Like all of you, I love startups. It’s my being and my business. I also love travel. Travel is all about venturing into unchartered territory, and experiencing new cultures and people. Starting up is very similar. During my recent travel to Australia, I visited many breathtaking places, and through some captivating images, I would like to draw a parallel between these two passions of mine.
1. The stunning first visual is called the ‘Twelve Apostles’, along the Great Ocean Road about two hours from Melbourne. These rock pillars have withstood centuries of pounding and swelling waves beating against the coast. In fact, a few have eroded and crumbled, and now they're fewer than 12.
I thought this very akin to our lives as startups. As an entrepreneurial team, you're constantly pounded by the competition, finicky customers, changing team compositions, and downturns in markets. And everything around us is changing – it’s windy, and even stormy. Yet we have to be bellwethers, standing tall. And hence it begs the question, how do we ensure we're the last man (or woman) standing?
2. The second and third images are stories of true resilience of penguins off Philip Island. Again off Melbourne, Philip Island hosts these determined penguins coming back to shore after half a day plunged in the same pounding waves, all just to feed their chicks, patiently waiting in burrows as far as one km away from the shore.
This reminded me of the critical metrics and milestones we all set out to track against, measure and hopefully outperform. These penguins have to hit successive levels before they make it. First, surviving and staying ahead of predators; then ensuring they find and can hold onto enough food; then making it back ashore past sunset in the dark past predators; then finding their way back into their home burrows; and all this before they find their chicks who are still hopefully alive. Reminded me how important endurance and resilience are to startups.
3. The fourth visual is of the famed Sydney Opera House. What's remarkable is that it looks iconic and different from every angle, every facet. (If you Google for its image it will show how different it looks from different angles.)
In our world, the best startups usually have more than one facet "checked". That is, it can't be just the team or product or customer traction or competitive differentiator. It has to be a "package". How do we hire, build and scale so that we're multi-faceted and can come to be the number one or two category leaders. How do we come to occupy and dominate an iconic position?
So, given we don't have an on/off switch but are perennially thinking about that next big idea -- we look to all experiences, whether they're daily routines or exotic travel, drawing important lessons for our own worlds.
Finally, I'd like to add a quote from Mark Zuckerberg (who I do admire for having the guts to open his wallet for Whatsapp, Oculus and other acquisitions -- all at the age of 29 when his more experienced counterparts at Google and Microsoft couldn't. Incidentally, all these founders are Harvard / Stanford dropouts).
If you’re successful, most of the things you’ve done were wrong. What ends up mattering is the stuff you get right. If you get a few big things right, you can make some pretty important changes in the world.
So, here's to each of us getting those "few big things right" in 2015!