Similarities between learning to ski and a startup
Yesterday was opening day at Heavenly. So after a lot of shenanigans about not being able to find our ski clothes (thus we needed to buy new ones), renting the ski gear for my younger daughter, and waiting in line to pick up our season pass (which was supposed to be mailed to us but they were not, and this is the only way to get in : P), we are finally skiing. It was a blast! Worth all the hoops we had to jump through. As I was descending quickly along the hills watching the beautiful lake Tahoe below me, I can’t help but to compare my experience of learning to ski as an adult with trying to start a new startup.
It’s damn hard.
Let’s not kid ourselves. In 2012, when I finally made the determination to learn to ski, for a variety of stupid reasons (one of them being I was dumped by a boyfriend because I couldn’t), it was HARD. Why would you spend all this money, rent all the gear, strap all of them on to you, only to fall inaccessibly with no ability to lift yourself up? It’s definitely not for the faint hearted. Especially for me, a naturally clumsy, not so physically fit person to start with. But I really wanted it. So I kept on trying. Until I finally got it. Well, kinda sorta. This is the same as starting a startup. It’s just so hard. And you have the choice of not doing it, just like instead of skiing, you can always sit in the lodge and drink bear. But you want it, for one reason or another, so you will overcome all the difficulties to do it.
You’ve got to be brave.
Let’s face it. If you are in your 30s, they put you in a bunch of gears that you are not familiar with, and put you on a hill, and ask you to go down, it’s pretty scary. But you’ve got to overcome the fear. Know that even if you fall, it’s going to be ok. As a matter of fact, the less fearful you are, the faster you will learn. The people who are always worrying about “what ifs’ wont’ have a good time on the ski slope, nor will they in the startup world. It’s a scary world out there, you can break your leg, run off a cliff, burn all the savings, and ruin your life. But that’s NOT what we will focus on. We will think positive, know that we will ultimately overcome all the difficulties, put up with our most brave face, and knock it out just like that. Only the brave ones survive, same for skiing and startups.
Take advantage of the momentum.
Many beginners will tell you that gaining speed is a scary thing. But many experts will also tell you that speed is actually on your side. When you are too slow on the ski slope, a simple thing could become more difficult that you have to use your muscle to maneuver through. Not as hard if you just go with the momentum. After all, human beings invented downhill skiing knowing that there is a thing called gravity. Similarly, in the startup world, you’ve got to go with the momentum. When you are getting investors’ attention, when you are gaining traction, when every one is talking about you, you’ve got to give it 100% to keep it going, just when you are sliding down the hill. If you stumble, and fall, things become different and now you are in a different world.
Lean in, but take only calculated risks. If you are sitting on a chair lift looking down, you can easily tell the beginners from the experts. The beginners are afraid (see point 2 above). So they lean backward, thinking that’s the only way they won’t fall. But guess what, the more you lean back, the easier it is for you to fall. You’ve got to lean in, as close as possible to the ground, but forward. Observe the olympian skiers. Sometimes they are so close to the ground that their knees are almost touching the ground. However, this doesn’t mean that you can be reckless. If you go into a terrain above your skill set, you can easily get yourself injured. You can only lean in, but with the assumption that you are fully aware of your own capabilities. You want everything under control, but take calculated risks. You don’t want to break your leg or hit your head on a tree. Similarly, for a startup, we need to know the circumstances in which we are operating in, take a considerable, yet calculated risks, without relenting control to others.
You will achieve things that you can never imagine now.
When I first started skiing in 2012, I had a couple of miserable years, crawling on the ground, unable to pick myself up, and wondering why would any one enjoy this sport. But here we are, eight years later, my daughter and I are flying on the sloops (we are not great on blacks yet, so mostly blues), and we are surpassing all kinds of people falling and suffering in pain like I did 8 years ago. Through hard work, courage and experience, I have taught myself the skills necessary to fly by all the obstacles that used to be like mountains to me. I am confident that in the startup world, regardless how things look so difficult or even impossible today, with time, perseverance, hard work and experience, we will conquer all the obstacles that seem impossible today. One day we will be flying down the mountain, shouting out our excitement aloud, and be grateful that we took on this journey at the time that seemed impossible to us, and now we are kicking ass.