Geared for Entrepreneurship? Explode Your Pack!

John and Graham Ottley

John and Graham Ottley, California 2010


Getting the Shopping Cart Before the Horse- Part IV

Even though my friend John Ottley lives in Tennesee, this flatlander relishes a chance to do some mountaineering. John’s Frequent Climber Card has a few more punches than the average adventurer. (Too bad the tenth climb is not free!)

John was once part of a team led by his son Graham, then Program Director for Summit Adventure*, to climb to the top of Mount Rainier. With a mixed team of experienced and non-experienced climbers, preparation was key. No margin of error could be allowed.

Graham gave detailed packing lists to each member. It could prove disastrous for any member to attempt ascent without the Ten Essentials (example list). He called a meeting at base camp, and the entire team was required to explode their packs. Exploding your pack means that every team member must disassemble their backpack, and a verbal roll call is taken of each and every essential thing. Why? In the middle of your trek, should you find yourself literally at the end of your rope, it would be too late to send someone back to your car to dig that essential tool out of your trunk. The missing tool could forfeit the whole trip for everyone. You would not be the life of the party. A good time would not be had by all. “Wishing you were here” postcards would not be sent. The last chapter of your story might be too sad to read, as real-life mountain adventures often end quite differently than the standard goose-egg in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

The exploded pack

The exploded pack

Seasoned mountaineers know that every climber’s life depends on every other climber’s ability to do what they have set out to do. The team will only be as strong as the weakest member. By accepting your place on the team, you are accepting the obligations and responsibilities belonging to the Brotherhood of the Rope. In other words, if you are not prepared for the journey, everyone else’s adventure–and lives–are at risk. Therefore, you have a serious obligation to take care of yourself, and to train daily, because you are holding someone else’s rope.**

Mountain climbing is not a new allegory for small business management. Wharton management professor Michael Useem wrote an entire book on the theme. Scaling sheer cliffs has many parallels to Entrepreneurship. So why is it that so many entrepreneurs will begin their journey without double-checking their pack for essential gear? Without training? Without thinking about what might go wrong? With the odds against small business, you would think every Entrepreneur would triple-check their pack.

Every industry has its own base level requirements without which you will never reach the Summit. Every industry has its own Ten Essentials. A wise entrepreneur will examine their preparedness. What are your survival essentials? Everyone you employ is depending on your ability to hold on to the rope.

As part of your overall Business Plan, your marketing plan is the most important tool in your pack–more important than finance or human resources. Quite a claim? Think about it this way. Without adequate sales, you will not need a CFO, as you will have no money to manage. Without a marketing plan, you may pass over your ideal customer like a white jacket in a snowstorm. Your marketing plan should pinpoint at least ten places where you can rendezvous–a place to give them something of value that they need for their own journey.

If you attempt to start or operate a small business without a defined marketing plan, you are getting the Shopping Cart Before the Horse.

If you already have a marketing plan, do not wait to dust it off and bring it up to date. It is not for the banker. It is your map to help you find the trail in the middle of the night. If you think you can wing it, you are not only jeopardizing your own livelihood, but everyone else who joins you in the climb.

Entrepreneurs, are you ready? Explode your pack. What things will you carry in yours?


Why do we, a graphic design / and advertising company, care about the way you run your business? Because no matter how beautiful your external graphics, they will never be stronger than your internal management. If your management is strong, so are your communications. Since entrepreneurs are famous for getting the cart before the horse, all this month, we are discussing five of the most common ways that entrepreneurs are hitching their horses incorrectly. Since this is the new millennia, we will at least update the idiom. The vehicle of commerce is now a shopping cart. Either way, wooden or metal, horses still do not know what to do when the cart is in front. Read Part I, Part II, and Part III, and stay tuned for Part V next week!

* Graham Ottley is still planning mountaineering adventures at Outward Bound, which you can find here. Or find Summit Adventure here.

**Information as promised in last week’s post “Upgrading Your Own Personal Operating System”.