Friday, September 14, 2007

Start Up Entrepreneurs and Kiting

Last weekend while out on the water, I was awestruck by the number of kites at 3rd avenue. I counted 55 (yes fifty five) kites actually out on the water, and what looked like another 20 rigged and / or getting ready to launch.

Only a few years ago, it was not uncommon to show up to launch, HOPING that at least one other kiter might come so that if I got in trouble someone would notice. A big day would be 8 – 10 others on the water simultaneously.

While I’ve never questioned the addiction that goes with kiting, I would have never guessed that this sport could hit an inflection point that may take it beyond a niche sport and into something kind of mainstream. It actually feels like that may be happening. Who would have guessed?

Kiting at 3rd requires launching and landing in and around hidden rocks in freezing cold murky chocolate brown industrial water. Kiting in SF requires navigating tide conditions that can suck you out to sea if near the GG Bridge. Kiting the coast requires overcoming ‘that sense’ when drifting in the water outside of Waddell Creek after seeing seals with huge chunks missing on the beach near Ano Nuevo reserve.

The intersection of “tech meets kiting” is now growing beyond an occasional article in Kiteboarding magazines, to mainstream press - Fortune Magazine, ABC news and an upcoming segment on CNBC. Central to the theme is always the question, “why?”. What is it about kiting and start up entrepreneurs…?

Kiteboarding and start ups have very similar characteristics and therefore draw addicts from the same gene pool. Both require the operator to deal with a huge amount of uncertainty and variability in conditions. Both require intense focus while engaged. Both are such that any ‘mistake’ can be extremely costly -- at a minimum derailing the experience and erasing all the work that went into set up, and in kiting, creating potentially dangerous and occasionally fatal situations.

Both require a ton of passion to get through the hard part, just to enjoy fleeting adrenaline filled moments where everything comes together to create the sensation of FLYING across or above the water. At the beginning, both experiences are essentially 'life on the edge of destruction' - very fun for a certain type of person. Plus the COMMITMENT. Once you launch, there is really no looking back. Commitment means commitment once the power of the kite is locked and loaded, and attached to your body.

Kiting is also a sport where, as in start ups, the variability in outcome of small inputs into the system are huge. Huge 10 - 20 foot jumps or spectacular crashes with a 5 inch tug on a control bar. Exciting for sure, and as in a start up, there's no place to hide.

Entrepreneurs by definition deal in environments with huge uncertainty, and of course have to completely FOCUS to make anything work. Passion and commitment are 1000% requirements.

This sport is just MADE for the people that populate this valley… Very FUN!!