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Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sailing the Startup Seas

Sailing the start up Seas

The Analogy

I like analogies. I especially like those that are vivid and graphic and speak to large numbers of us. Building a technology company, startup or otherwise, is a complicated, dynamic and, I hesitate to say, even chaotic, activity. I tried to think of another human activity that parallels this at least in some ways and I think I've come up with one: sailing the oceans. Actually … sailing in the good old days at the time of Columbus in wooden sailing vessels. Let's look at the parallels:

  1. Both are done in vessels made by a group of people. Startup companies are like smaller sailing vessels. Big corporations are more like clipper ships. Columbus was a startup.
  2. Navigating the ocean (or the ocean of business) is a tricky business, subject to winds and tides and other elements beyond our control.
  3. Our ability to navigate these aided by only the most primitive tools. In Columbus's case he had primitive maps and perhaps a crude sextant. We have marketing surveys and the media, the modern maps for navigating our technology companies. Columbus's maps only went so far, and showed the edge of the Earth with notes like "Monsters be here". There is, of course, a big difference between these maps and a marketing survey. The warnings on the maps of monsters and the edge of the Earth were myths, while the oceans were quite real. In a marketing analysis, the description of the market and its potential (the analog to the ocean) are myths, while the very real dangers of falling off the edge or getting eaten by monsters are unmentioned, unmarked and undreamed of, but quite real.
  4. You may be sailing along smoothly, but at any moment the environment can turn quite nasty, develop into a big, nasty storm … and sink you.
  5. Pirates could appear at any time, shooting your ships to bits, capturing your crew and plundering your assets.
  6. When you get somewhere, you may think you know where you are, but in actuality, you may not have a clue as to where you truly are.
  7. When you have finished your voyage of exploration and returned to your homeport, people will have trouble understanding where you've been and what you found, even if you bring a captive or two to show off.
  8. The actual results of your voyage will not be apparent, even if you think they are. It may take quite of bit of time to see the real results, and you may not be the one to profit from them.
  9. If you don't bring back the gold and jewels the sponsors of your voyage expected, you might lose your head.

I'd like to go on, but the parallels get weaker and I think the point was made, enjoy your voyage it will change you for ever and have fun.



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