Editor’s Note: Sam Bayer is the founder and recently retired CEO of Corevist, a Durham-based bootstrapped software company launched in 2008. Bayer launched his career in 1980 working for IBM, which he left when he founded his first entrepreneurial endeavor Axiom Systems in 1987. Axiom would eventually be taken public through an initial public offering. Bayer notes that his entire 42-year professional career was guided by his determination to negotiate win-win value with his customers and fueled by his thirst for knowledge and scientific approach to problem solving. Now, he will be recounting his entrepreneurial leadership experiences in his “Stories at Work” series for WRAL TechWire. You can also follow Bayer on instagram @sam.bayer and at firstname.lastname@example.org any feedback about this series.
His blogs are the latest addition to our Startup Monday series.
DURHAM – From an elevation of 7,000 feet, the California Central Valley looks like the world’s largest quilt. A hodgepodge of various sized green and brown circles and squares stitched together by dirt and paved roads. The drone of the engine, bucolic views and casual conversation with my passenger belied the adrenaline that would soon be coursing through my veins.
I was piloting a rented Cessna 172 south from San Jose, California to Palm Springs for a weekend getaway. On the horizon, and growing larger by the minute, were the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountain ranges strutting their 10,000+ foot peaks. Supplemental oxygen is required above 12,000 feet and the maximum service level of the 172 is 14,000 feet. The plan was to climb to 11,000 feet, traverse the mountains, and then rapidly descend into the Palm Springs airport, 476 feet above sea level.
Man plans and god laughs.
Warm temperatures and gusty winds were conspiring against my climb. At full throttle I was barely climbing 70 ft per minute. A far cry from the 700 ft per minute I needed. My eyes jumped between the rapidly approaching mountains and my barely ascending altimeter and it became clear I needed a plan B. In the worst case, I could reroute to another airport for a safe landing, but that would put a damper on my weekend plans.
Probably better to be disappointed and alive than risk a crash into the mountains and totally ruin the weekend.
The good news: road-building civil engineers hate traversing mountains as much as private pilots flying Cessna 172s. I took advantage of the highway 10 they built in the valley, that the San Andreas fault kindly put in between the two mountain ranges, and followed it into Palm Springs for a rough but safe cross-wind landing.
Lessons for flying, and also for entrepreneurship
“Probably the most important rule for pilots, leaving yourself an “out,” means never getting into a situation you can’t get out of safely. Never get yourself backed into a corner with nowhere to go. Pilots do this by planning for alternate routes, taking extra fuel and always looking for an emergency landing spot, even when there isn’t an emergency. Whenever you make a decision, make sure you leave yourself another option in case things don’t go as planned.” An excerpt from Six Pilot Rules That Everyone Should Live By
As a project manager and entrepreneur, these are the lessons that that Palm Springs flight tattooed on my psyche:
- Cash is fuel. Never run out of it.
- Never start a project you can’t finish. Redefine “finish” if that helps.
- Don’t get distracted. Enjoy the sights but don’t forget to fly the plane to your destination.
- It’s hard to think clearly when disaster is looming. Put the risk plan in place before you need it.
- If you’re flying into new territory, plan on the unexpected.
- Don’t let your ego be your pilot. Fly with humility. It could save your life.
- Passengers don’t have to know everything that’s going on in your head.
- Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It shows commitment to achieving the goal…arrive alive.
- Check your progress often, don’t ignore warning signals, and make adjustments.
- Training and experience are the best antidotes for anxiety.
What if we took the management of our companies and projects as seriously as pilots take the management of their airplanes? For them it’s life and death. If you crash you more than likely will die.
With a 20% first year casualty rate, and a 50% five year rate for startups, shouldn’t we consider that a matter of life and death as well? Or is it simply Darwin’s survival of the fittest in action in the business world?