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The System

Rockets and startups

Wherein space programs and startups aren’t so different.

A venture-funded startup is sort of like a space program. Space programs don’t build airplanes that fly in flat, predictable, safe trajectories. They shouldn’t be concerned with doing something pedestrian. Space programs should be concerned with doing something very unusual, perhaps unnatural.

Like a space program, a funded startup is equal parts propaganda and collection of great minds. During the first few rounds of financing, a startup is completely unlike an actual business. It’s all growth: technical growth, metrics growth, mindshare growth, operational growth, staff growth. It’s about gathering smart, driven people and making something new without the confines of traditional market forces. It’s about showing that new thing off to the world, making everyone think that they either really need to have it or that they’re behind in the race to make something like it.

Startups, like space programs, take a bunch of volatile materials and apply them to make an impossible climb. Quite often, those materials explode on the pad or in the first couple minutes of flight. Sometimes all the systems work together, months of effort by teams coordinated by a few masterminds, and the startup or spaceship gets off the ground.

Even if the startup or spaceship survives it’s first minutes, most of it is discarded as it ascends. A Saturn V weighed millions of pounds on the launch pad; what returns to Earth weight thousands of pounds in the end. Systems are built, used, and discarded many times over. Depending on a startup’s exit, what remains is only one of many ideas or systems built over time, sometimes an idea expressed in the heads of a few key people.

Space programs are great. Startups are great. Keep in mind that they are wholly unlike more commonplace human endeavors and you’ll be fine.

By Adam Keys

Telling a joke. Typing.