Driving the start-ups and the disruptors that established ones fear

”Most of us go through life with our emergency brakes on, because we want a reason not to test ourselves.” – Dan Pena

I remember that I used to drive during weekends before the pandemic erupted. I love driving around the countryside. Cruising by the road gives me a sense of freedom…. at least a day in a week. I enjoyed this because I work on weekdays in the healthcare industry saving lives. Its stressful in a way and being “toxic” is a jargon we call which literally means stressful in every way. So every weekend, I love what I do…. not only to feel free but also to save myself every week.

A couple of weeks ago, I was given a chance to drive my car after 3 months of lockdown. I savored every minute of it. The countryside, the greeneries, the bright sun on the background of a blue sky and the air around me has never been that good. It was an amazing.

I made a right turn towards another highway, and after a few seconds I heard a knocking sound coming from the rear passenger side. Initially I had not idea what it was but I felt it sounded ominous. The knocking sound became louder and louder up to the point that my car started to wobble.

“This is not good”, I though to myself. I pulled over slowly by the roadside, shut the engine off and examined the rear. Just as I feared, it was a flat tire. The tire was lacerated from the sidewalls which meant that it did not ran over a nail along the road. It just literally blew up out of nowhere.

A second after, I felt a sense of relief being alive and well at least despite experiencing a flat tire. I was thankful that I was driving slow as in this V8 monster and things could have been an unwritten story if I had driven way faster.

A sigh relief was felt as I opened the trunk. “Thank goodness, there is a spare tire”, I pondered. 

While, I was working on replace this tire, a sudden  “amazement of thought” caught me. I imagined “What if this car is a company I am driving and suddenly this pandemic just appeared out of nowhere causing my company to lose a wheel”.  

No matter how good the car manufacturer is, be it the best automaker, it makes sense that I cant drive a car with only 3 wheels.  Companies are shutting down nowadays and layoffs are rampant just because a wheel has blown up. The wheel can be anything and it can be a  a factory, people who got sick, the logistics, the management team, a business partner, the product and worse, its mission. 

  I just realized that a spare wheel and a sensible driving attitude can spare a company and all the lives that it employs and team up with.  In these era, much has been made and accomplished by big companies. Its founders, most of which I highly respect, have toiled hard to bring it up with good reputation,  changed trends, earned profits and gave back to the society. 

At this present time (which I call the pandemic time), I see only two different types of institutions. These are the old and the new ….or let me say the very well established and the start ups. The well established ones are wise but fearful of the start-ups as they might be their disruptors while the start-ups fear the well established by virtue of size and accolades.

Yes, they are courageous, and possess the energy to fuel their endeavor. However, most start-ups are not aware of another threat which they should face.  But most can’t see it nor feel it. It’s simply because they didn’t have had the mirror to face this threat. It is simply the assassin by the mirror which is none other than itself. 

“Just imagine you drove your car through life with the emergency brake on, its bad for the transmission, its bad for the engine. Then you release the brakes…..zooom!!!! You surge ahead.

– Dan Pena

Let me expound these by telling you a story between two vehicles on a highway. On a clear sunny day, there were two vehicles. One vehicle is an 18-wheeler truck, a trailer truck. It runs on diesel with its engine capable of delivering over a thousand horsepower and yes it is powerful. Daily, it drives from point A to point B with a single mission in mind. It is to deliver tons of goods produced in a huge manufacturing facility. The truck is old but its very well maintained. It has its very own mishaps in the past but it delivered well. Profits are envisioned on the road ahead towards the distribution areas.

Meanwhile, there is that other car.  Its a supercar and has half a thousand horse power in it. Just push the pedal to the metal and the transmission would kick in and jolt the driver back as the supercar lunges forward like a tiger about to leap at its prey. It growls ferociously almost eating up the road and even the most deaf ears feel it as the sound of a roaring V8 pounds towards their chest. Its fast, agile, aggressive.  

While of its mission is to go from point A to point B just like the trailer truck, however, it is greatly offset by the E-motion rather than the mission.  The beastly sound, the speed, the excitement, the thrill and the amazement are all part of the package. Its aerodynamic feature which engineers called coefficient of drag is so low that it literally cuts through air while the air behind it creates a force to propel it forwards. What an amazing feat of engineering, isn’t it!!

Running on a nearly empty highway, the driver of the supercar spots its prey, the trailer truck. The driver is aware that the trailer has more power but he knows that there is a thing called power-to-weight ratio. He may have less power but is light as a feather compared to the trailer. He knows he has the advantage.

He feels it. Adrenalin picks up like multiple shots of expresso coffee on- the-go. Neurotransmission jolts the driver up. Sympathetic overload overclocks mind and body. The mind suddenly goes into a mode where time, space and existence are so tightly held up and that the prediction of the future is so certain that nothing is uncertain.

He is a bit sweaty and takes a deep breath. The emotion…. now becomes the mission. In his mind and heart, he wants to overtake the trailer truck.

He doesn’t question why as rationale defeats the purpose of the new emotion of the mission, the thrill and the amazement. The seconds seem everlasting. The imagination of overtaking the prey induces emotional irrationality. But he doesn’t care because the moment is there.

This is it..ITS GOT BE…NOW!!!!!

A sudden push from the right foot pushes that accelerator to its end and in a split second, all the 500 horses came alive producing a unique grunt that thrusts the supercar from 60mph to a 100 in no time.

The speed keeps going and going until it passes the trailer truck. Seconds later the truck is so far away it cant be clearly seen. At last the driver of the supercar breathes out. Emotions accomplished rather than a mission accomplished.

If these who vehicles were companies, where would you like to be?  Should you follow your emotions or should you ride with the great ones? There is no middle ground as there were only two vehicles on the road.  Should you insist on the middle ground, then you’re off the road walking. 

The trailer truck albeit slow, is on a mission. A credible one. It has loads to carry, not only profits, but a lot of responsibilities. The usefulness of the thousand horsepower has been more meaningful. 

Its driver is well experienced and with him bestowed greater responsibility of directing the trailer truck towards its destination. He is also unemotional on most times. He doesn’t care about being overdriven. All he cares about is the long haul and the mission. 

However, he is aware that the supercar might be a threat in the future. So, he and the company he owns… hire a set of insurers to help maintain the trailer truck should it breakdown along the highway. Though costly, it is one logical means to stay afloat.

His ultimate fear is that what if the trailer suddenly loses direction along the way or sudden tragedy occurs that insurers cannot help maintain. This would halt operations resulting from a stalled truck in the middle of nowhere.  Though the company is huge enough to be called an empire, it is not able to keep up with its maintenance if supply lines are cut.  The trailer truck cannot run with a wheel missing,  just because its wheel supplier suddenly ceased production. 

The bigger the truck and the heavier its load will translate to a more difficulty changing directions. It might be more difficult to maneuver should it spot a big pothole ahead.  

These are the apprehensions going through his mind seeing the supercar zoomed past him. 

Meanwhile, the supercar has its own story.  Its a startup. Like every businesses, all begins with a startup. And it success hugely depends on its leader.  Everyone has ideas but it all depends on the way the leader drives those ideas. 

“Focus on the signal over noise”

– Ellon Musk

I remember a motivational speaker, Dan Pena. He said “Just imagine you drove your car through life with the emergency brake on, its bad for the transmission, its bad for the engine. Then you release the brakes…..zooom!!!! You surge ahead.  

In order to overtake the a huge trailer truck in a two way highway, the driver has to plan ahead. Emotions are high. Imaginations are pushed to become reality.  Emotions drives the will which, in turn, forces the driver to spin the wheels. 

On a caveat, the will has to be connected with other faculties. The time,  situation and condition of the road ahead has to be imagined with a clear vision with no noise in between. 

An event has to be imagine with all dimensions considered. Lose one aspect of the dimension and you lose track of reality. 

Ellon Musk once said “Focus on the signal over noise”.  There are many distractions over the road ahead.  In fact, the driver himself can be noise over the signal. 

There are two kinds of drivers of start ups that I am aware of. 

One driver is of a hungry type. He is driven by passion and emotion. That is his main force. He has the ideas and executes it by heart. For every success entails the emotional rewards. The more accolades the more contented he is. However, his mind is young.

Emotions drive him but too much of it can destroy his company.  Being too emotional at things or events has an effect on ones complacency that can put one off guard at any given time. Rationality is lost over time and the mission blurred. Being too contented will lessen the grip on one’s toes and risks slipping opportunities and warnings.  

The driver can become too overconfident that he might lose connection with reality and affirms his fixed false beliefs about no one can alleviate.  He may rev way too much causing his super car to lose control and flip over.  And that’s…game over.  

The other driver is unlike the former. He is unlike any other. He also drives a super car. The main difference is that he has his mind focused on the mission and the mission is driven by passion. Unlike any driver, he built his super car from ideas which he composed day by day.

Furthermore, he was able to connect with other like minded persons with the same passion and ultimate goal. They collaborated and worked on a project through research and hard work until they built the prototype supercar.

The camaraderie and partnership he built among his friends enabled them to establish a company that they have now. And it was successful. 

There were not too emotional about success but they are on their toes ready to challenge,  compete and innovate.  They are not afraid about failures as they already have a blueprint beforehand how to get up as failures are expected. 

I remembered what Dan Pena again said, “Most of us go through life with our emergency brakes on, because we want a reason not to test ourselves.”  Most people are afraid not to fail but afraid of the psychological and emotion consequences it might bear them. Dampen this down and you will slowly release the brakes. 

Once his company grows bigger and bigger, this driver is aware that he cannot anymore drive on his own. Its time to give up the steering wheel. So he employed a driver with more or less his qualification so at the same time he could work on how to better his company while he is driven safely by his new driver. 

This driver is an example of one that the trailer driver fears the most, that he might be overtaken in terms of innovation, creativity, resilience, partnership and wisdom.

Going back to reality, I was almost done replacing the tire and it took me 30 minutes to replace it. I was sweating under the hot sun…It sure was a learning experience for me.  It was quite a relief that the spare tire fits exactly like the old one and that I can drive home safely now.  Just like what happened with my experience have a flat tire, it never is a bad to have a spare tire as I would never know when I would need it most.  

I hope that someday, I can find like-minded people committed to the same goal which we will build a company from scratch and go through it with the same character as the unique driver I mentioned a while ago. And this…my friend ….will be a long journey ahead  worthy of writing it into books. 

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