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!!


Blogger Joe Agliozzo said...

Good observations! I think also for a lot of us the common element is boredom and needing to do something new all the time (applies to both startups and water/windsports). In business, I have a regular calendar of 2-3 years when I need to push into a new territory and after surfing for 30+ years, I definitely enjoyed doing something new in the surf!

The fun is all in the learning curve!

1:51 PM  
Blogger Jake's Dad said...

I think kiting, and startups, also requires fear and intensity. Focus and uncertaintly are magnified with fear creating an intensity you cannot find anywhere else. I always joke, "it's not a sport if you can't die doing it" ;-).
I started kiting this year. First in Sydney then in Maui. That was enough to get hooked. I had the confidence and the gear to continue my learning on my own. A few sessions later and I'm able to stay upwind and started jumping and slide turns. I don't even bother bringing my windsurfing gear anymore!
There's something special about kiting. I think the personal challenge is as important to entrepreneurs.

Another common situation - just when you think you've got it wired, screaming on edge, it's easy to get cocky and make a costly mistake. Yesterday, tweaked out on my 16m Xbow buzzing the shoreline, my kite got awefully close to trees, flagpoles, and other obstacles. Fortunately, I got away with it this time. Which brings me to my last commonality with startup entrepreneurs - luck. You can't argue with plain old luck. I like to believe you can make your own luck, but I think this may be a bit naive.

1:33 PM  
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