Altitude sickness: are you prepared to scale?
Clint Eastwood starred in the Eiger Sanction many years ago. It’s a pretty good movie and although not recent, it is worth tracking down. In the movie, Eastwood is gearing up for a big climb. One of the biggest — The Eiger. A great deal of the movie focuses on him getting prepared for the climb. He has to get physically fit. This involves exercise and lots of running. He has to re-skill himself in the art of knots and buckles and all things mountaineering. And finally he has to acclimatise himself as the air at that high altitude is thin and he needs to be able to operate there with his mind and body under stress. It’s a bit like growing or scaling a business…
DOOMED FROM THE GET GO
If UK startup founders don’t prepare to climb the Eiger, then they are doomed from the get go. If you follow my blog posts you will know I have been banging on about why startups founders are not growing from Corbett to Munro to the Eigers of this world. It’s short-termism and a lack of understanding what it takes to be fully prepared for what is ahead. The evidence is there to see. Only a handful of founders are actually making it to next round investments, breakevens or big milestones. There are a number of reasons for this, but let’s focus on a couple.
SEASONED INVESTORS ACTUALLY WISH STARTUP FOUNDERS WOULD ASK FOR MORE CASH
A big number, in fact a huge number of startup founders do not understand what burn rate means. Clint Eastwood did. That’s why he trained hard to skill up. It’s so easy to get carried away spending cash, trying new things and hiring in new people, without truly understanding the full monthly costs of these and how they impact the bottom line. I have witnessed many startup founders who raise a wad of cash — say £150,000 — then have no clear path up the hill. The have perhaps mugged off a few investors telling them that the cash will last for 18 months. But the reality is that to scale from Corbett to Munro, takes a lot more than they bargained for. I’ve heard so many times from seasoned investors that they actually wish startup founders would ask for more cash and be more realistic.
FOUNDERS ARE ACTUALLY TERRIFIED OF WHAT IS NEXT AND HIDE IN THEIR OWN AREAS OF STRENGTH
Secondly, and perhaps one that many of you may find a little perplexing, is that many founders are actually the reason the startup fails to grow and make it to the Eiger. Who would have thought it, eh? The founder is the baddie who actually kills off the trek up the hill half way there. Why does this happen? Much of the time it not the business idea or the product that is validated and created. It’s the founder who cannot keep up. Keep up with the pace of carnage that is and will take place within the startup as it begins to scale. Added complexity, new personalities in the team, dealing with investors and lacking that flexible ambidextrous mindset that can move between science, data and analytics to gut feel, instinct and intuition, causes meltdown and an imploding of what could be pretty special. Many founders are actually terrified of what is next and hide in their own areas of strength to avoid facing the facts that they are not coping or do not want to prepare for the big changes taking place and ahead.
IT’S A BIG OLD HILL
It’s easy to work with a single spreadsheet that the founder is comfortable with. It’s easy to micro-manage a small team of two or three as a founder gets started. But the rules of the game and the toughness of the climb kick in when new altitudes need to be reached as the startup becomes more scale ready. This is when our UK founders require to take a leaf out of Clint Eastwood’s Eiger sanction preparation. It’s a big old hill and it takes mindset preparation, teamwork and a willingness to get uncomfortable.
I think we need to be a bit more honest and dare I say it — forthright — in how we mentor and prepare new and existing founders for the Eiger. Otherwise, we do them no favours when they get altitude sickness.