10 reasons why Explorers and Entrepreneurs are the same

[This is a guest post by Lucas Servant, who left for a month-long tour of Groenland with STATION F entrepreneurs. He took this opportunity to reflect upon the many similarities there are between the life of an entrepreneur and the life of an explorer. Read on!]

Six entrepreneurs, of which two from STATION F with Thomas Tirtiaux (Solen) and Maxime Lainé (WeeSurf) the lovely environment of continental Greenland, 80kg of expeditionary equipment each, 600km in 30 days on a glacier at an altitude of over 2000m, winds up to 100km/h, an average of -35°C. 9 months of preparation. Duh.

Along the preparation, we realised there is so much in common between the barriers we are facing for the Greenland exploration and our day-to-day mission building our startups. How entrepreneurial is exploration?

#1: Everyone has dreams, explorers and entrepreneurs make them happen.

Let me present you Thomas. Regular dude, no Batman, no Superman. But he’d catch this dream somewhere: crossing Greenland, coast to coast (maybe he’s Iceman then). Crossing Greenland was something he wanted experience and live as a group, not alone. He knew the least what he was doing, but sold the idea all around nevertheless.

#2: Three reasons why explorers succeed? Network, network and network.

Ability to engage their network is the reason why entrepreneurs succeed in assembling the right team (sounds like a truism, yes). What about an expedition to Greenland? Engaging this very same network? It was worth trying. Hopefully, this kind of startup dude nowadays tend to gather in a few places, notably Station F, or Réseau Entreprendre Paris. They provided a resonance space like none. Networking means being where opportunities happen & energies gather. You need to be there and show up.

#3: You won’t go viral.

Going viral is a free ticket to the marketing rollercoaster. The noise out there is too big and you are competing with way too many people with existing reputation on the market. Thomas is no Mike Horn (yet). It’s true, there was an influx of energy and enthusiasm received from the very start of the project. A willingness to give a hand in spreading the message from a few people: there’s going to be an expedition crossing Greenland in May 2018, will you be in? But it’s true as well to say that the project didn’t exactly go viral. Finding a team was the plan yes, but not a proper go-to-market strategy.

#4: Balance ressources with manoeuvrability. It is usually inversely related.

Interestingly enough, 6 members is the sweet spot when you build a team on a Startup Weekend. It’s more or less the same for crossing Greeland! Such an expedition is :

  • very expensive so you’ll want to split the fix costs between several people
  • physically exhausting but mentally as well: large groups are tougher to manage than small ones

Six is the sweet spot: you’ll gather enough money and workforce but still have an agile group with cohesion.

#5: The n°1 ability of an explorer… sell! (and you better have a big pipeline)

Most of us will probably never know what we’re bound to do in life (I don’t!). Let alone wake up someday with divine inspiration. But chances are that you manage to cross the paths of those curious individuals who have enough dreams to share them around. Thomas is our curious individual, willing to make his dream come true.

He quickly manage to convince Valentin to jump in — they’d been adventure partners since school. As they ran out of acquaintances showing interest in joining in, they reached out to the outer wilderness — people they didn’t know. Grawww.

Then Maxime, Lucas and Antoine jumped in… says the nice storyteller. In fact, more than 30 entrepreneurs were asked to joined. A great deal expressed interest in the project but did not join. Too long, too expensive, too difficult, not the right fit. It took myself more than a month of discussions to make up my mind and seize the opportunity.

#6: Better have a proof of concept before you talk to the big guys (or deep pockets)

Thomas reached out to several expedition professionals: “wanna join?” he asked. Thanks but no thanks answered the real adventurologists (yes, it’s a job nowadays). It was like trying to get that super experienced CTO or utterly famous VC with only an idea. No proof of concept = no big boy on board.

Recruit smartly with a clear vision of the market in mind. Sometimes it’s cheaper and quicker to bring an expert on board for a while as a trainer. The less experienced will race through their apprenticeship (and be grateful for that) and this will avoid costly recruitments of semi-experienced that are in high demand on the market. This is very true for developers in startups. And for alpinists, it seems.

We already had the less experiences (Thomas, Valentin, Maxime, Antoine and I).

Crossing Greenland is said to be tougher physically than climbing Everest, though less technical. So long for the nice “self-made-men story”: we had to find an someone skilled enough to train and support us. A quick research showed us that there was truly just one french alpinist in position to fulfill such a difficult engagement. We contacted him, he asked for our expedition pedigrees (not much), and he agreed a few days later. We named the expedition in his honour after one of his favourite word: “Engagés” (i.e Committed). Fun fact: he’s an entrepreneur as well!

#7: Early adopters don’t exist… but you can build them.

When someone shows interest in what you’re doing, start educating. Ever heard of the Rule of Seven? It says that a someone needs to see or hear your message at least seven times before they take action. Sponsors went this way. Difficult to catch, harder to convince.

This expedition is a dream, and has a mission for which we partnered with the Rovaltain Foundation and CNES: raise scientific awareness at a large audience, and accompany sustainable innovation. Satys, Accuracy, LeBonCoin, Nixon, GoPro, Station F, Red Bull, Rivadouce, Société Générale, Ansyears, Le Slip Français and The Outdoor Journal joined us in this journey.

#8: Show vulnerability as well.

Did I say that I was going to live an extraordinary collective adventure with other entrepreneurs? Sorry. I was trying to impress you. The truth is that I was stressed and that my checklist looked like this: don’t freeze, don’t fall into a crevasse and come back in one piece. For all the technical and rational I had put initially in my communication with my relatives, it wasn’t until I started being vulnerable that they resonate with me. Because somewhere near starts emotion, guts, testimony, feelings. Connection.

No one’s a superhero. Launching a project is no BtoB nor BtoC, it’s HtoH, Human to Human. Vulnerability will connect you to others, help them experience your feelings and help you.

#9: Don’t get drawn.

There’s a saying that it’s a great advantage to have kids as an entrepreneur because it teaches you the value of time. I’d say there’s as well a great deal of learning having a major side project on the side. It’ll put your actions into different perspectives.

We’re now a few hours before departure. Looking back at the past 9 months, that has been an tedious, awful, lot of preparation for this expedition. Safety will come first in our every decisions, and one does not know for sure what will happen there. It means a lot in terms of preparation. When leaving Paris for each sequence of collective training, we were cut from reality for several days, focused on experiencing how the group works in difficult situation like walking for 120km non stop in 36 hours in the Morvan, or mountaineering and camping in the Vosges or Alps in winter near Greenland style condition.

All of us have had a different way to prepare for the expedition, but everyone shown great respect at how the others dealt with it. I think it also helped in a way to take a step back and balance our professional activities.

#10: You’ve got to surf the wave when it comes to you

Uncertainty is at the core of the start any entrepreneurial project. Every single day is a struggle to mitigate risks, handle critical issues and keep morale high among the troops. Our adventure is no different.

Just as when you’re launching your own thing for real, there’s a mental voice saying: it won’t be easy to go backward. And indeed, if one of us get hurt or worse, an helicopter will come to get us all (because it won’t come twice).

But in the end, when would have been the next time someone will come to ask us to come crossing Greeland? Most likely never.

Here’s a glimpse of what awaits us for the next 30 days: 600km skiing 8 to 10 hours per day in the most hash conditions you can find on this planet, with temperatures below -40°C and winds that can block any progress for several days in a row, carrying pulkas of 80kg of expeditionary equipment each. In an untouched and fascinating nature.

None of us have the slightest regret about joining in. So, dare greatly!


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