Entrepreneurship lessons from Free-Solo

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I was going to blog about the importance of scheduling everything in your calendar. But you know what, it will wait for another week because I’d rather talk about Free-Solo. Yes, Free Solo. The movie that just won an Oscar and relates the story of Spock, Alex Honnold, climbing El Capitan. Without a rope.

I had already read, and watched, lots about the movie, including an awesome 1-hour talk by Jimmy Chin at Google but never got to watching the actual documentary yet. As the movie takes us through Honnold’s 2-year journey to summit el Cap, I could not help but think of how many facets of the movie translate to the startup world.

It’s a journey.

100 years from now, all that people will remember about this story is that on June 3rd 2017 Honnold summited El Cap without a rope. By then people will have forgot about all the climbs before, the falls, the cuts, the bruises. All the training he had to do both physically and mentally.
In the end, only the result matters but it’s the daily efforts that make the result.
We live in a world where we hear about results instantaneously; so much so that it is easy to forget the amount of efforts required to get there, the sacrifices, or the entire back story to an event.

It’s lonely at the top…

Even people close to you will never be able to relate entirely as to why you are doing it. It was quite heart-wrenching to hear Honnold’s loved ones try and relate to what he was doing and be supportive. There is a point in the movie where he says “nice and safe does not get you anywhere”. Which is entirely true. But for others to understand this mindset is extremely hard.

…But you are not alone.

There is an awesome line in the movie by Tommy Caldwell who pretty much says “I want to help him get ready so that even if he fails I won’t have any regrets”. Those are the people you want by your side, they are the tribe that can take you to the top. In a startup, these people are gold.

You get what you pay for.

Between the drones and the advances in digital cameras, the images taken by Chin and his crew are just insane. They used the best tools available, obviously. Yet in a startup environment what do we do? Too often we look at the least expensive (hello open-source) options and start to run a huge technical debt for the sake of speediness. Which brings me to:

Don’t fail fast.

I’ve always been extremely ambivalent about the culture of failure in the startup world. As if it were a badge of honor. It should not be. Look, other than your investors taking you off their books (and figuring it out a way to spin the news to their LP), there is really no reason for failing fast if you really think about it.
I am not saying to not be fast and nimble. Quite to the contrary. And by no means does it mean that you cannot change strategy as you get more information. I’m talking about this obsession with failing and being OK with the concept of failure and glorifying it. Learn from it but don’t seek it. Do you really think that Michael Jordan went in with the mindset of “If I fail this shot no big deal, I’ll go and speak at a conference about it”. I’ll bet not. Sure, he failed but he used that as a fuel (see his hall of fame induction speech), not as a crutch.
And same with Honnold. When you listen to him, he is quite aware of the consequences of failure but rather than seeing it as an acceptable outcome, he puts all the odds on his side.

Give back.

You did not get there on your own. Help someone else make it too.

So if you wonder what it’s like to really live on the edge, and wonder how a documentary can make your palms sweat, do yourself a favor: Rent this movie. It can not only make you a better climber, it will definitely make you a better entrepreneur!

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