This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.
“You don’t need to paddle as hard for the bigger waves”
That’s what Kaoki, my surfing instructor, told me during my first surf lesson on the shores of Maui two weeks ago. It was as if he was some executive coach because everything he said to me made complete sense from a business perspective. In the back of my mind I was still trying to digest the Facebook IPO and how a small company realized over $100B in value in just a few short years. So when he started talking about the “waves,” some things he said became immediately clear.
“You don’t need to paddle as hard for the bigger waves.” The pre start-up days of a start-up company are among the most exciting and also, the most terrifying. This is the moment when entrepreneurs decide what they are going to build and what market they are going to be in. Often times this can be very paralyzing to an entrepreneur because their choices are unlimited, so the fear sets in when they start asking, “but what if I choose the wrong idea?” So as an entrepreneur, the real question you should be asking is “what if I choose the wrong wave?” Start by looking at very large markets or quickly emerging markets. You will have more room for error while also having more upside potential. Another friend of mine said, “it takes the same amount of work to build a successful company in a big market as it does in a small market.” He’s spot on. Start with a bigger market. Start with a bigger wave.
“Surfing is 90% paddling and 10% surfing.” In order to actually stand up on a wave, you need to paddle and you need to do so in a way that gives you a chance to surf. In any startup, this is what matters most. Putting in the time, work, dedication and focus beforehand so you can enjoy that sweet fundraising event or successful exit later on. Without the right type of paddling and focus, you’ll never be able to enjoy a wave.
“Don’t just paddle, push the water.” Writing emails for the sake of writing emails is rather meaningless. This concept applies to just about everything you do at your job. When you are trying to get something done, do it with reason. If you don’t have one, ask yourself why you are doing it in the first place. If you aren’t “pushing water” you may never get up on a wave and you’ll just be some person sitting in the middle of the ocean, or industry, bobbing up and down on a fancy looking boogie board.
“Be patient. The good waves will come.” If you are patient, committed, and hardworking, you will eventually find yourself starring at a great opportunity. The question is, will you be prepared? Will you “push the water” and put in the work so that you can stand up on the board and ride it out?
I hope so.