As I was panting my way up “The Walrus” a favorite trail on Vancouver Island that I ride with some friends on Sunday mornings, I began to ponder that starting a technology venture and mountain biking are kinda similar. How so? Consider the following shared principles:
Mo is your friend. On a bike, faster is better than slower when you want to clear obstacles; you’ve got to keep moving or you’re going to get pitched off-course. Same thing with a young company. You’ve got to maintain your momentum in getting your product to market. No time to be polishing the last obscure feature on the product to make it perfect. Get it to market – now – before your novel idea suddenly has nine new competitors.
You’re gonna fall. Assuming that your cycling adventures entail more than just poking over to the local Starbucks, you’re going to be falling down – a lot. Usually small, but sometimes big (couldn’t clip out in time, wheel slide, big endo). Same deal for the entrepreneur. The big prospect says “hi” but never arrives at “buy”. That funding from your girlfriend’s university roommate who now works for a VC…never materializes. Your genius chief architect goes back to Obscurevakia (or was that Obscurestan?). What to do? Anticipate catastrophe. Suck it up and deal with it with a stiff upper lip when (not if) it happens. If this was easy, everybody would be doing it, right?
See the line. Half the key to cycling is seeing and taking the right line. Through a seriously steep loose rock bed, around high-speed corners and riding hard up-hill on loose surfaces. Same thing for the start-up. You have to be able to look ahead and anticipate what is going to be the expedient route to get to market. The right alliances, the best sales channel, the best timing for capital injection.
Don’t look down. When you’re half way through a high, narrow, rain-slicked wooden traverse, you can’t look down and ponder the consequences of a fall and curse the bright idea of doing this North Shore route; you’ve just got to look up, stay steady and pedal. Same thing applies to the entrepreneur. You can’t focus on how financially extended you are, how people are relying on you, and the customer commitments to be honoured. Just look up, stay steady and keep the dream alive.
Watch this space for more clever analogies, as I’ve also concluded that snowboarding is like setting up a wireless router, and that rock-climbing is like baking a soufflé...