(This column first ran on UT San Diego on April 24, 2012)
Oncorhynchus mykiss. Or more commonly known as the rainbow trout. Its close cousin, the steelhead, is a sea-run rainbow trout (anadromous)
that returns to the fresh water river, where it was first born, to spawn after two to three years at sea.
I recently spent three days on the Nehalem River outside Tillamook, Ore., chasing the steelhead, and the experience provided some echoes to the entrepreneurial challenge we all face.
First, there is a reason they call it fishing, instead of catching. Fly-fishing for steelhead is not about catching; it is about the art and beauty of the cast. The catching part is to a large extent luck.
We used a spey rod. It was 13 feet long, and the cast was supposed to launch the fly about 90 feet across the river. It is a two-handed cast, with its own ballet twist and turn ritual. There is a delicate rhythm; apply too much power too quickly and the fly falls in a ball tangled in front of you or hooks you in the ear.
Well, creating a product is like that cast. It is an art; it has its own elegance. Find the graceful transfer of effort to create power in your company. Form follows function. Delight in the presentation, in the sheer joy of being able to cast the fly a very long way with a beautiful, final finish. There is serenity and gratification in creating a great product — just like a great cast. When it all works and the fly lands far out on the river, there is a yelp of joy — unbridled enthusiasm simply in the doing, in the being able to make something that meets the test, in making something that someone wants to use or touch or buy.
Raising money, on the other hand, is like catching. Presentation of the fly matters greatly. However, casting where there are no fish is an exercise in futility, except, you can’t know if there are no fish. You have to assume that every cast is right on the nose, with a pink flashabou pattern that they cannot resist. But then there is no take. Like pitching your PowerPoint to the angels who don’t fund or the venture capitalists who say they have money, but really don’t. They just like to look at the fly. That way they can collect their fees.
So you have to love the pitch, you have to love the process, you have to love your team, your company and your product, because even making 700 casts (as I did on the trip) — many of them beautiful— does not guarantee a bite.
Finally, one member of our group caught a very nice steelhead from a terrible, tangled cast. Luck and timing. It doesn’t seem fair. And isn’t that the whole story of the startup. You fail many more times than you succeed, and the favorable outcome is often a fortuitous pivot from a failed idea. It can make you crazy. Why isn’t there a clear, connected, linear correlation between effort, conception, execution, production, acceptance and catching? There isn’t, and after all these years at the game, I have finally come to believe that is just the way it ought to be.
It’s not a puzzle you can solve. That’s why you keep coming back. Just like the steelhead that keeps coming back up the river, against the current, so he can spawn and go back into the ocean, and then a few years later, come back up the river to spawn again — and again.
Be the fish.
That’s fly-fishing for entrepreneurs.
Rule No. 208
Never, ever underestimate the power of good fortune.
Rule No. 213
Never, ever underestimate the power of time and timing.
Source: From Neil Senturia’s book “I’m There for You, Baby: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to the Galaxy,” which has more than 200 rules for entrepreneurs