How Startups Are Like Backflips

Joshua McKenty  /  May 7, 2013  / 

Long before I became involved in IT infrastructure, I was an acrobat.

Well, an aspiring acrobat, anyway. At the peak of my ‘career’, I practiced hundreds of backflips in a single night. And there’s a funny thing about backflips. Your eyes are open. You’re coming around the right way, insoasmuch as you’ve got the ground in front of your eyes before you need to have it under your feet.

But you won’t remember it.

I had performed at least a thousand backflips before I was fully conscious, for the first time, of the view from upside down. It’s simply too disorienting, and it goes by too fast. While keeping your eyes open clearly *works* (since I was able to learn to land on my feet), it’s not something that your conscious brain can keep up with.

Startups are just like this. Growing a team, while building a product in a new and explosive market, feels just as foreign and disorienting to an entrepreneur, as spinning rapidly through the air does to an up-and-coming aerialist.

Before I learned to tumble, I was a juggler. And surprisingly, juggling is learned almost exactly the same as a backflip — since there’s no time for reflection or correction while in flight, you learn to focus on the throws and the catches. The takeoffs, and the landings.

There is a special magic about living in San Francisco when you’re running a technology company. Everyone, literally everyone, down to and including the bartenders, hairdressers and cab drivers, really wants to see you succeed. So invariably, they start with a simple-seeming question — “How’s it going?”

Honestly, I have no idea. I’m upside down, and even though I’ve got my eyes open, I can’t tell what it is I’m seeing. But if you can see from where you’re standing, can you tell me if my toes are pointed? Once I’ve landed this one, of course.

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