Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' 16 year old space startup, just landed its first customer. It isn't a huge contract and it won't even start for a couple years. So why does it matter? Consider the backstory. Bezos is famous for his first startup: Amazon. He built it from a bookseller into a $403 B global economy of its own. (Amazon's annual revenue outranks the GDP of over 150 countries.) Now 23 years old, Amazon encompasses not just ecommerce, but also artificial intelligence, top-ranked television shows, and hosting services for a significant share of cloud software.

Bezos isn't famous--yet--for Blue Origin. With the announcement of its first customer, though, the pace of space is perceptibly picking up. Bezos plans on taking his planetary economy across the solar system.

Smooth is fast

Instead of sounding impatient about the sixteen years it took to reach the validation of a first customer, Bezos is upbeat. He joked a couple weeks ago that the Blue Origin mascot is likely a turtle.

"Slow is smooth and smooth is fast," says Bezos, quoting a military training proverb. "I like to do things incrementally." Is the frantic pace of some startups leaving something profound behind?

Patience and pacing for startups

At the Satellite 2017 conference in Washington early this month, Bezos shared that the next critical step in achieving that vision is lowering the cost of getting into space. "The cost of admission to do something interesting in space is quite high--two kids in a dorm room can't do that," he said. "What I want to see happen is I want Blue Origin to lower that cost of entry and lower that cost of launch."

His goal, step by step of time, is to launch an entire economy in space. "Those few people who have been lucky enough to go into space say that when you see the thin limn of the earth's atmosphere, that it does change you. Makes you recognize how amazing and fragile this planet is. We hope to provide a lot of people with that experience."

First, they laugh . . .

As you consider your own ambitions, the size of the change you're working on is related to how long it takes. Bezos, like all entrepreneurs, is consumed by a vision bigger than he is. When ship builder William Boeing started an aircraft company, he used ship parts to build airplanes in a farm field. People laughed at his crazy "hobby." When Amazon said we should to buy books online, digitally even, readers looked up from their couches and thought--not really. When Elon Musk first said a new American car company was the key to a sustainable energy economy, it seemed insane.

Yet the world we live in is profoundly different than what the best pundits--often called analysts--can predict. Atlanta serial entrepreneur David Cummings says he sees the beginnings of a "slow startup movement." He built six, million-dollar-plus startups before his thirty-fifth birthday. He blogged recently, "The slow startup promotes a measured, sustainable pace, not a repeated heroic effort. The slow startup favors the long-term over the short-term."

It's like what Mahatma Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win."  When you look back, the rate of changes reads as fast. When you're living it, entrepreneurs like Bezos will say the sustained effort feels slow, much more marathon than sprint. On the entrepreneurial adventure, try natural ways to boost your confidence instead of chasing artificially fast growth. Slow has the opportunity to become smooth--and when it's smooth, you're moving at the speed that shapes the world.

Published on: Mar 28, 2017
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