When I told people I planned to climb Kilimanjaro, their reactions were similar to when I started a business – a mix of indifference, awe, envy, and subtle questioning of my sanity. I know that many serious climbers don’t consider Kilimanjaro a real climb, but for me reaching 19,340 ft. was an eye-opening experience and proof that I could push my limits.
While I was preparing for the climb, the parallels between mountaineering and founding a company became very interesting. While I am not sure if being an entrepreneur made me a better climber, or vice versa, there is tremendous overlap between the personalities of people who want to be entrepreneurs and people who want to climb Kilimanjaro. What separates those who dream of success and those who actually succeed? It really comes down to how you find the motivation to get up and get going, and how you make critical decisions along the way.
Here are six things Mount Kilimanjaro taught me about being a better entrepreneur.
1. Hope for the best and plan for the worst, in that order.
Before embarking on my journey to Tanzania, I researched everything from altitude sickness and climate changes to the local culture. In my business life, I am also an information sponge. The more I know, the more tools I have to identify, understand, and problem-solve when inevitably unexpected issues come up. Savvy entrepreneurs find out everything they can about their market, competitors, etc., and they never stop learning.
2. Choose the most efficient route.
There are at least six different routes one can take to the summit of Kilimanjaro, each with their own pros and cons. I chose the Umbwe route, which is the most direct, but also the steepest and most challenging. Entrepreneurs can’t afford to take a round-about, stop-and-start approach to building their businesses. Taking the most direct route – creating a business plan and then doing everything you can to execute on that plan quickly – is the fastest way to succeed. Don’t waste time with constant distractions. Instead, get to your goal as quickly and as efficiently as you can.
3. Celebrate your arrival at base camp.
Making it to base camp is an accomplishment. You aren’t all the way to the top yet, but you’ve reached an impressive milestone. When I reached base camp on Kilimanjaro, Barafu at 15,300 ft., and looked up at the peak of the mountain towering thousands of feet above, I was reminded of launching Reply.com and signing on our first customers. It’s exciting when your tireless work starts to turn into a real company – and many entrepreneurs don’t stop to reflect on these early milestones. But every milestone is worth celebrating, considering many entrepreneurs never make it to the first step of creating a revenue generating company. Take a moment to celebrate each milestone and then evaluate how well you’ve met goals and steps you need to take to make it to the next level.
4. Surround yourself with a competent team.
There is a reason most entrepreneurs and climbers fail to succeed; the higher you climb, the more challenging the journey becomes. In times of resource deprivation, be it physical, financial or mental, it is critical to surround yourself with people you can trust. On Kilimanjaro, I surrounded myself with a reliable, experienced team including great guides who knew the mountain like the back of their hands. Entrepreneurs must build a cohesive team that can quickly identify signs of weakness in your business plan, execution, or results – and then offer strategic solutions. The right team has significant expertise and will help keep you motivated and focused.
5. Reach many summits.
In business, the goal post is always moving. There are new competitors, new markets, and new advances in technology. The world’s best entrepreneurs are always thinking ahead, even when they’ve just crossed a tangible finish line. When I summited Kilimanjaro, I sat on top of the mountain looking out at the most amazing view I had ever seen. But did I stay in the moment? No, my mind began wandering to the next adventure. What mountain will I climb next? Where will my next adventure take me? If I am capable of this, what else am I capable of?
The instinct to push forward, to look ahead, to run past the finish line is what separates entrepreneurs from ‘want-trepreneurs’. The most successful entrepreneurs don’t just reach one summit; they reach many during the lifetimes of their companies or whatever challenge they take on.
6. Make the challenge meaningful.
At Reply.com, we do not instill world peace or solve world hunger. However, amongst other philanthropic efforts, we also host an annual event called “Holidays with a Purpose,” a benefit that promotes “Universal Philanthropy” and helps raise funds to provide for basic needs such as food and education. We also contribute one percent of our profits to the Mona Foundation to provide quality education to all children and raise the status of women and girls. We do this to bring more meaning to our business endeavor and take a small step to better the world. Similarly, I focused my trip to Africa on raising funds for girls’ education in India and promoted both the Mona Foundation and FEED Foundation along the way. In fact, I took banners with their logos along with me to the summit.
I’m not a climber and will never be one but it is not about climbing but rather about challenging yourself and persevering at every step of the way.
What peak will you climb?
Payam Zamani is Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Reply.com Inc., the leading marketplace for local advertisers.