This weekend I was entertained by the news that Color, a social media startup, was moving from “mobile” to “FaceBook” as their primary platform. Whether you think that’s a good idea or not or whether the only thing Color has going for them was the $40million they received in venture capital, it represent a pivot in their strategy.
My second company pivoted. I didn’t like it much. We started out doing products, bootstrapping due to the complete lack of seed funding in the region (something that has been fixed) and ended up selling our souls to contract development. Yes, we were bootstrapping but only due to lack of choice. And I hated it.
I spent last weekend sailing with Ballyholme Yacht Club and earned my RYA Level 2 “Start Sailing” certificate. The core concept of sailing is summed up by five essentials:
- Sail setting
- Course Made Good
Trim and Balance are all about keeping yourself in the boat while the wind and waves are trying to throw you out. In dinghy sailing, keeping the boat at flat as possible means you can eke out the best performance. Plow the bow in too far and you lose speed, similarly too much weight on the stern causes excessive drag.
Sail Setting is about keeping the wind in your sails. When sailing, your primary method of locomotion is through the wind. While you can make some progress on the currents, surfing the odd wave and negotiating the tides, it is with the wind that you make progress.
Centreboard, also known as a daggerboard or keel, provides resistance to the wind driving you sideways and off course. It also helps in keeping you in a boat. You have to know when to set the centreboard hard or when to pull it in a little to reduce drag.
Course Made Good is figuring out which way you have to point your little boat in order to arrive at the destination, taking into account the current and tides, waves, obstacles, other vessels and, of course, the direction of the wind. Sometimes the most direct route is impossible (sailing upwind) and you may have to tack or gybe your way through the wind to reach your desired goal.
So what are tacking and gybing?
Tacking is moving your boat against the wind to change direction. As you face the wind, the power is lost from the sails. You lose some speed but the manoeuvre is controllable, predictable and if things go wrong, the worst thing that can happen is that you slow to a stop.
Gybing is moving your boat through the wind to change direction. The wind is always fully in the sails, the process is much quicker and much more violent but there is much more risk of losing control and ending up in the water.
Knowing when a tack is needed and when only a gybe will do is something that is gained through experience. It depends on what direction you are going, where you want to go and what direction the wind is heading. it depends on what risks you are taking. Our instructor, Alice, related a tale of how she was forced to tack multiple times during a race when one gybe would have completed the turn because the high winds and risk of capsize would have lost her the race.
I can’t help but relate the concepts of tacking and gybing to startups who feel the need to pivot. In fact, all of the five essentials of sailing can be related in some way and would, in my opinion, go well in a business plan.