Against The Wind: Navigating Headwinds And Tailwinds In Business And Life
By Andrew McConnell, co-founder and CEO of Rented.
Stepping out for my daily swim on a recent morning I was pleased to see how placid the ocean was. Having swum in far less ideal circumstances, this was a particular treat.
My normal swim has me swimming out from my house half of the distance I plan to swim, and then turning around and making my way home. On this day, that swim out felt great. That is until I made my turn to come home. It turns out the wind and water were not as calm as I thought when I was standing above and outside of them. Rather than an out-and-back of roughly equal time and effort, I was very clearly fighting against nature on my way home.
Spending more time than expected on this return journey, I began thinking of the lessons this situation taught me for my business–and for my life.
Spend time researching.
Looking out the window is one way to check the weather, but we have many other options available. In fact, I have a bookmarked page specific to the wind speed and direction for Bermuda, and I completely failed to check this before setting out.
The point is that there is more information out there than you may realize. Before going too far down the path of launching a new product or even a company, make sure you are doing your homework! It can make all the subsequent efforts that much easier and more impactful.
Even with research, reality isn’t always obvious until you are in it.
When I launched my first company, I spoke to a mentor who thought he had successfully built several companies but had flamed out in his attempt to do so in the industry I was now going into. When I hammered on about the logic behind what I was building, he responded: “Yes, in theory, theory and practice are the same.”
The lesson here is that there are realities and circumstances that, looking from the outside in, are just completely invisible, or at least incomprehensible. It is only when you dive in that you can fully appreciate the reality of what you are going to have to deal with, be it market conditions, target customers or competitor response. Research is great, but it only takes you so far.
Cover the same distance, but with dramatically different effort and time.
As I mentioned, my swims are out-and-back affairs. This means I swim just as far distance-wise going out as I do swimming back. Knowing I will be more tired on my return swim, when I am doing it “right,” I swim out against the current so that I am able to benefit from its assistance on the way back. The reason is likely obvious: Going with the current, the time and effort required to travel the same distance are definitionally less than those required to swim against it.
This is doubly true in business. As Warren Buffett famously said: “When a manager with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, the reputation of the business remains intact.” The market is the current in this analogy. No matter how strong, fast, smart or hard-working you are, it will take more effort to go against it than with it. If you have a choice, and you almost always do, go with the current. Even if the results are ultimately the same, the time and effort required to get there will be very different.
The tailwind isn’t always obvious–until you lose it.
Swimming out that morning, I did not even realize I was benefiting from the wind and current at my back. It was slight enough that, though I felt I was moving relatively quickly, I mistakenly just attributed this to me doing a great job. I have noticed the same thing in running and biking as well. Most of the time I do not really notice the tailwind helping me along, but man, when I turned around? I definitely feel that headwind.
In building my company, Rented, and in my own life, I know it is the same. When the vacation rental industry was humming along every year with double-digit growth, it seemed my companies were doing well because of all the great things we were doing. This was certainly true to an extent, but when Covid-19 first hit and the industry effectively shut down for a few months, it became clear that we had been benefiting from a years-long tailwind, and that we were now having to operate very much against a headwind outside of our control.
Fortunately, the winds of our industry have shifted once more, and we are again benefiting from a global tailwind for vacation rentals. However, the experience has helped us all recognize and appreciate the benefits we get that are outside of our control, as well as to better prepare for those times when the winds will inevitably turn against us once more.
Going against the current will smack you in the face, but you can handle it.
Whether it is the wind blowing debris in your face as you run, walk or bike against it, or the waves splashing salt water into your mouth, going against the wind will at some point hit you in the face. The same is true in business. The market will turn, an employee will leave, a client will go to a competitor, your company will take a hit.
At such times, I think back to Marcus Aurelius’s words: “If it’s endurable, then endure it. Stop complaining.” Or as my daughter tells me in the winter when I am hesitant to jump in the choppy and cold ocean: “Have you done it before? Then you can do it again.”
I can do hard things. You can do hard things. When the going gets tough, think of what you have accomplished before. Spit out the salt water and get back to work.