What do camping and running a startup have in common? A lot, actually.
Every now and then I like to go camping. It’s a great way to zone out, do a long hike, chat with your trip crew for hours and immerse yourself in nature.
There’s also another part of camping I really enjoy: packing my backpack. When you go camping you have to pack everything you need for the whole trip into your backpack.
When you wander off into the woods or mountains there are no grocery stores, gas stations nor restaurants. You can’t simply re-up on a whim, what you carry with you is what you have.
In modern life abundance is the default.
You can always have a little extra at hand without any real downside. If you’re driving somewhere you can always just add some extra clothes to your bag.
Packing your backpack for camping, on the other hand, is full of very real tradeoffs. Everything you bring has a weight and you have to carry that weight for the whole trip. The utility, weight and volume of every single item in the backpack has to be scrutinized.
OK, maybe this chair is two kilos and is impractical to carry? Will I sit enough in it and is it comfortable enough to earn its spot in the backpack? Should I rather just bring a sit pad that serves a lot of the same purposes, is lighter and I can sleep on as well?
Every item is an investment that you will carry on your back for many hours, so you better get some good return on it.
Furthermore with your limited backpack space and weight capacity, you have to be prepared for all kinds of eventualities. There might be rain, there might be sun, it might be windy, you might be able to catch a fish in a pond - or you might not.
You can’t say “oh it’s raining so now I’ll get a Gore-Tex jacket”. You either brought the jacket or you didn’t.
Running a startup when capital is in abundance is like driving a pickup truck through the landscape.
You can shove tools, clothes, bells and whistles in your trunk rather carelessly. You’ll certainly consume a lot of gas when driving a big, fully loaded car, but that’s not an issue when every now and then you can swing by a gas station, a VC, and refill.
Feeling a tiny bit of hunger? Grab a pre-heated pizza from under the counter while you’re at it.
During the course of 2022 running a startup flipped from being like driving a car to going camping.
Instead of relying on frequent gas station stops you’ve got to get the most from your backpack's limited space. Putting one thing in means you can’t bring that other thing you’d also really want. Instead of grabbing a preheated pizza without thinking about it, you might be able to catch a fish.
Catching a fish is like acquiring revenue. You might get it, but it’s not a given, and if you don’t then you’ll have to eat what you decided to put in your backpack.
At Dune we’ve used the backpack analogy internally for a while.
Every single hire or purchase we do is an item we put in our backpack. Therefore we need to be confident it’s more important to us than all the other alternatives.
Dune was born and raised in the crypto bear market of 2018. Mats and I ran Dune as a two man operation for over two years and in our first 3 years of existence we burned through a grand total of $660k.
You don’t need to drive a fully loaded pickup truck to build a startup. Our backpack was light, versatile and took us further than we could have imagined.
Going camping is an exercise in doing very real trade-offs, literally carrying the cost of your choices, taking calculated risk and living with it. Luckily it also gives you the thrill of reaping the benefits.
Sure, it’s nice to turn up the heat in your car or shove a pizza slice in your face on the highway.
However, nothing beats pulling out that warm sweater from your carefully packed backpack when the sun sets, and the most gratifying feeling of them all is having fresh fish with your crew by the campfire.