In 1999, the Internet was a new paradigm. Most people did not even know what the internet was, let alone have a connection. In August 1999, Casey Fenton, along with a few of his friends in San Francisco, came up with an idea. He loved to travel and see new cities. Curious to see if there were others who loved travelling as much, but not the cost that is associated with it; he and a group of friends created a community platform called Couchsurfing. The idea - go wherever you want, find someone who is part of the community and you will be offered a couch to sleep in.
They were too early. They did not really take off because the internet was in its infancy. Communicating the concept to many people took time and money, and the tools did not exist.
The Internet really became accessible only after the introduction of the smartphone which was around 2007/2008. By that time, the founders of Couchsurfing had truly lost their excitement about the company. Casey left by 2011, only remaining the chairman of the board. The company is still operational, but the site feels like one that was created in 2005.
Right place, wrong time.
In July 2007, Magali Boisseau started a company called BedyCasa in Montpellier, France. You would not have heard of the city unless you follow Tour de France. The idea - people have spaces available in their homes and they could accommodate those who would like to stay there. It creates an extra source of income and provides a cheap place to live in for travellers. While the company scaled in Europe, they found it hard to raise capital since Europe did not have a healthy venture capital ecosystem back in the day. After trying valiantly for close to a decade, the company closed down.
Right time, wrong place.
Three jobless friends living in an apartment in San Francisco wanted to make some money to cover rent. Obama was preparing to run for president, and the primaries were on. They put the one extra bedroom with an airbed on the internet for rent. As a publicity stunt, they created a cereal called Obama-Os. In 2008, they sold more cereal than rooms.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, a couple of years earlier, four entrepreneurs came together to create an entity that would support founders who had great prowess in technology but could not deal with the business of fundraising. They called this initiative Y Combinator.
Brian Chesky found Y Combinator and together they got Airbnb enough money to survive and then succeed.
Right place, right time.
Same idea - different outcomes. Any of the three companies mentioned above could have been a runaway success. Exactly the same idea.
More than how hard you work, being at the right place at the right time matters more.