Stumbling around in the dark

Rocky Point, Poverty Bay WA

The last few nights have been cool and clear with a bright moon, but not this morning.  The tide was low at 5am, an invitation to run on the beach instead of the boardwalk, but it was really dark.
To reach a long stretch of smooth beach on Poverty Bay (south of Seattle) I need to navigate appropriately named Rocky Point.  It’s a bit treacherous in the dark (but a great starfish habitat).   Two high tides rearranges obstacle course every day.
Picking my way through the rocks reminds of the startup phase in a business—while you remain directionally clear, each next step is a bit of a guess and a gamble.  Like the start up phase, I’m just looking for a stretch of hard pack where I can pick up speed.
The stretches of smooth hard silt are like those encouraging periods for a startup when a product gains traction or a reliable revenue source yields results.
At low tide, the beach is more than 50 yards wide.  What was a firm runway can become a soft patch of loose saturated sand.  That sets off a search for another narrow ribbons scrapped clean by a few minutes of midnight waves.  This optimizing is like the product/service tinkering that any good growth business does.  Most of us aren’t as smart as Steve Jobs and need to listen hard to market feedback to improve offerings.
After a few patches where I can stretch out, I have to pick my way back across Rocky Point.  To continue this tortured metaphor, it’s like the challenge of the shift from building the business to building the company (read this great Fred Wilson post on the shift to company building).
I just know that in life and business, it’s a great feeling when you hit those stretches of hard pack and you can go flat out for a while.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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