When it comes to launching and scaling a new venture, two images dominate: the mountain and the finish line. "People tend to view entrepreneurial ventures like scaling a mountain," author of The Inspiration Code: How the Best Leaders Energize People Everyday Kristi Hedges told me. Even if subconscious, the dominant view is that "there's a hard climb to the top, and then (the promise of) a downhill coast with lots of options and benefits." It's not that we are unaware of the fact that on average 9 out of 10 new ventures struggle or fail. But most of us possess the wistful ability to convince ourselves that it won't be our venture that becomes the statistic. And here's where the second dominate image comes in. In our aspirational mind, we see the finish line as clearly as we think we see the mountain. We fully expect to reach it and reap the prize.
"In reality, most entrepreneurial journeys are a constant series of hills," Hedges said. As the co-founder of her own successful company and a decades-long advisor to many others, Hedges speaks with a rare depth of knowledge. She knows all too well that business of any kind or stage isn't about constant growth or climbing mountains in one direction. And though we may at times think otherwise, the journey isn't about haste to the finish line either.
The most memorable reminder I ever had of these simple and important truths came from a mountain biking experience. I've carried a simple 8-word mantra with me ever since, one you should carry too.
Several years ago, along with 7 other middle-aged men, I went to the Pyrenees for some mountain biking. In addition to being in our 40s and 50s, most of us were fathers, many of us mere weekend warriors when it came to exercise outside the confines of the gym, and we had timed our trip to coincide with the Tour de France. Though on the typical day we were level-headed, educated, and experienced adults, with this witch's brew in place there was more than a whiff in the air of "Bring it on!"
Like markets, media, and investors, The Pyrenees do not bend, however, to the passing whims of mere mortals. The trails are narrow single tracks at best. The landscape is erratically covered with tall grasses and brush obscuring holes and logs and various sundry of other obstacles. The terrain is also strewn with occasional manmade hazards, barbed wire fences, old tires, and bottles to name a few. And the Pyrenees, like Kristi's description of entrepreneurship, roll endlessly up and down, then up again. In total, the environment isn't just a challenge, it's a topography lying in wait to put anyone who expects something lesser on their backside, or possibly in the hospital.
In a wiser, more lucid moment before this trip, we had the goof foresight to hire a guide and not simply go it alone. That first night before the first ride our guide James sat us down. He covered all the standard fair first - trails, transport, taverns, and the like. And then he offered this: "Remember boys," James said, "speed is your enemy, momentum is your friend." It's those 8 words you want to call attention to.
Just like growing a successful venture, biking down a mountain is about juggling two priorities, progressing forward, while staying attune and managing the obstacles that come your way. Pace is everything - too fast and you flop or crash, too slow and you risk not getting over or around what you encounter. When you see it only one way, you don't just lower the odds of reaching your destination, you risk missing the point of why you journey in the first place. It's no less true when scaling your venture. Hill after hill, new possibility after success or setback, speed is your enemy, momentum is your friend.