Preparing to Launch

Going a little deeper into the allegory of the startup that is “Cast Away“, here I’ll dig into point #3: Chuck Noland planned, built, launched, and grew his venture.  I crammed those processes into one paragraph, which is ok for Inigo Montoya to sum up, but doesn’t nearly tell the full story.

The launch can be broken down into 5 parts.  There’s certain emotional highs and lows that go along with each stage. Anyone who has done just one startup can recall, with pain or glee, each one of these stages.

1. The idea – Chuck Noland knew for 4 years that he just had to keep breathing and living and eventually he’d get home.  He didn’t know how, but he knew he had to be prepared – physically, mentally, and emotionally – for the opportunity to present itself. Think about it: he was not physically in shape when he arrived on the island, nor was he emotionally or mentally prepared to sail (drift) 1500 miles into the Pacific alone.  It took 4 years to get prepared. When half of a porta-potty drifted onto his beach, he came up with the idea of using it as a sail to propel his craft into the east-blowing winds.  What has prepared you for launching your own idea?  What opportunities do you see in your world that you can capitalize on to create a new enterprise?

2. The plan – Once he had the idea, Mr. Noland, being the FedEx logistical expert that he was, set out planning his time and resources to meet the pending deadline of April, when the winds change and blow towards the east, towards home.  He had to cut the trees down, which meant burning the trunks of all of them and using a home made battleaxe (ice skate lashed to a club) to cut them to size. He had to cut the plants to strip and create the rope, planning exactly how many feet of rope he’d need, how many trees that would require, how long it would take him to toe-weave the necessary amount of rope, all of which had to be done before time ran out.  His deadline driven experience at FedEx, and his 4 years on the island, had intimately prepared him for just this time.  If he had not been there for 4 years, he would not know that the winds changed from westerly to easterly in April. Had he not worked at FedEx for so long, he would not have had the mindset to track that fact.  We, too, as entrepreneurs have to do the math and plan the timing.  What are your resources? Why now? How has your previously gained knowledge and experience helped prepare you for just this time?  

3. Development – In Chuck’s case, physical construction.  You have to build that idea you came up with using the resources you have at your disposal. Since CWNP was acquired in August 2012, I have mentored dozens of entrepreneurs who are right here. Ready to build.  This is where the rubber meets the road. Ideas are a dime a dozen. Executing an idea is infinitely harder than thinking of one. Even documenting what you’re going to do makes coming up with the idea look like chump change. Building it? That’s where 99% of the ideas fall away.  You gotta step up, get out, and build it. Chuck Noland had to cut down dozens of trees, and find all the plants of a certain type that he could strip and weave into 3-stranded rope. When he realized he would not have enough rope, he had to face his past. He had to climb back up to the peak of the island and retrieve the rope he would have used to end his own life.  As we build our dream, we all will come back into direct intimate contact with the times and events in our past that we had blocked out because they were so painful. We have to face them head on and use the pain that ensues to move us forward.  What can you build? What resources do you have that can help build your idea? What in your past will you have to face and overcome to succeed? How long will it take? Can you meet the deadline? What if you don’t meet the deadline?

4. QA – Does it work?  Here’s a fun exercise: when you have your MVP built, go back and look at your very first design notes and/or mockup, and see how much it changed. If you’re normal, it’s changed a LOT, because you learned – and changed some of your assumptions – in the process.  As you’re doing your QA, or in Chuck’s case testing the craft to see if it would float and hold the “sail” up, you’re going to find bugs, flaws, changes, things you did not anticipate. Chuck found that he still did not have enough rope, so he had to use video tape (remember VHS?!?) to lash some things together.  During this entire time, again if you’re normal, you’re thinking, “Will it work? What if I launch and then something breaks? How will I fix it? What if…?!?”

5. Launch – this is it. Now or never. The starting gun is about to fire. The winds have changed from west to east. It’s time.  In the startup world, this is when the adrenaline is FLYING through your bloodstream. You can’t possibly sleep, and if you do, you dream about the launch.  So get in the boat and shove off!  Picture Chuck Noland’s launch. He had built this “boat” on the side of a rock to keep it dry and easy to work on, so now he had to shove it into the water, make sure he had all his supplies aboard, strap in and start rowing.  He had one single obstacle that he had to overcome in order to achieve a successful launch: the incoming tide.  Once again, his past would come back to haunt him as he remembered the last time he tried to escape in a one-man patched up raft and ended up with a massive gash to his thigh and a completely destroyed raft. This is the moment that the entrepreneur lives for. ROW! ROW! ROW!  YES!!!!!!

Then there’s that strange silent moment when you look back at where you were, where you came from. Do you regret leaving? It was comfortable, wasn’t it? You were safe there. You had what you needed. You were alive and as well as you could be…trapped on an island with no hope for the future. There’s no going back now.  How do you remember your job before you launched your own business?

Oh, and one last thing. Chuck Noland had his friend, companion, sounding board, and visible conscience there with him the whole time. Wilson never lifted a finger to help the launch, but he watched and gave his support to his friend and was there to celebrate a successful launch.  Chuck Noland couldn’t do it alone.  You can’t do it alone.

What do you think about that?