There’s quite a bit of argument over what makes successes successful. What is the most important factor in successful businesses? Is it capital? A great product? Perhaps timing? Intellectual investment maybe? Or perhaps just sheer luck? Well if you do your research you should end up at the conclusion that timing is the most important factor in success.

Now, this is not to discount the importance of any other factor, even luck. Timing is the most critical because it determines the effectiveness of all other factors involved to propel you to success.

In his book on the study of success Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell looks at how the month of birth affects the chances of a child dominating in their sport at the age group level. 6 or 9 months is a very large difference at a young age. He then takes this theory and looks at how the computing moguls Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell and others are all of a certain age. You had to be old enough to understand computers but young enough to want to break away from the norm.

Let’s look at another familiar example, the success of WhatsApp. WhatsApp was not the first instant messenger, that honour goes to ICQ in 1996, though little known CUSeeMe offered this first in 1992. Neither was it the first mobile messenger, MSN messenger now bundled into Skype was an early leader in that regard. WhatsApp was a case of the right approach at the right time. Instead of using arbitrary usernames they leveraged on the fact that phone numbers were already unique and the internet was now firmly in the users’ hands.

It’s often the unsung hero of any success story, perhaps because it seems to be fortuitous rather than planned. However, timing is key. Opportunities are most rife on the cutting edge of developments. New product, new market presents the best combination. That is not to say other combinations don’t work.

Our own local behemoth, Econet is another example of timing being right. We didn’t know it in 1998 but fixed-line telephony and voice traffic as a whole were going to be usurped and rather violently too. The spin-off of Cassava smart tech is another example of timing things right in this organization. With our country plunged deeper into a cash crisis with estimates of electronic money outstripping cash 10:1 the reliance on the instant transacting of mobile money is at an all-time high.

Many moan about the startup landscape in Zimbabwe and its lack of opportunities and funding and whatever else. I’m not so pessimistic about as I believe it is only a reflection of our realities. Replicating an idea from the first world is not enough, you need to add local relevance to it else your idea won’t gain traction. As such I believe we will inevitably see the right startups winning, it just won’t be easy.

Next time you look at the success of others consider the timing as an important factor. As I mentioned timing is the factor that determines the relevance of all other factors involved in success.