, the online platform that has democratized education for more than 40 million students around the world.

Tesla founders Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning

I see a similar pattern carrying over to the most exciting and unexpectedly awesome parts of my career so far. The most important moments that determined future successes started with serendipitous jamming.

When I was a first-time resident in the US, I wanted to help some startups I liked but didn’t know where to start. Should I start a company? What are my options? Which ones are the best? What kind of paperwork is there to fill out? What happens to my insurance? What happens to my taxes? Oh my!

I was not an accountant, CPA or lawyer, and I didn’t have answers to any of these questions. I did a lot of reading and talked to a lot of experienced people who had been through this. One of those people was Bugra, my best friend from college. He was one of the smarter ones, top of our class, always timely and organized. He also happened to be a stellar entrepreneur, building a business from zero to hundreds strong. He immediately related to my problem and started jamming with me. We felt like we heard a click.

After interviewing over 100+ people who’d started their own business of one, I shared my vision with Bugra and we decided to start Collective. We found passion around a common pain point, envisioned a solution big enough to make a positive impact on millions of people like us, and took on the massive project of trying to make a dent in the world with a business.

Then we met Hooman, a successful entrepreneur and investor who I’ve known for a while. What are the odds, I thought, that he was thinking about building something similar to what we’ve been building? It started us meeting regularly to jam about what kind of a future vision we have, then evolved into him investing and getting more hands on, then eventually becoming one of us — one of the three co-founders of Collective.

Today, Collective helps hundreds of successful self-employed people and growing. We’re creating the platform for businesses of one to start and grow, with peace of mind, and we’re backed by some of the most exciting investors — General Catalyst, Google’s Gradient Ventures, QED, Ashton Kutcher, Expa and more.

Collective co-founders, Bugra, Hooman and Ugur

Would I ever have started Collective if I hadn’t gone through the pain of being a business of one myself? Would Bugra have joined me if the timing wasn’t right? What are the chances of me meeting Hooman who had a similar vision, which turned into a platform that could potentially help millions of entrepreneurs? How could we become a great team, if we didn’t take our time to jam with him? How could we meet at the right time, in the right place, at the right time, when self-employment was booming? What are the odds? Is it luck? Is it faith? Is it a bunch of random coincidences? Is it timing? All of the above?

I strongly believe success, in its common definition, can be achieved by hard work and persistence. Paradoxically, I also believe random coincidences are an inseparable part of success. I believe everyone has some of these moments in life, but successful people follow the path that they reveal. You can’t separate Khruangbin, Tesla, Udemy or Collective from their serendipitous origin; those seemingly impossible coincidences are a part of their success now. Maybe being comfortable with things outside of your control is the secret ingredient to creating something exciting. So next time you find yourself in an impromptu jam session — keep the music going.

My favorite live performance of Khruangbin, for your auditory pleasure :)

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed, please let me know and share your thoughts on Twitter. I would love that ❤️

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Engineer by training, designer at heart, product in craft. Co-founder Collective.com empowering business-of-one. Former @Memebox (YC W14), @Udemy

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Ugur Kaner

Ugur Kaner

Engineer by training, designer at heart, product in craft. Co-founder Collective.com empowering business-of-one. Former @Memebox (YC W14), @Udemy

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