I recently returned from Argentina where I climbed the tallest mountain outside of the Himalayas, Aconcagua. Aconcagua is the tallest mountain in South America and attracts many people who want to accomplish the Seven Summits series — climbing the tallest mountain on every continent.
Aconcagua was unique because, for the first time in my life, I didn’t reach the summit of a mountain I set out to climb. As I look back on the amazing experience, I can’t help but find it analogous to entrepreneurship and running a startup. Here are the top lessons I learned and how you can apply them to your own entrepreneurial journey.
You will face naysayers.
Climbing Aconcagua had been on my mind for over a year. Many of the people I talked to about it told me how incredibly challenging it was and that they didn’t think I would be able to do it. Even though I had more experience than most of the people giving me this advice and had faith in my own abilities, I was still hesitant to attempt the mountain. I thought I could do it but I let the negativity of others impact and influence me.
It wasn’t until I met a stranger who had climbed the mountain multiple times before that I made a decision. I told him about my interest in the mountain and some of my concerns, which were really the concerns of others. He immediately assured me that I had nothing to worry about. At that moment, I decided my next adventure would be to climb Aconcagua.
This is just like entrepreneurship. Before someone starts their business, they often go to their friends and network for support. They may receive criticism on why the idea is bad, why it won’t work and/or the risks associated with starting a company. What I’ve learned from my recent experience is that feedback is good, but you are the one who needs to make the decision. It also helps to get advice from people who actually know what they are talking about. Go directly to the source and talk to someone who has done it before. If you believe in yourself, take a leap of faith — as long as you have some idea of what you’re in for.
Preparation is key — to an extent.
When preparing for Aconcagua, there were things that I could control and others that were completely out of my hands. I could control my mental and physical fitness, the gear I was bringing, my general knowledge and skills and my plan of attack. What I couldn’t control was the weather, other people in my group and accidents and injuries. A massive snowstorm hit when we were about to do our summit push and was the catalyst for us not being able to summit. The storm caused us to do what could be considered an emergency descent, which was a unique experience that I personally loved because we were able to leverage our fitness and skills. (Luckily, only minor injuries were endured.)
This is no different than in business. You can control your actions and your output and you can set the objectives the company is trying to achieve. However, there are so many factors that are out of your hands. Funding might fall through, top staff might quit or a key vendor might let you down. This is when you have to use your abilities and perform. When the unplanned happens, you can decide to quit or you can adapt. Remember, it is the journey that matters and that you later appreciate.
You won’t have all the answers.
Our group on the mountain started as eight individuals and two guides. With the exception of my significant other, people didn’t know one another beforehand. People came from all over the world, were different ages, had different professions and had different skill sets. Along the way, two members dropped out mainly due to fitness issues. We all struggled at different times and for different reasons, but we worked together to help everyone through the problems they faced.
As a leader, you’re not going to have all the answers and neither will one specific individual on your team. Just like on the mountain, it is critical to understand everyone’s strengths and weaknesses so that you can build an environment where the team has the best chance of success. Spend time communicating. Make sure your team understands what is expected. If someone is struggling, work with them to overcome the challenges they are facing.
Challenges lead to motivation and future success.
I’ve generally been intrinsically motivated in my life and my mind is always focusing on what is next. I also value the tangible and intangible benefits that arise from being challenged. After over two weeks on the mountain, I was able to better develop various outdoor skills, communication and first-aid skills. I made new friends and was able to spend time reflecting on life.
When you start a company, remember that there are not often right or wrong answers — this is both a good and a bad thing. It’s up to you to set the vision and purpose of the organization. The journey takes time and when the unexpected happens, such as market demand changes or the product you originally planned to build no longer being viable, chances are you will need to change your plan. This should almost be expected in today’s unpredictable business world. So, take what you’ve learned along the way and apply it to the next chapter so that the journey can continue and you can get even better.
Something isn’t an adventure until something goes wrong. Luckily in life, business and travel, there are plenty of adventures and opportunities for growth. Find the adventure that is right for you and enjoy the journey.Kasey Kaplan is the founder of KWK Media Productions and Co-Founder Urban FT. He drives strategy, innovation, and growth.
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