Atlas5rocketLMCOartistWork less on your start-up by building an engine: The lesson of the car & the rocket

There once was an entrepreneur named name Lisa. While she was still young, she promised herself that she would work hard to commercialize something as important and world-changing as the automobile. Lisa thought and planned and tinkered for a very long time. Eventually she decided her company would commercialize the revolutionary, anti-gravity hover board to help transport people in a more efficient and earth-friendly way.

Lisa set off like a rocket, working day and night with little sleep, many times skipping meals and sacrificing her social life. She hired several employees along the way and after a few years of back-breaking labor they had a prototype ready. They began showing the hover board to merchants and skateboard companies and consumers—anyone who would listen. However, for some reason everyone had a different complaint about it: it was too small, difficult to maneuver, the colors didn’t match… Undeterred Lisa and her team managed to make a few initial sales to keep the company afloat while they continued to improve the product. They launched a website, and a year later a national PR campaign. Soon customers everywhere were clamoring for Lisa’s hover board.

Lisa now had to work even harder.  She wore many hats at her company, and struggled to keep any sort of balance in her life. While the product was exploding in popularity, Lisa was forced to take time off from the company since her health was in decline. She simply could not keep up with customer demand. Although the company would continue on to financial success, it faltered severely in Lisa’s absence; operations deteriorated and morale suffered from extremely long work days…

As a 23 year old CEO of restaurant software company I recently had a similar experience to Lisa, though far less dramatic. A few months ago, my business partner finished building version one of our small business marketing software, BlueskyLocal.com. The week prior we’d buckled down and worked day and night to reach our design and development goals for the service. Though we succeeded in meeting most of them, it wasn’t worth the cost since we were mentally brain dead by the end. We hadn’t left the apartment once all week, and had skipped meals several times.

Have you ever worked that hard on your business or the way Lisa did in the story above?  If you have, then perhaps you can understand the meaning of the “rocket work ethic.” Rockets are cool, but in this case you don’t want to be the rocket.

Rockets take off fast; they fly far and high, but most explode, or burn out and fall back to earth once their fuel is used up. They aren’t meant to refueled in mid-flight. Similar to the rocket you will lose energy if you overwork yourself and ultimately flame out if you maintain that form.

Instead, aim to be the product that originally inspired Lisa’s grand entrepreneurial vision for a better mode of transportation: the car. A car can be driven and easily maneuvered by the driver. Other benefits include cruise control and the fact that a car can be easily refueled in mid-trip.

It has been said that starting a company is like building a car while driving it. While building your car, make sure you invest time in crafting your business model, which represents your car’s engine. The engine is the one thing that prevents you from having to get out and walk. I am using the term business model loosely here to encompass all of the systems and processes that will keep your company running almost ceaselessly without you having to get out and push, assuming you are able to continuously fuel the machine with cash flow.

Prevent yourself and your team from overwork, avoid the rocket work ethic by adopting the car mentality: work less and break frequently to think and plan out the different components of your business engine.

This guest post was authored by Matt Ackerson, a recent graduate of Cornell University. Matt is the Co-Founder & CEO of Bluesky Local, which offers an innovative restaurant marketing software solution. He also writes daily articles on his entrepreneurship blog, Venture Kid.

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