Embarking on a Startup is like terraforming and I feel a bit like Matt Damon in The Martian. It's a volatile landscape and for any chance of survival, you need your wits about you. You have to use the few resources you have and you have to adapt to things you cannot change, did not expect and rather not face... and quickly.
Please, indulge my analogy:
One year on Mars is nearly two on earth but it’ll feel like four. Despite Mars having a third of Earth’s gravity, you will feel the weight of the world bearing down on you.
Everything on Mars looks, sounds and behaves differently than what we know on Earth; Startups are the same. As a former multinational MD I thought I knew a thing or two about running a business. However, as I’ve just experienced, business' atmospherically hostile little neighbour – the 'Startup' – isn't what you expect it to be. What we do know about it is of little comfort.
The Australia-wide canyons or the 26km high volcanoes aren't the biggest problem. It’s more about the - 70 degree temperatures, the lack of surface water, the furious electrical storms and tornadoes the size of India; it’s the less than 0.1% oxygen and the lung-boiling lack of atmosphere that will ultimately make any Business of the Year acceptance speech hard to deliver.
That lack of atmosphere means you’ll sound like Darth Vader on Quaaludes whispering into a paper bag - not that you could say much anyway with a mouth full of molten saliva. So, let's just forget about the acceptance speech and aim for survival.
The stats say three out of four Australian Startups won’t survive… We can only hope any real Mars mission fares better!
To survive you’ll have to fight anything that threatens your biodome, your shield from the fierce elements, large and small, from within and without. In a Startup this is analogous to developing (and maintaining) the values and purpose of your organisation.
You need to establish a recycled atmospheric filtration system to propagate oxygen – We can pretty easily align this with your cash flow. Cash to a Startup is your oxygen and you have to figure this out quickly. Startups have had to be incredibly resourceful in attracting investment. Despite the brand positioning of banks as ‘business-supportive’ they’re actually not playing ball.
You have to predict the unpredictable and when you’re invariably wrong, you have to fix it, whether you know how to or not.
This is your network; the people you have around you who can advise you and who, and of untmost importance, you can trust.
Your location is of crucial too. For a Startup this is about your property deal. It’s here you’ll build your hopes and dreams, so you’ve got to get this right.
The chasm between what you think what a Startup is and the reality is as wide as a Mars canyon.
Yet, for all the heartache, headache and bone-aching fatigue, we choose to terraform Mars because of the opportunity.
For me, it’s about being able to say I did it when a part of me said I couldn’t. And It’s about the legacy of creating a new landscape for others to thrive in, against all the considerable, aforementioned odds.
Don’t go to Mars if you’re not prepared to risk everything to these ends.
Don’t go to Mars unless you’re 100% committed. Don’t go to Mars without purpose. And don’t go to Mars unless you’re ready to be humbled. Don’t go to Mars without accepting all of this.
Then do it anyway.
Move forward and terraform the alien and the unsympathetic into a yielding oasis.
Do it to quieten the doubters.
Do it to encourage the risk takers.
Do it because if you’re crazy enough to think you can, you’re probably right.
And do it because if you have that fire in your belly, nothing anyone else says will dissuade you anyway.
Finally, do it because if you succeed, no one can ever take it from you, and you’d have created something that gives opportunity to others in exciting new areas where there was none before.