Startups, and downhill mountain biking, are inherently risky. But you can improve your odds of success by taking a thoughtful, methodical approach to progressing throughout your journey.
I love downhill mountain biking. The sport involves taking full-suspension mountain bikes on ski lifts to ride them down the mountain as fast as possible without getting hurt. My daughter started the sport when she was nine, got me hooked, and has since far surpassed me in skill.
Trails can have drops, jumps, tight berms, and lots of roots and rocks to amp up the challenge. It’s a risky sport. Some of us take a measured approach to progressing to more challenging terrain, respecting the power of the mountain to injure or maim. Others take a more aggressive approach.
That’s the phrase used to encourage riders to take chances. See an obstacle you don’t think you can clear? Don’t think about it. Send It!
Send It! fights your better instincts for self-preservation and survival. Your heart and mind are telling you to be careful. To slow down. To avoid that obstacle up ahead that seems to be far beyond your abilities. Send It! can overpower those emotions, enabling you to take risks.
As you can imagine, Send It! is a high-risk strategy. Sending your bike off a 10-foot high jump can have devastating consequences if you don’t stick the landing.
Unfortunately, too many founders have the Send It! mentality when running their startups.
Marketing efficiency is suffering as you ramp up spending. Should you pull back, slow down growth and rework your product and marketing strategy? No! Let’s ramp up customer acquisition efforts to drive top-line growth. Send It!
You’ve been investing in your technology platform for two years. The project has missed every deadline, is over budget and is underwhelming. Better, cheaper external solutions exist. Should you pull the plug and move on? No! Ignore the sunk cost fallacy! Increase the budget to get it back on track. Send it!
The end of your cash runway is rapidly approaching. Should you slow down growth and give yourself more time? Nah. Let’s keep sprinting to that next fundraise and hope we make it. Send it!
On the mountain, you ignore the laws of gravity at your peril. The same is true of your startup. You can’t ignore the fundamental law of startups. Your startup can be mortally wounded if you run too low on cash. If you run out of money, your startup is dead.
How do you avoid the trap of the Send It! mentality on the mountain and in your startup?
Check your pride and ego at the door
On the mountain, getting off your bike and walking around that jump is ok. You can stick to beginner and intermediate trails until you’re truly ready for more challenging terrain. Your true friends don’t care if you skip features above your skill level. They care more about you getting home safely, enjoying the day, and being able to come back again.
As the founder of your startup, be humble. Have a beginner’s mindset. Identifying a problem, launching your MVP and raising capital are all valuable skills. But they are very different from building and scaling a company that can stand the test of time. Be prepared to be wrong — a lot. Being wrong is not failure. Failing to act when you’re wrong — that’s a failure. If you can recognize mistakes, accept them as part of the journey, and show a willingness to take a step back, your team will follow your example and make better decisions.
Go slow to go fast
Throwing yourself down the most challenging trail without adequate preparation is a recipe for disaster. Learn how to navigate more difficult features and terrain over time. Spend time at the skills park, where you can work up to bigger features without the pressure of being on a trail far above your ability. It takes time to build the muscle memory and technique to keep you safer on the trail.
Similarly, set goals for your team that define key milestones for scaling product-market fit. Don’t just dump cash into customer acquisition without clear expectations for marketing efficiency. Don’t scale up investment in products and services that customers don’t want. Consistently come back to the Build-Measure-Learn Feedback Loop to ensure that you’re on the path to profitably scaling your business and achieving tangible milestones that will support your next round of funding.
Protect yourself, your startup and your team
I see too many people on the mountain taking big risks. Not only do they Send It!, but they are wearing minimal protection that would save them from serious injury in the event of a crash. They are wearing a helmet, maybe even knee pads, but for many, that’s where it ends. No elbow pads, body armor, or back protection. When I take out my downhill bike, I’m putting on more body protection than your average football player. I check my ego at the lift and focus on having fun and walking away at the end of the day.
Cash in the bank is the body armor of startups. Profitability and positive cash flow put you on the pro mountain bike circuit. Don’t wait until your startup is running on fumes to try to raise another round of funding. Raising money can be far more challenging than you expected. External factors, as we see in 2022, can weigh heavily on the success of your efforts. The shorter your runway, the less leverage you have, resulting in unfavorable terms. Or worse — unable to raise funding at all.
Don’t Send It! and live to fight another day
I love startups. I love downhill mountain biking. I’m not risk averse. But I do everything I can to improve my odds of success, whether I’m bombing down a trail or working with founders to build great startups. I don’t throw caution to the wind and hope everything will be ok when I land. Hope is not a strategy. Don’t Send It! Take a thoughtful approach, even as you challenge yourself physically and mentally, and you’ll find yourself progressing and building real value.