We’re riding a wave
In 2012 when I first had the idea to write a business book, I wanted to call it ‘Momentum’. I’d slaved over a failing business for 7 years and in 7 days started a business that was exploding at 15% per month, all the while doing more or less the same things.
The idea of momentum captured how I felt at the time about business, and captures how I feel now. 4 books later, I have never written the book, and I probably won’t. So I’ve written this post instead.
The idea of using surfing as a metaphor for business, seems… well let’s be honest… a little bit cheesy. But it just works. Running a successful startup is very much like riding a wave.
There’s a certain amount of training and preparation required to be able to paddle with enough power to catch a wave. There’s a certain amount of fear you need to overcome to even enter the water. Some people might paddle for 1 wave and catch the first one (what the fuck do those guys know that I don’t?). Others will paddle for 50 and miss all of them. Most of those people will give up, and a few will continue, until it clicks.
I remember when this happened to me. I was surfing with my best mate (and now business partner in a brewery, Eddie) in Currumbin. We’d been surfing for about a year, travelling down to the Gold Coast from Brisbane at 5am before work, a few days a week.
Every time I would get smashed and washed up on the beach, sulk about it, drive back to Brisbane and then try again a few days later. My wife at the time had to put up with month after month of me coming home from a surf, trying to explain how much I wanted this, how much I was trying, but how badly I kept failing — and how much it hurt. I looked around at other people effortlessly doing it, and had more or less come to the conclusion that it just wasn’t for me.
I almost gave up so many times. Actually I did give up, but I’d calm down and I’d try again. This happened every week.
Until that one day at Currumbin, on the beach side of the Alley, I paddled onto the last wave of the morning, stood up and to my surprise I was on an unbroken wave for the first time. I looked around gleefully at Eddie as I rode the wave, all the way to the beach. You’ve never seen a more lame grown arse man moment.
That changed everything. Once I did it, I knew I could do it again and from then on I’ve surfed (albeit pretty lamely and inconsistently) for the last 12 years.
Before I caught the wave I was nothing, just a failure. Once I was on it, I was a surfer, cruising down an unbroken wave by myself (a left nonetheless!). But it wasn’t me by myself really. If it was me by myself I would sink.
This is the part that people don’t seem to get about business. They are always looking for external factors to help figure out how to make it work. They spend big money on training and equipment, they wonder why other people can do it and they can’t, they look for some sort of secret.
But in business, the same rules apply. Sure you have to put in the work to have some basic skills, and you have to enter the water in the first place. But the big important factors are out of your control.
Why does one surfer blow all of their energy on one wave, and others glide onto a wave with 3 strokes? Timing. Not strength, fitness or skill. It’s timing. Catching the wave at precisely the right time, changes everything.
Why do some people get 20 waves per session, when I get 3? Because they paddle for more waves. They also get 20 more bad waves than me, and they also miss 20 more waves than me. But people don’t see those. They miss one, they keep hustling, and they get the next one.
In business, when momentum kicks in, it doesn’t relent. It powers you forward, with very little input from you. You feel like a genius, but really how much of this is on you?
Our generation is riding one of the biggest waves of all time. It’s called the Internet, or at least it was when I first heard about it. Now it’s just part of life as our generation knows it.
I can’t even say that the opportunities we have, our parents would have dreamed about, because they are so immense, only a few people out of a few billion could have possibly imagined them. The wave we are riding is so big that a lot of people can’t even see it.
This is what surfing and business have taught me.
You cannot catch a wave if you do not enter the water.
You will not catch a wave if you do not train and learn.
If you want to catch a wave, you have to try to catch 50, and be prepared to miss 40 of them and pour your heart and soul into 9 of them only to have them fizzle into nothing.
It’s an obsession, you might seem like a crazy person to your friends, relationships might crash and burn, but only a surfer knows the feeling.
There is no secret.
If you do manage to catch a wave, be grateful, sit down, be humble. It’s not all you.
All waves, like everything in life, ultimately fizzle out and die. As you turn around, face the sunset and sink into ocean, I hope you enjoyed the ride.
p.s. I’ve ridden the internet wave to self publish 4 books that have sold 70,000+ copies. You can find them here.