5 Similarities Between Mountains and Startups

January 7, 2016


Gravie’s co-founder, Jill Prevost, recently hiked to Machu Picchu with her husband Robert. In reflecting on the trip, Jill recognized big similarities that exist between the trip and starting a company. 

I turned 40 last October, and to mark the milestone my husband and I decided to do a bucket list-y kind of trip. We made plans to go to Peru to hike the Andes Mountains and end at Machu Picchu, something I had always wanted to see.

Given my usual preference for vacations (sun, sand, and spas), my husband asked if this is for sure how I wanted to celebrate my birthday. I have to admit the idea of a sandy beach crossed my mind, but I knew I wanted an unforgettable experience—something memorable and unique that would push me out of my comfort zone. So yes, I was sure that a venture to South America with a backpack stuffed with hiking boots, walking sticks, raingear, and altitude sickness pills was what I wanted.

I definitely made the right call.

As I think about this experience, the trip had a lot of similarities to starting a company. In both cases, there were questions about the unknown and nerves as I wondered if it would be what I expected. Both were about trying something new and creating opportunities for growth. But one of the biggest similarities between starting a company and our trip to Peru is that the best part has been the journey.

When I tell people I went to Peru, usually the first question is, “Was Machu Picchu amazing?” I say yes, but the four days trekking through the Andes leading up to Machu Picchu were even better. It’s the same feeling in a startup environment, where sharing ideas and conversations about what could be, and turning them into something real, is exhilarating. Take away the journey, and you’re taking away the best part.

As I think about the days we spent in the Andes Mountains, there are five things that parallel the experience of launching a startup:

1) Anticipation

Leading up to our trip, I spent a lot of time researching – trying to find out what we would need, how early we should arrive to get acclimated to the altitude, and trying to figure out if a non-hiker like me would be able to hike seven hours a day. While trying to quickly get smart about hiking in Peru, I found it nerve wracking, but the anticipation was getting me excited for what was ahead.

In a startup, the anticipation runs high, especially during the early days of planning your approach, and worrying about whether or not you can make your ideas viable. While stressful for sure, it is energizing to think about all the possibilities and what will take shape in the months and years ahead.

2) The unknown

When you try something new, there’s always an element of the unknown. In Peru, it was things like wondering how our bodies would adjust to higher altitudes (we went as high as 17,000 feet) and gauging how we’d deal with unpredictable weather (at the top of one peak it started to sleet while hours later at the bottom we were worried about getting sunburnt).

In a startup, you lose sleep thinking about how you’re going to build the product, who you’re going to hire, if they’ll be the right fit, and how to build a business that’s sustainable if the market changes. In my experience, when you face these types of very real issues, you find out what you’re made of. These are the times where you need to be focused, adaptable, and ready for anything.

3) Finding your groove (and catching your breath)

Day one of hiking in the Andes was tough. Our legs and feet were sore. On day two, we felt like we were hitting our stride, and days three and four were even better. We were no longer nervous about whether we’d make it, but found ourselves enjoying the moment.

For startups, you long for the day where you begin to feel like you’ve found your groove—that feeling when you actually have customers, you’ve built version 1.0 of your product and things are working. At this point, you can come out of the trenches and focus on things like customer feedback, making improvements, adjusting course, and building your team so you’re ready for what’s around the corner.

4) Ups and downs

Hiking through a mountain range, you literally get to experience the peaks and valleys.

In a startup, the same holds true. There will always be highs and lows. What’s important is how you react and deal with them. You’re going to run into problems and have successes and failures (sometimes in the same day!). At some point, you’re going to get tired and run out of energy. For me, handling these extreme situations is about keeping things in perspective. At work, it’s hard to commit the time and energy necessary when you’re raising a family. When it’s all going well, you feel like a rock star, but when you have a rough stretch, you can feel like a complete failure. It’s not easy, but keeping things in perspective helps remind you that it’s probably not as bad – or as good – as it seems in the moment.

5) Relationships

The best part of any journey is the people you meet. In Peru, we were with 11 other people. As an introvert, I figured this could be the one part of the experience that I wouldn’t like. But instead, I met some of the most fun and interesting people from around the world, shared a ton of laughs, and built some amazing new friendships.

In a startup, the same holds true. It’s all about the people. Having the chance to learn every day, work with the smartest people you’ve ever known, and build lifelong friendships is the best part. You may have disagreements, but when you trust the people you’re with, you know everyone is giving their best and everything will be okay.

Whether you’re planning your next adventure or thinking about starting a company, I hope you reach your Machu Picchu. Only a small percentage of startups reach their final destination as planned, but the experience will most certainly lead to growth—both personally and professionally.

So, remember, destinations can be amazing, but it’s the journey that lives with you forever.

About Jill Prevost

Jill is co-founder and head of brand experience at Gravie. Jill oversees the website experience, marketing programs, communications, partnerships, and just about anything that involves our customers. Jill has a unique and extensive background that has been a key contributor to Gravie’s success.

Prior to founding Gravie, Jill was co-founder and head of customer experience at Bloom Health. Prior to founding Bloom, Jill led innovation and consumer engagement at RedBrick Health where she played an integral role in establishing RedBrick as a leading innovator in the industry.

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