Better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than being in the air and wishing you were on the ground

Big Red Car here.

So the other day The Boss and I head out to Georgetown, Texas to shoot a few “touch n goes” to keep the flying skills sharp.  I listened to him and a buddy talk about flying and business and how they are related.

You young entrepreneurs, listen up.  Some good stuff here.

Flying and starting a business are very similar

I remember The Boss talking once about a quick trip — a beautiful flight — he took one morning from Columbia, SC (KCAE) over to Myrtle Beach (KMYR)  just after dawn.  The air was crisp and you could see your breath.  The sky was crystal clear with the sun just coming up to the east.  Bit of dew on the wings.

He calls the Flight Service Station and gets a weather briefing — CAVU, ceiling and visibility unlimited air calm.  Perfect weather.

The Boss files a flight plan.  He could have gone VFR (visual flight rules) but he elects to go IFR because there are a lot of MOAs (military operations areas) between Columbia and Myrtle.

Then he conducts a painstaking pre-flight inspection of the aircraft.  He checks, double checks and re-checks EVERYTHING.

Sounds like launching a new business, a startup.  Research the business, the market.  Get some advice, make a definitive plan.  Review your plan with some wise man.  Check, double check and re-check EVERYTHING.

Launching into the wild blue yonder

Taking off is almost exactly like launching a startup.  Get into position.  Announce your intentions to the tower and air traffic control.  Line it up and then go to full power.  Smoothly accelerate.

Pull back gently on the yoke and just let that 4,000 pound plane gently leave the tarmac and fly.  You don’t make it leap into the sky by hauling back on the yoke.

No, you gently pull back and the plane decides when it is ready to fly.  Well, with help of a little applied aeronautical theory that is.

You coax it off the runway.  Gently and with skill and guile.  Put the flight controls in the right position and the only thing it can really do is to fly when the airspeed hits a certain point.

Just like coaxing a startup business out of its cradle.

Once the plane departs Mother Earth then you clean up the landing gear and accelerate.  You set the nose on the horizon and climb in a smooth ascent to your cruising altitude.

Pay attention to the instruments

Along the way, you check the instruments to ensure that everything is performing as planned.

 The instruments plot your progress and like the dashboard of a business which tracks key performance indicators, the instrument panel provides information about the plane’s attitude, altitude, speed, rate of climb, direction, temperature of the engine and fuel on board.  Look at those instruments and see how they control the flight of the plane.

Elements of the life cycle of a business

Flying is easy.  It is the taking off and landing that are the real challenges.  Business is easy.  It is the startup and exit that are challenging.

Once you are at your assigned altitude, then George takes over.  George is the autopilot which will literally guide you to the end of the destination runway.  This is done by a combination of the GPS and the autopilot.  This plane has two GPS’s — redundancy is a fundamental safety consideration.

It also has a set of two instruments which can navigate to the destination using VORs (very high frequency omnidirectional radio) and if worse comes to worse you can still navigate the real old fashioned way via ded reckoning (deductive reckoning) — maps, azimuths, speeds.

The landing or exit

Then you have to land the plane.  Landing is like an exit strategy for the business.  Landing is easy once you have done it a few thousand times.

You line the plane up as directed by the tower, you fly on the centerline of the designated landing runway, you begin to descend and reduce speed to the minimum landing speed, your glide over the end of the runway continuing to descend, you begin to flatten out your trajectory being careful to ensure you are not drifting while correcting for any crosswind with your ailerons  and rudder and then you flare the plane and kill the power when you are just a couple of feet over the runway.

You reduce power and let the plane bleed off energy until it can literally no longer fly and then it sits down obediently on the runway like a trained Shih Tzu.  It is easy.


Startup businesses have to be carefully planned and coaxed out of the brain of the entrepreneur.

Check that plan with someone who has been to the rodeo once or twice themselves.  Don’t let anything surprise you.  It is good to learn from experience.  It is cheaper and less nerve wracking to learn from someone else’s experience.

There has to be a firm commitment to launching the business on a date certain and under control.  Prior to that the entrepreneur has to check, double check and re-check everything.  Everything.  At 500 feet is an awkward time to remember you forgot to fill up with fuel.

You have to scale the business up to some assigned and evolving level of performance.  Along the way you have to over communicate your intentions.

You have to pay careful attention to the key performance indicators — your dashboard.  Check the instruments continuously.

Then after you have the business smoothly operating you can begin to think about an exit.  Hopefully the implementation of a strategy you already had considered before launching.

Then you have to smoothly execute the exit strategy in the face of what could be strong crosswinds.  There is a time to land and a time to fly.  When you get to the exit, EXIT!

Simple stuff really.  Think, think, think.  Then execute.

The stakes are high

You can do whatever you resolve to do.  Resolve to succeed.  Failure is not pretty.

But, hey, what the Hell do I know, I’m just a Big Red Car.

Be kind to yourself and Merry Christmas!