James Mayes

Mountain climbing, start-ups and the value of failure.

In Recruitment, Start-ups, SXSWi on March 14, 2010 at 1:26 pm

On one of the entrepreneur panels, I heard a start-up analogy which I noted down, intending to reflect on it further.  I’ve changed my mind on the reflection part – I’m just going to put it out there and see how it lands.  This is pretty much verbatim, so you’ll have to roll with the style change.

As you may know one of the tallest mountains in England is Ben Nevis.  Most times, you can walk up there in your sneakers and have a great time.  Every now and again though, someone gets killed. The reason is almost always a result of environmental conditions. They change incredibly fast and if the climber isn’t aware (and equipped) it can be fatal.  The same is true of start-up businesses – be aware, be equipped, monitor your surroundings.

I abandoned the reflection part of this because I don’t think it actually needs much. It stands just fine on it’s own – but it sparked a memory. This is an experience I had some eight years ago – nothing to do with mountains, but everything to do with start-ups.  At that time, I was working for a corporate recruiter, placing a variety of technical and IT management staff.  Recruiting for a start-up who’d just got seed funding, we discussed an assignment for an IT Director.  The most important part of the specification?  They wanted someone who’d worked for at least two failed start-ups.  With the discussions flying round at SXSW, I now hear that view expressed regularly. Companies don’t just want people who think they know how to do it right – they want people who know how not to do it wrong.

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