Swiss Startup Factory Survival Days

Written By Andrew Vallejo

Last week Thursday the Swiss Start Up Factory team and the w16 startup batch commenced two days of physical, mental, team, and individual challenges; we appropriately named it the survival days.

Day 1

The startups began their challenges with Switzerland’s longest downhill race car track. But, typical to the SSUF, we wanted to spice things up, so we had them answer questions during a phone call while racing down the track’s 30+ curves. This yielded three very interesting lessons and characteristics about the individuals.

First, even though this was done in good fun, we wanted to see how well the individuals think under pressure. Some answered the questions well while others seemed to be more focused on the turns ahead.

Second, we wanted to see how risk averse, or risk friendly, the individuals were. On the one hand, there were clear cases of individuals who liked to comfortably ride down the hill. On the other hand, there were those who speeded up as they turned the corner. I’ll leave it open to discussion, or perhaps another blog post, whether or not being risk friendly on a race track translates into being risk friendly in a startup.

Third, the biggest learning opportunity came from the unpredictability of life; let’s call this the X-factor. Just before we arrived at the starting gates there was a couple that was preparing to ride down the hill. It soon became apparent that this couple gave “slow” a new definition. The typical track time takes less than 5 minutes; in their case it was well over 30 minutes. This caused an unnecessarily long wait time as we all endured the biting cold of the late afternoon.

The entrepreneurial lessons that were learned here were threefold:

  1. Thinking under extreme pressure is crucial to the startup life.
  2. Startups are risky and require risk friendly founders.
  3. There will always be a X-factor; how are you going to deal with it?

Day 2

In contrast, the events on Friday emphasized a combination of physical endurance, team work, and concentration. These conditions were created in a team Biathlon race, which required us to cross country ski and shoot at 11.5 cm targets from a distance of 50 meters. After getting the appropriate instruction and training we split up into teams of two and began the race.

The interdisciplinary nature of a biathlon quickly made apparent how crucial the appropriate balance is between speed and concentration; on the one hand, if you race too quickly without enough concentration, then you miss the targets. On the other hand, if you go too slowly because you are concentrating, then your competitors will surely win the race. This seems to be the perfect metaphor for the startup dilemma and is what we wanted to bring out in this event.

In the end, the survival days were less about surviving in the existential sense (we all came back with all our toes and fingers and in good spirits) and more about surviving in the entrepreneurial sense. Looking at it from this point of view, there were definitely some important lessons that the startups were able to take home.