Problem solving in startups

Last night was the Oscars. A few weeks ago, Emily and I watched The Martian. It’s a good film and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys epic big motion picture stories. There’s a great scene at the very end where astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, is teaching a course at NASA astronaut school and says:

"When I was up there, stranded by myself, did I think I was going to die? Yes. Absolutely, and that’s what you need to know going in because it’s going to happen to you. This is space. It does not cooperate. At some point everything is going to go south on you. Everything is going to go south and you’re going to say 'This is it. This is how I end.' Now you can either accept that or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math, you solve one problem. Then you solve the next one, and then the next and if you solve enough problems, you get to come home."

This is a great closing scene, but I couldn't help but think the analogy could easily be applied to startups. Simply replace the word ‘space’ with ’startups’ and the statement holds perfectly. While the stakes are slightly less severe (money, jobs, pride vs death), startups rarely move up and to the right in a linear fashion, particularly in the early days. Learning to problem solve and approach every challenge with creativity and ingenuity is what makes great founders great. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a few of these founders who grok this concept and thrive on problem solving every time challenges present themselves. In many ways, it’s what defines entrepreneurialism and can be uniquely scary and invigorating to those who seek it.