Cast Away = Startups

I’m still sick after all these years that Tom Hanks did not win an Oscar for his role in the movie “Cast Away”, but as I was running the streets of Roswell this morning, it occurred to me that the movie is the essence of how to do a startup.

I’ll get to that in a minute. First, some mind-numbing literary commentary on the movie. The title of the movie is “Cast Away”, not “castaway.”  Chuck Noland is not a ‘castaway’; rather, he is cast away. Words matter. So do names, like Tom Hanks’ character, Chuck Noland. Noland. NO. LAND.

You’re welcome.  Now, back to my point.  I really think this movie is an allegory of a startup business.  Here’s my 5-point analysis of how that is so.

  1. He survived a corporate disaster.  If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens. Noland is forever dutiful to his employer, FedEx. He always goes in when called, even on short notice on Christmas Eve, the night on which he had planned to propose to his girlfriend. He later laments, “I should never have gotten on that plane,” but we know by his character that he would never have said no. His loyalty to the company was unsurpassed. The company called, and he answered, seemingly to his own demise. Seemingly.  What does your past character say about you?
  2. He struggled at first to find his footing. You can’t eat raw crab meat, because it’s not meat. It’s goo. You’ll freeze at night, even in the south pacific, if you don’t have a fire. That whole twisting the stick to get a spark doesn’t work. And how many people know how to open a coconut, much less that coconut milk is a natural laxative?!?  Just like every first time entrepreneur, he had to make many mistakes before getting good at what he did. As he struggled, his loyalty to FedEx remained, as exemplified in his meticulous care for the undelivered packages.  What are your favorite mistakes that taught you the most?
  3. He planned, built, launched, and grew his venture.  He used the lean startup method, and created his MVP.  Of course, we always knew he wanted to get off the island, but he simply did not have the tools to do so.  When the opportunity to create a brand new exciting venture presented itself in the form of half a porta-potty, he knew instantly what to do.  Then his engineering logistical mind walked logically through the process of cutting & stripping trees, braiding the rope, building the raft…all using only the tools he had at his disposal. Chuck Noland was a bootstrapper if there ever was one. He had a very objective goal: launch when the winds started blowing towards the east. He had to calculate exactly how much rope he’d need and how long it would take him to make it. He knew he’d have to launch the raft. And he knew after launching, he’d have to get past the incoming waves. He foresaw, planned, and executed upon this knowledge with one goal in mind: home.  Have you done the math of your startup?
  4. He relied on a “friend” through the good times and the bad.  Everyone, even the ‘solopreneur’, needs a friend, advisor, sounding board, or just someone to talk to during the process. Chuck Noland had Wilson.  It was heart-wrenching when they separated, but it was part of the allegory of the startup. The advisor, friend, sounding board, companion was there through the entire process until success was achieved, and then it was time to part ways, peacefully.  They would meet again, of course, though Wilson would never be the same.  Who do you call when you just can’t figure it out?
  5. He succeeded beyond the expectations of anyone who knew him. Chuck’s friends and fiancee had his funeral. They counted him dead, out, done for. They had no reason to believe he would survive the startup…er, the accident. But he did. In fact, he used all his sailing and hiking training to thrive on that island. He became an expert fisherman, knew the seasons and the winds, studied dentistry, and maintained his health as he planned his venture.  Nobody else believed in him, but he did not ever give up.  He considered really giving up, but he tested and studied the results of giving up, and he chose to persist.

Sound like any startup you know?  When you or anyone you know is in startup mode, watch Cast Away, and be inspired to never, ever give up.  Use the tools at your disposal. Use the training you have experienced. Lean on a friend. Plan for everything. Do the math. Never, ever give up.

I read a tweet this morning that said, “Good companies get funded.”  Chuck Noland’s startup venture did not get funded, but it made it a long, long way, and ultimately succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  I responded to that tweet: “Rubbish! 99% don’t get funded; 90% of those that do fail.”  Funding is nice, but it can make you too comfortable. When you’re as uncomfortable as Chuck Noland was, you’ll do anything to succeed.

What do you think?