I went to Boston College. Most of my housemates played some sort of sport (Football, Lacrosse, Soccer, Golf). I wanted to do a sport too, but at the same time I generally didn’t want to interrupt my beer time. So I thought that sailing would be a pretty cool (and relatively easy) way to get into the game.
Sailing in and of itself isn’t all that hard. Sailing faster and more efficiently than anyone else when everyone has all the exact same equipment is really really hard! It turns out that sailing and running a business have a lot in common.
1. Boat size = company size
Sailing a small boat is a lot like running a small company. You have a smaller number of levers you can pull and the simplicity of the machine is both elegant and limiting at the same time. The boat is smaller, quicker, and has very few moving parts. Often it only has one sail and a rudimentary but effective tiller.
With a big boat you have lots and lots of levers. You have more people, more ropes, more winches, and more sails. Once a big boat leaves the dock and is “under sail” its really hard to screw any one thing up bad enough to capsize the boat. On the other hand, a smaller boat can flip over with one wrong move.
2. Market conditions
The water, weather, and waves all represent major market forces. These forces push and propel the small boat and the big boat in exactly the same way. A blast of wind or nasty wave can flip the small boat but may be barely felt by the large boat. When the wind dies down the lighter and more agile small boat can quickly tack and search for better conditions. Big boats don’t have that luxury. When the wind dies down they start slowing, the momentum is disrupted and they sit slowly drifting trying to find more wind.
3. Access to resources
In racing, the boats are exactly the same. They all have the same rigging, same number of people, same sails, same course, and same rules. Even when they mix classes of boats in a race the organizers use computer programs that equalize the race based on the different characteristics of the different boats.
Companies all have access to the same computers, software, programming languages, and people. It comes down to those that can spot the gusts and direction of wind on the horizon, position their boats for optimal conditions and then execute the hell out of transitions, tacks and jibes.