I often think that I don’t need or want holidays. When you’re running a startup, every day is fun, and when you’re right in the middle of it, you don’t want it to stop. But there is one thing that I do notice every single time I go away – it’s that my mind relaxes, comes out of fight or flight mode, and starts connecting things that it would never have done otherwise.
This time around, it’s drawn a parallel which is pretty random. Well, maybe not quite as random as this post, but almost.. Today, I’m going to describe building a SaaS company using the metaphor of You Must Build A Boat.
I’m going to hazard a guess that for every one person who’s just said, oh cool, there are ninety nine who have just said, huh. Let me elaborate.
You Must Build A Boat is a mobile game. An excellent one. Get it here. I decided to download it for my most recent flight, and promptly spent the next four hours completing it. And what I noticed most was how the structure of progression, and the constant desire to carry on and do the next thing, was in many ways identical to my day-to-day life, identical to running a SaaS startup.
The premise of the game is that you must build a boat. Duh. The reason for doing it is never quite explained. You’re on a mission. You’re sailing somewhere. And it just seems like something worth doing – the only thing that you want to do with your life.
But the game itself really isn’t about building the actual boat. In fact you never do anything to build the boat – it sort of builds around you as you get a bigger crew.
You start off with a tiny boat. It’s just you, and a few other people on there. To get to the next section of the river, you need some more crew members. Otherwise the boat is too small, and is going too slowly to fight the current. So it stands still and doesn’t actually go anywhere.
To get some crew members to join you, you do a repetitive task called a run, which involves running through a dungeon, killing monsters, and converting them into loot. You get gold, you get strength, you get thought and you get a bunch of random items. Each day, you wake up, you get out of bed (the little dude literally jumps up out of bed – I know how he feels..) and you go for another sales call, I mean run… The run might end with you not getting anything, or it might end with you converting some monsters and getting some serious new gold, strength, thought or items.
And as these numbers go up, you start getting new people. The first person you get is Stan. He helps you upgrade your sales team. I mean your sword. The sword hits monsters and turns them into money – the better your sword, the bigger the monsters you can hit and the more money you get from them. And Stan is good at his job – Jason Lemkin would approve..
Things continue, and you soon get Leem. Leem runs your R&D department, the Arcanery, and helps you upgrade your spells. The better the spells, the longer you can last on your run, the more monsters you can convert into money. And some monsters need to be hit with spells – the sword on its own isn’t enough to convert them.
Soon you get Davies, and her Priory. Davies runs marketing for the boat. You give her some money, strength, thought – and then, completely randomly, your chances of success in converting monsters in your next run go up. They might go up by a bit, or they might go up by a lot. No one really knows how or why..
As the boat starts to get serious, you get The Beastiary. Definitely my favourite.. Can’t wait to get one of these in real life. The Beastiary is the boat’s HR department. It’s where you can recruit monsters to work directly for you. Monsters aren’t on the exec team – they don’t own a specific function – but they do add unique benefits to your chances of success in each run. And you need as many of them as you can get.
Every so often you get into trouble on a run. But you have a special horn. You can only sound the horn every so often – it’s rare, and you can’t abuse it. But when you sound it, every single monster comes running to your assistance. Each and every one of them. They know they need to work through the whole weekend, but that it’s going to help you take the boat to the next level. So you sound the horn, and they all come to your assistance.
A bit later you get Hattan. Hattan’s your CFO. He tells you how much you need to invest, what you’ll get if you invest it, and the chances of success. You agree a plan with him, you make the investment, and then he tells you how many runs you need to do to get to the end result. Then, once you’ve done it, you come and see how successful you were at executing against the financial plan. Of course there’s a massive random element thrown in there too, but chances are, if you’ve planned wisely, you’ll come out bigger and better than you were before, and you’ll get there quicker than if you didn’t make the investment.
And so it goes on. Run after run, crew member after crew member, monster after monster. Each time, the monsters get a bit harder, the loot gets a bit bigger, and the boat keeps growing. And you know that you love each and every moment, however repetitive it all is. You go to sleep thinking about strategies to do better in tomorrow’s run. You wake up, and the first thing you do is jump out of bed and go and visit all of your crew members to see what they have to help you do better. You don’t really know why you must build a boat. But you know you must..
One day you get to the end of the journey. You win. You push the exit button. And you celebrate. But then another button pops up. A button that says rewind. You think about it. It’s been an intense journey. You just went to hell and back to build a boat. You’re pretty tired. But let’s be honest. There’s only one thing that you want to do. You want to build another boat.
Oh. And there’s a pub..