Fishy Founding

10/24/12Follow @joechung

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new group buying sites that were launched well after Groupon had already achieved a dominant position. Foursquare single handedly created the Social/Local/Mobile space (aka “SoLoMo”). But like the fish, startup opportunities swim pretty fast and don’t sleep at night.

3. Be prepared to catch a fish

And lo and behold, it turns out if you get up enough mornings before dawn, set your lines, and manage to get yourself in the right place at the right time through intel, scientific reasoning, or just plain dumb luck, you will eventually find yourself with a big fish on the line. What happens next is kind of incredible: when the fish realizes it is hooked, it tears away from the boat with all its might, pulling line off the big reel as it dives. Tuna reels have a device which makes an audible click when it is losing line, and when you have a big fish on, the clicks come so fast together that the reel literally screams. I’m proud to say that when this finally happened to us, we knew exactly what to do because we’d talked it through a dozen times. I set the hook and put the boat on a slow safe course while my son reeled in the other lines. I fought the fish until we’d gained back the line we’d initially lost and then we traded places so I could take on the riskier task of actually landing it with a big handheld gaff. There was no shouting, panic, or confusion, and it wasn’t until the fish (120 pounder) was safely in the boat that we allowed ourselves to celebrate and congratulate.

The obvious parallel is that when things do start taking off in your startup, you want to have some kind of plan as to how best to capitalize on the opportunity, or at the very least, not to totally screw it up. High growth situations don’t leave a lot of room for error, and like the line screaming off the reel, there’s not a lot of time to deal with the sudden change in circumstances. Do you raise venture capital? Who do you hire? Who do you promote? Is the opportunity really something you want to pursue or are you actually better off cutting it loose? Obviously one can’t really plan for the unknown, but it’s absolutely possible to prepare by building a strong network of trusted advisors and fully understanding the strengths and weaknesses in your team and in yourself. When things start going crazy, there are going to be an amazing number of distractions masquerading as priorities, and it’s critical that you have the means to filter the noise.

Fundamentally, tuna fishing is a game of perseverance. You accept, especially when you are starting, that you’re going to fail 8 or 9 times out of 10. Coincidentally, those are exactly the same odds for a venture backed startup. But while failing to catch a huge fish may be disappointing, nobody questions your judgement when you want to head back out to give it another shot. Failure is just part of the process in a high risk / high reward game, which is why venture capital companies create broad portfolios over which they spread their risk. For entrepreneurs, however, a failed startup still carries enormous stigma, both social and professional, which is one of the truly idiotic things about this industry. Certainly there are poor entrepreneurs whose lack of skill undoubtedly contributed to a negative outcome. But there are also great entrepreneurs who happened to have set their hooks over barren water. In a game where the odds are against you, the only way to win is to take what you’ve learned from each failure and try, try again.

And yes, on that cold dark horrible November day, we caught a beautiful 65″ bluefin which we quickly measured, photographed, and released. He’s probably still out there now, well over 250 pounds, cruising the depths while scanning up towards the surface for his prey, poised to accelerate into a ferocious arcing attack that will burst him clear out of the ocean with his mouth clamped around a hapless mackerel, herring, or just maybe the lure of a lucky fisherman who was out there on a cold, dark dawn, persistent and prepared.

Joe Chung is Managing Director at Redstar Ventures, a company that creates companies, taking them from the earliest stages of ideation and growing them through their first institutional funding rounds and beyond. Joe tweets from @joechung. Follow @joechung

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  • Chris

    I don’t understand the pleasure of inserting a stainless-steel hook in the throat of a sentient animal, hanging it by its own weight out of the water, tearing the hook out, and throwing it back in.