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Startup Journal: The Feeling When Your Business Takes Flight

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When I was 13, a family friend took me flying in a Cessna 172, a tiny and reliable little beauty with only four seats and a single-prop engine. Not only was it my first time in a co-pilot’s seat, it was my first time in an airplane!

Once we reached cruising altitude, the pilot looked across at me, grinned, let go of the control column, and invited me to fly for a while.

I nervously grasped my controls, and held them rigidly. I was determined not to fly into the ground (a comfortable 6,000 feet below us), or crash into any mountains (which, in central Mississippi, are non-existent).

A few minutes in, I relaxed a little.

The engine hadn’t died. I hadn’t accidentally put the plane through a barrel-roll. We hadn’t randomly exploded in a great ball of fire. Things were good.

Feeling slightly Top Gun-ish, I grinned confidently across at my friend, who acknowledged my new-found bravery, and invited me to “throw her around a little.”

Experimentally, I rolled slightly to the right, then the left. It rocked! I was Maverick.

I shoved the stick forward, and the plane promptly dived about five hundred feet. I freaked.

How does flying relate to startups?

The last three weeks have been the epitome of startup life.

  • Back-to-back-to-back conventions.
  • A team who doesn't understand the concept of "no."
  • Red-eye flights.
  • Protein bars instead of meals.
  • Lugging booth setup through airports and Ubers and hotels.
  • 18 hour work-days.
  • And enough adrenaline to kickstart the dead.

Welcome to Text Request!

This piece is a raw celebration of probably the most exciting time in my young life.

I’m excited. Very excited! You couldn’t physically drag me away from this company, this opportunity, or this team.

The stakes are higher around here than ever before, too.

We just attended IFA 2016, the world's largest franchisor event. It was massive, filled with all those "chain stores" you see in any town. We turned the dial up to 11, and crushed it!

I’ve never met anybody as hungry as this team in my life.

We've hit that magical point where it feels like we're about to go super-human. Everything's clicking. I can't even articulate the sensation! If I’m not in a hotel room at an expo, I can’t sleep anymore (literal statement, not an exaggeration).

Related: Startup Journal: How Should You Spend Your Time?

Last night, I couldn’t stop running over a pitch I made to a Director of Branding in a major umbrella company. If you’ve ever needed any home service, you called somebody who works for this guy, far down the chain of command.

It wasn't even a bad pitch! I pitched well, and I still couldn’t stop mulling it over long enough to sleep.

This morning, I came into the office before anybody else. Since I couldn’t sleep, I knew where I needed to be.

At the last convention, we must have been the only guys out of 4,000 participants who refused to hit the bars and restaurants after hours.

Instead we forced our contacts and notes into our CRM, rushed through late-night dinners at Denny’s (for our first meals of the day), and squeezed in a few hours of rest before hitting it again early the next morning.

Why does this story matter?

See, being part of a startup means a few different things.

A.) It means you're probably about to fail. Take a count of everyone around you who’s told you that they’re starting their own company, and then count again the people who succeeded. If any one of them did, you probably don’t know him or her anymore.

B.) You’re getting paid roughly nothing to fail.

C.) Failure happens for about five million different reasons, ranging from insufficient funds of a great idea to the wrong opportunities missed or the wrong suggestions ignored.

Failure happens.

But - in the wise words of Adam Savage, "I reject your reality, and substitute my own!" Failure is not an option.

Failure is what happens when you quit. It's what happens when you don’t make the deals, even though you’re the best and you know it.

Failure is what happens when you let the fact that you’re half the age of people you're pitching destroy your confidence, despite being the expert at what you do.

Failure is what happens when you decide you’re tired, when you decide you’re hungry, when you decide that you need time to recharge. It's what happens when you fool yourself into believing that you don’t have the juice to go on.

Failure is unacceptable, particularly as we start to take flight.

Related: Startup Journal: Accepting Failure vs. Expecting Failure

We launched 16 months ago. We’ve had some cool stories. We’ve done some cool things. It’s been a wild ride. Most importantly, nobody can say we haven't tried.

But guess what.

We’re starving, we’re exhausted - we’re a startup! If time is the ground 6,000 ft. below us, we're in a nosedive fighting to pull up. Trying isn’t the name of the game. We're in it for only one reason - to win.

-- Foster Benson, Account Manager