Six reasons why mountain climbing is the best analogy for startups August 9, 2013Posted by Bernard Lunn in Uncategorized.
Disclaimer: I am an avid armchair mountaineer. My climbing is limited to hiking, with an occasional scramble that scares me and some altitudes where the air is a bit thinner. I have scared myself enough looking over cliffs while holding onto fixed ropes and ladders to limit my climbing ambitions.
1. Teamwork. There is a reason the visual cliche of the roped together mountaineers resonates. If your rope-mate has chosen a bad rock to put the rope around and one of you falls, both of you die. If the hacker leaves a bug that crashes the system just when the hustler is demoing to a big cat….Or if the hustler says something dumb to the big cat after months by the tech team of creating the MVP that has just been unveiled… It takes time and shared experience to build this kind of trust.
2. Long routes with multiple stages. This is what differentiates mountain climbing from that other team-work visual cliche – a rowing team. When teams celebrate their Series A, it is worth a moment of sober reflection that this is the equivalent of reaching Base Camp, a critical milestone with the tough stuff yet to come.
3. Technical skills matter. Exactly how you tie the rope or put on a piton matter. Doing this without adequate training is suicidal.
4. Scary. Looking down a cliff where one false move means death is scary. So is being unable to make payroll if you don’t close a deal today.
5. Gutting it out. There are times when it is just a really tough slog, when the weak give up and the winners somehow keep going.
6. Judgement when it really matters. One of the all time great mountaineers, Chris Bonnington, has a great line: “There are bold mountaineers and there are old mountaineers but there are no old bold mountaineers”. Bonnington was rare in being both. He notched up all the great climbs, yet often turned around near the top because he did not like the weather or the lateness of the hour or some other factor. Cool judgement under pressur in other words or “know when to fold ’em and when to hold ’em”.