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  • Writer's pictureDan Berger

My approach to company building was all wrong

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

I used to think company building was analogous to mountain climbing.

I used the analogy for describing both company-wide and personal challenges.

In company presentations, I used it for communicating monumental tasks that required everyone to push forward.

In my own head, I used it for pushing myself over hurdles that would come up. As an amateur mountain climber (3 mountains… bfd), the analogy was a personal one. The task was brutish but the reward was worth it.

I had it all wrong.

Mountain climbing, a relatively short and mostly hellish activity, is the worst analogy possible for the long journey that is company building. It will wear anyone down if it’s never-ending.

The right analogy, which is only revealed when you zoom out of the mountain you’re so focused on, is a vast and mostly flat world. It will have hills (challenges that push you), valleys (challenges that temporarily set you back), and perhaps even mountains (challenges that will feel insurmountable) but that’s not the point. As a leader your job is to make traversing this world be as painless as possible for both yourself and your entire team. That’s what makes the journey fun, predictable, and successful. [1]

But let’s go back to mountain climbing for a second. Even if you are focused on climbing the most difficult of mountains, as you make your way up, there will be systems in place to help you: camps for acclimatization, crampons for grip, fixed ropes for security, oxygen for elevation, turnaround times for a safe descent, and so on. [2] And, when you’re all done, you’ll walk on flat ground again.

Every organization needs these kinds of systems to get over the challenges it will most definitely face. The catch is that the organization needs to have experienced said challenges in order to learn from them. It’s the leader’s job to quickly identify these needs and put systems in place so that the next time you face a mountain it’s much easier.

I’m grateful for the challenges we’ve faced but I’m excited to never have to face the same ones again and ready to face totally new ones.


[1] To read more about predictable success, I recommend the book with the same title by Les McKewon.

[2] Systems are things like org charts, knowledge management solutions, etc. They include processes like new product development, sales/customer success hand-off, etc.

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