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Learn to Ride the Wave: Surf Lessons for Startups

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My goal in life is to work a job that I love. To try to achieve this goal, my love of surfing influenced me to build my startup in the action sports market. I figured that my familiarity with the market would be an advantage. But as I started out on my entrepreneurial journey, I was surprised to find a number of unfamiliar challenges. As I began to work through those challenges, however, I realized where a lot of my solutions came from: surfing! Here are my surf lessons for start ups.

Choosing the Right Wave.

A big challenge in surfing is choosing the “right” wave – one breaking with enough power and shape to give you a long, smooth ride. Energy is a valuable resource that you don’t want to waste trying to catch a bad wave, so you’ve got to identify that great wave. Unfortunately, great waves are limited and other surfers are gunning for them too. If they catch them before you, you’re out of luck, because surfing’s number 1 rule is that surfers don’t share waves (see the movie Point Break for more details). This means that at a crowded surf break with experienced surfers, it’s extremely difficult for beginners to catch great waves. That’s why the best place to learn to surf is an uncrowded spot. Before you launch your startup, think about whether it’s a great “wave”. Take an objective look at your product or idea and whether it’s going to give you a great “ride”, i.e. sales, downloads, page views, etc. If you launch into a market with a bad idea, you’re wasting your time, energy and money on a bad wave. Even worse, if you enter an oversaturated market full of experienced competitors, you likely won’t have the skills and expertise to compete. Remember, just like surfing, take the time to identify a great idea, ideally in an uncrowded market, and as you get more experience and skill, tackle bigger and better waves!

Catching the Wave. 

After you pick your wave, you’ve got to catch it, and catching the wave very well may be the hardest thing about surfing. First you have to get yourself into perfect position – where is the wave breaking? And then, at just the right moment, you explode into an all-out paddle in order to get you and your board up to the speed of the wave. To catch the wave you have to paddle 100% like this wave is the last wave left in the ocean. Even doing all that is no guarantee of success; you still might miss the wave. In startups, even if you’ve picked the best market (wave), you’ve got to position yourself in that market for success. What is the best platform to sell your products? What is the most effective marketing strategy? Ask yourself all the questions on “positioning” to help yourself be successful. Once you’ve positioned yourself, that’s when you go into all-out paddle mode. Work hard! Like this startup is the last startup on the planet. When you think you’re working as hard as you can, work harder! If you’re getting up at 6 a.m., there are people out there getting up at 5.

Standing Up.

The moment the wave really starts pulling you and your board, stop paddling and pop up to a standing position. Popping up is all about timing and balance. You’ve got to stand up immediately when you catch the wave. Too early and you miss the wave – too late and you’ve lost all your power. But then, in your rush to stand up, keep your balance. You don’t just stand up; you swing into a crouch, set your foundation, and then lift your body straight up, keeping your knees bent, ready to maneuver. Once you’ve caught a great idea for a startup, you’ve got to “pop up” – launch it! Like surfing, timing and balance play a huge role in whether your launch is successful. Everyone knows that technology, markets and consumer preferences are constantly changing. If you launch a great idea too early and the market isn’t ready for it, or you’re not 100% committed to it, you’ll probably miss the wave entirely. But launch your idea too late, and you lose out on the advantages of being there first. So consider your timing. Then focus on your startup’s balance. Develop a strong foundation to give yourself a better chance at surviving long term. And keep your knees bent and ready to maneuver around the challenges that come your way. Tough decisions on funding, employees, business priorities, partnerships, intellectual property and a number of other issues could cause you to lose your balance as you launch your startup.

Riding the Wave.

Of course, standing up on a wave isn’t really surfing. It takes a lot of practice to go from standing up, to riding a wave straight to shore, to riding a wave down the line, to really surfing the wave, where you control the direction and speed of your board, snapping turns off the top and bottom of the wave. You have to catch and ride tons of waves, fall on many of them, and learn from your successes and failures in order to improve. The same goes for your startup. If you think your startup is a success because you’re “standing up”, remember that you’ve got a long way to go and that you could fall at any time. Learn from your successes and your failures to master new skills until you’re really surfing, controlling the direction and speed of your startup. With enough practice, maybe one day you’ll be ready to challenge Kelly Slater in a surf competition, or sell your startup to Jeff Bezos…

Andrew Sachs is learning to ride the entrepreneurial wave for StoreYourBoard.com, retailer of board racks and accessories for action sports equipment.  Check them out for a surf rack, kayak storage rack, skateboard rack, snowboard rack, and more! Image Credit: nassau.happeningmag.com 

Reprinted with permission.

Image credit: CC by Jean-Marc Astesana

About the author: Under30CEO

Under30CEO is the leading media property for entrepreneurs, inspiring the world’s next generation of business leaders. Under30CEO features direct interviews with the most successful young people on the planet, profiles twenty-something startups, provides advice from those who have done it before, and publishes cutting edge news for the young entrepreneur.

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