On Being Tethered to a Shark—Literally On Being Tethered to a Shark—Literally

By Phil Gibbs on September 3, 2013

You’ve heard the quote, “A bad day fishing is better than a good day working.”  I put this saying to a test on a recent trip to Destin, Florida, and learned that fishing has a lot of similarities to starting and building a business.

With great anticipation my wife, son and I boarded a boat with six other aspiring fishermen at 6:30 AM, looking for great adventure on the high seas—I know, it was just a fishing trip, but this needs to be dramatic.  The weather had been rainy and the ocean was rough that morning.  And the first mate said we were going to have to go a little farther than they normally go because the Air Force had closed part of the ocean.  Turns out they were shooting live missiles and we didn’t want to be the target.  This is already beginning to have a lot of similarities to starting and growing a business—rough seas and live missiles!  Funny, I don’t remember that part when I was reading about blue ocean strategies.

After a two-hour ride southeast to where we were going to fish, the Captain finally throttled the engine down and we dropped the lines.  We were fishing close to the bottom and almost everyone started pulling fish in left and right.  We were primarily catching Amberine, along with some different varieties of Snapper, although Red Snapper were off limits.  It was great fun and a great feeling—that is for those who were not throwing up in a trashcan or hanging over the side.  While I had fought the urge, fortunately I did not get sick.

I must admit that at one point I was fishing and immediately to my right was my wife with her head over the side throwing up—if you are an entrepreneur and have a spouse, I don’t have to tell you that there could not be a more perfect metaphor for doing a start-up.

One of the rods was rigged as a Grouper line.  Unlike the other rods, you were unlikely to pull in many fish but a big Grouper would be worth the wait.  As I started fishing with the Grouper rod, I was instructed to not jerk when I got a bite but to let the fish really take the bait.

After a move to another fishing spot and a couple of missed opportunities, I had a huge tug on my line—I had this one hooked and started reeling or least tried my best.  The first mate had all the others pull in their lines and the battle was on.  The rod was bending and I was doing my best to hold on and crank the reel.  I was wearing a belt with a plastic holder to rest the end of the rod, but they attached a much larger belt around me and then snapped it to each side of the reel.

I will never forget the instructions from the first mate, “If you get pulled overboard, you need to unsnap those from the reel.”

Looking back, I think, “You have got to be kidding me?”  But in the middle of the battle, I didn’t have time to think—I was putting every bit of energy I had into trying to hold on and crank the reel.  I thought I had a 40-pound Grouper.

Finally the battle was won and we got it to the surface, but it wasn’t a Grouper.  It was a 100-pound Dusky Shark.  As a protected species, we could not bring it onboard but had to cut the line and let it go back to its habitat.  We did have pictures and bruises on my arm as proof of the battle.

I am not sure there is such a thing as a bad day fishing, but fishing does seem to have a lot of similarities to life as an entrepreneur.  It is a nice late summer day but the ocean is rough, live missiles are being fired nearby and you feel the urge to throw up—oh by the way, my wife just told me that I never asked how she was doing when she was hanging over the side throwing up.  I just kept fishing.  The similarities are beginning to bother me.  Ouch!

You have a clear mission and finally hook the big one.  You are all in—literally attached to the line.  There is no compromise and no turning back.  And instead of a 40-pound Grouper, it is a 100-pound Shark.  In spite of the best market research and business planning, you never really know exactly what is on the other end of that line to which you are tethered—a Shark or an industry disrupting solution.


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