I think life is a flywheel. While I’m humble about the fact that your starting point in life has a huge impact, the ideas in this post apply to everyone. Life starts with random exploration. You stumble and fall. Find dead ends. Enjoy some things, hate others. But eventually, you start seeing patterns. You start setting goals. First, short-term, then longer and longer into the future. If done carefully, you can establish an exponential growth trajectory. Building starts early; you attend a good school, nurture relationships, read books, and hone your skills. Each step might feel insignificant. Each person you meet or book you read might not feel like all that much. The beginning of an exponential curve is always tedious. But maybe, just maybe, you sense that speed is picking up.

Physicists have a set of carefully defined terms to describe this. There is force. Force is defined as an influence that causes the motion of an object with mass to change its velocity, i.e., to accelerate. And there is momentum. **Momentum ** is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. Both force and momentum are vector quantities possessing both a magnitude and a direction. I think life is about applying a directional force to create acceleration toward your long-term goal. Your momentum builds as long as you are accelerating.

In finance, people call this Compound Interest. Venture capitalists talk about it as The Virtuous Cycle. Top-tier funds get to their position by maintaining a long winning streak. That winning streak is, to some extent, self-sustaining. If you get a few good, early wins, you can build on those. The best entrepreneurs will seek you out. The best LPs will want to invest in your fund. While you are never more than a few bad deals away from losing your acceleration, skilled managers can maintain momentum for a long time. And even increase their acceleration if they make really good decisions. Some of that is luck, but you can manufacture some amount of luck as part of a virtuous cycle. Selecting from a better set of alternatives will make you feel and look luckier. Or more “skilled”.

I think combining The Virtuous Cycle with the idea of Breakthroughness is fascinating. Breakthroughness is a new term I learned recently from Google BIG-bench. Breakthroughness is defined as a measure of the extent to which a model is able to learn a task only once the model grows beyond a critical size. This is in contrast to tasks that exhibit linear improvements with scale. The benchmark concludes that for some tasks, models are useless until they suddenly aren’t. The authors reason about the possibility that such tasks, in fact, do have smooth performance improvements with size if decomposed successfully, but that the combined task appears to have “breakthroughness.” Either way, it’s clear that critical mass unlocks the ability to perform tasks that are impossible with fewer parameters.

I’m reading “Super Founders” right now. It takes a data-driven approach to understand what differentiates founders of billion-dollar companies. It turns out one of the statistically most important advantages you can have is being a “second-time founder.” Entrepreneurs with experience in scaling a business, even to a modest size, are significantly more likely to start a billion-dollar business. The book argues that a large part of this advantage is a result of preferential access. Second-time founders already have a network of potential early-stage employees, investors, and advisors to lean on. That’s a game changer for a nascent company. Another conclusion in the book is that successful founders usually have been creating organizations and networks from a very early age. That likely contributes to an accumulated network. Of course, there are lots of other traits that improve your odds, too, like: intelligence, adaptability, vision, risk tolerance, and operational efficiency.

Hemingway has a poetic way of describing “Breakthroughness” in The Sun Also Rises: “How did you go bankrupt? Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.” I think the same is true for success. And for products. And for companies. And for most things. How did it happen? Gradually, then suddenly. Be patient. Invest in your skills, your network, and your relationships. Make time even for that which feels insignificant.

With luck and a lot of hard work, you can get on an exponential trajectory.