Approaching business like you're a pirate captain

Arrrr landlubbers! Let me tell you about the sea!

It's tough building a business for so many reasons and it is tempting to look around, seeking advice. It's also natural and probably not a bad idea at all. However, in almost no other space have I ever encountered so many contradicting opinions as in building a business. Want some examples? Here you go:


All that advice can walk the plank!

Now I don't want to argue that any of those opinions are wrong per se or learning from other people's experience is a bad idea – but I want to make a point for being your own captain and understanding that anybody's situation differs from yours at any given point in time. And this also goes for your business.

I'd argue that founders should see themselves as pirate captains and their business as a ship they improve and repair as they sail the seas. Pirates because you know... they don't have anybody commanding them and they're just pretty badass?!

I think listening broadly but applying narrowly is a good idea when you're a captain. You can go to as many taverns as you like and talk to many strangers but when you try following every drunk sailor's advice on where to find a treasure, you'll end up hunting Moby Dick all year.

Hard to starboard!

A good middle way might be to pick those pieces of advice that resonate with you and try following them as much as you like. As a captain, you will also have to correct your course every now and then, so when you try something and see your ship is going in the wrong direction it is absolutely not a bad thing to change it back.

Shipwreck... ☠️

So you drank a bit too much the other night while steering a bit too close to a reef and now your ship is in ruins. Guess what... no big deal! You're still a freaking pirate captain! You still know your way around the seven seas and nobody can take away all the things you learned navigating your last ship. Go ahead steal.. erhm.. build a new ship! Pirates didn't sail the same boat all their life and you don't have to either.

Land, ho!

Be a captain, whether you are sailing alone or with a crew. Talk to strangers, listen to what they have to say but understand that you are responsible for your ship and not every landlubber's two cents will lead to a treasure. The line between shipwreck and success is slim and the path to becoming a notorious pirate is different for everyone.

"We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." Mother Teresa

PS: This post was partly inspired by something Noah Bragg wrote about recently, arguing there are two different camps of startup advice. I'd argue there are even more – Check it out if you like!

Listen to this article

← back home