Life can often be summed up in a series of famous quotes. There's typically a handful available to suit any mood, or objective, and so it is with quotes that I will attempt to convince you that taking a road trip with your startup co-founders during the early days of operation is not only a winning strategy, but a must in terms of gaining valuable perspective.
Because of the unique and sometimes intense situations a road trip presents to its protagonists, love is often discovered and lost somewhere between miles 36 and 600. I know for my wife and I our road trip from Utah to Oregon is what turned our friendship into a happy marriage just six months later. Relationships are accelerated on our great American highways, and so the road trip acts as a barometer forecasting future squabbles between partners. Avoid differences that could destroy your business later by taking the road trip test now.
- "Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."--Ernest Hemingway
No truer words have ever been spoken. The trip Hemingway refers to is a vacation, but the analogy could extend to the bigger trip of our lives; the trip of becoming an adult and raising children, or the trip of becoming an entrepreneur and launching a company. A loveless marriage doesn't last. Likewise, a loveless partnership in a startup spells future disaster.
How do you test the strength of your co-founder relationships before it is too late--eg., before you accept funding, or take your product to market? One of the best ways I know of to really get to know someone is by taking a road trip with them. It doesn't matter where you go. Just get in the car and drive somewhere, anywhere, for a minimum of 10 hours. By the end of the trip all of the parties involved will know whether, or not, your startup team is meant for one another.
- "A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us."--John Steinbeck
If we continue the thread that embarking down the startup path is a form of a trip then this quote by Steinbeck is apropos. Sure, the details matter. The strategy and tactics and planning--it all matters! But after 10 years of entrepreneurial struggle (if you make it that far), when your startup has finally 'made it' and success seems imminent, you'll realize that all of those details seem suddenly nascent.
It wasn't the strategy, necessarily, that got you to the top of the mountain. Nor was it your site's winning UX model and ability to hack the marketing funnel that helped you to the summit. It was your team. It was the culture of your office and the culture of your brand and its users that created your sustainability. Don't believe me? Look at Google, which launched via newsletter in 1998. Now, almost 20 years later, experts that study Google don't focus on its strategy and tactics in explaining its success. Rather, they focus on the people and the nature of the brand.
3. "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."--T. S. Eliot
This speaks to evolution. Startup companies evolve like everything else on this planet, and what those startups become over time often looks very different from where those companies started. For example:
The point is, where we end up typically looks very different from where we start. Additionally, it is a key characteristic of the successful entrepreneur to be able to look at his or her business objectively, as if they were studying it for the very first time, each time they analyze their team's efforts. Complacency is a startup killer. The solution is in travel; specifically a road trip with your fellow founders to develop necessary perspective to push forward objectively. I'm not alone in my adulation for the co-founder road trip. Garrett Gee, co-founder and CEO of Scan, is also a proponent.
"I still remember our founding team's first investor road trip together to San Francisco," says Gee. "After road tripping for two days and pushing each other's buttons, both professionally and personally, in that confined space, we were forced to stay at a La Quinta with nasty, wet carpets. Yet we loved every minute of it."
For Gee and his team, that initial road trip built confidence in each other's ability to solve issues and face stressful situations without breaking down or passing the buck of blame.
"It did wonders for our team, but for me it was much more about the joy throughout the journey and in reaching our goals. Towards that end, my co-founders have been absolute gold."
Do you have lingering questions about your startup team's chemistry? Hit the road. . .