Last week I took a startup founder to surf. You can say it was a mix of work and pleasure. A couple of days later, talking with another founder he asked me why I took the founder to surf. I told him that it complements my knowledge of the founder as a person and lets me see some traits of his/her personality. Things I learned from them:
Surfing is a sport that take a lot of persistence. You need to survive the very cold pacific ocean, the incoming waves one after the other just crashing into you and the very tiring exercise that it demands. I like to see how people resist all of these pressures or just give up instead. Most good founders that I’ve taken persevere through the hard times.
2-Learning and active listening
Before we surf, I will teach you the theory of how to in the one hour drive from the Valley to Santa Cruz. Based on three principles: speed, timing and balance. I believe in learning while doing. So you get the theory and you apply it right there. If you really listen to me I would see it. If you didn’t you will feel it.
*The hour ride is just a friendly conversation. The surf theory takes 15 min at the most.
One of the main lessons surfing teaches you is to be in the right spot at the right time. This is also true for founders when building a startup in a new (or old) market. If you were actively listening you will know that if you start paddling too late the opportunity (wave) will go under you and if you were too late you'll get caught on the inside of the wave (crashing you). Moral of the story, be in the right place at the right time. To do this you don’t wait for it but you try to put yourself in the right spot at the right time instead.
In essence, surfing is a dangerous sport: rocks, riffs, currents, sharks, hypothermia , drowning (these are some of the risks). You need to know what risks you are taking to be able to recognized them and face them. Putting yourself at risk just to say “I surf” is stupid. Just like trying to build a startup because its cool. Learn and understand the risks it takes. Measure them in your mind. Then go for it and take the risk. The same happens in surfing. Surfers don’t go for every wave. The study each opportunity and decide which one to go for. Once you decide the wave you have to go for it. You can clearly see the difference between the doubters and those who are fearless.
You need to appreciate the ocean and the people that surround you. Oceans are one of the most beautiful gifts we have and we need to respect and take care of them. Appreciate the opportunity that you are given. You also need to appreciate the time you are spending with others. Help other surfers if they need it and always maintain a positive attitude. This applies to every aspect of a founder when running a startup. Appreciate your team and what you are building. And always be thankful for the opportunity you are having.
6-Acknowledge the different moments
Apart from the timing, surfing is usually a two gears sport. For a lot of the time you just sit and wait for the set. You breath deeply and try to calm your body that is more than likely pounding from the last wave. This is the peaceful moment where the beautiful calm ocean creates a silence where you can find yourself. Then the next set of waves is coming. Now is the moment of action where you need to be sharp and put in 110% of you — if not you will not be able to take the waves and enjoy the rewards of it. Focus and paddle as strong as you can but always think of being in the right spot at the right time. Also respect others that got there before you. Its time to take that wave and see an incredible blue wall that just takes you to your personal nirvana.
One of the main skills an investor looks in a founder is that he can be “coached”. My take on this is fairly simple. When a founder who falls 50 times, takes a wave later and comes to me in the middle of the ocean and tells me: “I understand how to get up now! But I’m still having problems to turn”, it means he is coachable. Surfing is a learning process where you can never fully learn everything. That is one my tests to see if someone is coachable. They need to understand that learning is a life process, not just a moment. If the founder listened actively to the theory, went applied it several times even when they crashed and had to spend a lot of time under the water, he can still get on his feet and learn on his own, while being humble enough to know they still need to learn more. That is how you know he is coachable.
Thank you for reading this far. Hope we have an opportunity to go surfing together. Have good waves!
PS: Any founder that wants to come surfing just DM me @JDcarlu (also please share this post and Recommend on that thing down there)
PS2: For all surfers that read this post (a) I know learning how to surf takes more time and effort (b) We share the ocean so don’t bring me the bs of “don’t teach more people how to surf” or “don’t bring rookies” (c) see you in the spot.