Five things startups can learn from kitesurfing


Do you have an idea, insight or passion you think could make a great Startup?

Time spent at the beach could actually be relevant to your business success…

Recently I’ve helped launch StartupWA, mentored at Startup Weekend, advised government on digital and innovation strategy and enjoyed the start of the kitesurfing season. This all got me thinking, and below I share five insights that could help your startup grow.

  1. Simplicity can hide complexity

Great kitesurfers make navigating big waves in screaming winds look simple. Great startup entrepreneurs similarly create elegant and easy-to-use solutions, hiding the complex behind-the-scenes challenges.

You may have an idea for a startups or app, but do you understand the real challenges of building a great product? Using Uber and thinking “I could do that” is like watching Aaron Hadlow flip in a video and thinking after a few lessons you will do it better.

Avoid being over-confident based on your ideas alone. Instead of investing in hype, spend time understanding the market, trying and failing a lot, and learning from those who’ve already done it.

  1. Community is a competitive advantage

Even experienced kitesurfers appreciate help to launch, and feel safer on the water with around. At new locations, smart kitesurfers pay attention to where and when others are going to stay safe get the best conditions.

Similarly, launching a startup is easier when you have a co-founder or mentors, and surrounded by like-minded community. You can learn faster from others success, failures, and from their insights into different markets or technology. In WA, that’s why communities like Spacecubed, Pollinators, eGroup and Startup Weekend are so popular.

Being attentive, active and contributing to a community can be a competitive advantage, and just more fun, than operating in isolation.

  1. Practise + feedback = progression

Running a cashflow business from 9 to 5, or kitesurfing within your limits on the weekends is fine for most people. However it’s not enough to deliver 10x returns to investors, or to win world championships.

Progression requires learning through deliberate practise and objective feedback. World-class kitesurfers use video feedback, coaches, gym sessions and competitions to accelerate their development. Entrepreneurs use market-testing, analytics, mentors, and competitions to practise test ideas, perfect their pitch and get objective feedback.

Clarity about your aspirations will set the foundations for progression. Growth can come from investment and applying the learning from critical feedback and tough competition.

  1. Pivot your way to glory

Great kitesurfers’ are continuously pivoting around rails and fins while maintaining alignment with the wind and wave energy. Copying the moves without understanding the dynamics will look like a lot of wobbling, flapping and probably end with a crash.

Similarly, great companies seem to continuously ‘pivot’ their products and focus to maintain alignment between their assets, business model and the market. If you’re hearing lots of stories about ‘pivots’, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that success will come through flailing around with lots of random ideas or one spectacular high-risk pivot that fails.

Success can come through skilful and timely re-alignments of your assets, services, and marketing with the energy and direction of the market.

  1. Location can help your aspirations

In some locations the right combination of wind, topography and accessibility mean the conditions for kitesurfing are much better, more often. Talent can flock to those locations and shops, product-testers, investors and tourists may follow. Welcome to Geraldton!

It’s similarly true that some locations have better conditions for high growth businesses. Location-specific advantages are why a startup from Perth may relocate somewhere the conditions for growth are better for high performance. Welcome to Silicon Valley!

But it’s also more subtle than that. Depending on your market niche and stage of growth, you will have different needs. Regional towns with great tech infrastructure or cities flush with cash and expertise from the resources industry both have relative competitive advantages for different businesses.

If you’re mobile, consider moving: it’s easier than ever! Maybe visit a few times first, to be really sure it’s the right match for your niche and aspirations.

Andrew Outhwaite is based in Geraldton with roles in Pollinators Inc, StartupWA, Bendigo Bank, and Geraldton Airlines. Connect with him on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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