Down the Dark, Smoky Hallway—What Firefighting and Startups Have in Common

December 01, 2016 by Andy Bozzo

I love the variety of experiences I have every day as a firefighter. The constant stimulus suits my ADHD personality. On any given day, I could be involved ina house fire, a rope rescue, a wildfire, a terrorist attack (God forbid), or a major earthquake. We train for all of it—in fact, training is the one constant—and there’s instant gratification and constant motion all the time. Hurray dopamine!

Starting a business provides some of the same types of stimulus. It’s an adventure into the unknown where a certain amount of training and experience will get you a certain distance, and with every turn there’s something new to learn.

The key to startups, and firefighting, is SURVIVAL! Just like being an emergency responder, calculating your risk is crucial for entrepreneurs. The goal is to maximize your gain without getting killed in the process.

Being in a startup is like being a firefighter in another way: both ask you to be a “Jack of all trades”. As a firefighter, I go to floods, fires, rescues, and I’m proficient in toolsets that span several disciplines. As an entrepreneur, some days are mostly about sales, while others are about designing the next feature set that will improve our customers’ fireground accountability. And then, there are days devoted primarily to fundraising.

Andy Bozzo.jpgI have a good friend who’s done very well in Silicon Valley. Recently, I was lamenting to him that it doesn’t feel like we are moving fast enough. That will probably always be true—patience isn’t my strongest suit—but he reminded me that we have a REAL product, with REAL customers, paying REAL money. He went on to say how very hard that is to accomplish. Point taken!

It’s an interesting parallel that crawling down dark smoky hallways is similar to what I’m doing as an entrepreneur. Both are fraught with peril, but if you stay calm and keep your bearings you’ll be okay. You need a team around you that won’t bail when it gets hot. And you want investors that appreciate your passion and are brave enough to join the mission, even if the customer, like a stubborn fire, takes a while to convert. Both are jobs where endurance and toughness are the building blocks to winning.

Starting a business is tough! But we have traction and we are gaining momentum. Now is the time to combine that elegant balance of muscle and finesse to finish the job.