Burning The Boats


Note: Since I announced the news early last week, i’ve been inundated with messages — requests from investors, notes from supportive friends, and inquiries from folks who wanna work with me. It’s been humbling to see the response. I apologize to any who have not yet heard back from me. As you can imagine, i’ve been very busy. Now for today’s post…

The ancient Greek warriors were some of the toughest fighters of the time. It wasn’t so much their training or their weapons or their tactics. It was their unwavering commitment to win. When they would arrive on enemy shores, the first orders from their commanders would be to “burn the boats.” And they did. They torched their boats. The message was loud and clear: there was no turning back. There was no retreat. No surrender. The only way out was forward. Victory or death. No other outcome.

It’s told that when Cortes landed in Mexico in the 1500’s, he had the same thing done. The ships were burned. He made sure his crew had no way back, except as heroes.

I could have easily started building my startup as a side project, working nights and weekends. I could have saved any possible embarrassment, because no one would have known if I failed. I could have continued to learn and validate my idea. I could have started assembling the team. A great six-figure salary would have continued and I wouldn’t have put my family at such great financial risk. There would have been no pressure. There would have been no downside.

So why did I choose a different path?

Because I believe the best entrepreneurs burn the boats. I wouldn’t call myself a Founder otherwise.

When the boats are burned, you are fully committed. Your heart and mind are 100% focused. No distractions. No side-projects. No looking back. It’s all-in and all-the-time. You can’t retreat back to your day job. You’re out on the street and forced to hustle. No flight, only fight. You will win or die trying.

It’s a beautiful thing. I’ve landed on this island, my boats are burned, and I have no other choice but to make this new startup work. The savings account gets smaller and smaller every single day. The clock is ticking. It’s uncomfortable and it’s hard. But nothing will force me to move faster and perform better than the raw instinct of survival. I must deliver. There’s no such thing as a mulligan. Moving forward and #winning is the only way out. I will find a way. I always do.

Let’s build our hut and find some grub. I’m hungry.

“When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionably.”
– Walt Disney

  • Kimberleyhatch

    Mick- I love the analogy here and you will certainly be coming back as a hero! Best of luck!

    • http://www.mickhagen.com/ Mick Hagen

      Thanks Kim! I appreciate the support!

  • http://www.stevesdrop.com steve liu

    If by “making this startup work” I hope you mean the totality of your journey as an entrepreneur not a do-or-die attitude towards getting any single idea or product off the ground.

    As a separate note, I wonder if there’s a way to capture that extreme motivation rather than burning every other bridge. The Greek general burned the boats not because he respected his soldiers for their drive and focus.

    He didn’t trust them.

    • http://www.mickhagen.com/ Mick Hagen

      Great points. Thanks for stopping by. Points well taken.

  • Denver303

    Hope your idea is newer than this post. http://www.escapingthe9to5.com/awesome/burning-the-boats-doing-business-like-a-rock-band/

    • http://www.mickhagen.com/ Mick Hagen

      Nope. The metaphor is used a lot. It’s a good one.

  • Brittney

    Love it! Im going through a phase right now in which Im noticing more and more that my savings is almost gone. Part of me wants to jump ship quite honestly. But at the end of the day, Im here to stay. How ironic that I read this when Im literally counting down the clock until Im flat broke….. Here’s to our hut!

    Thank you. 

  • http://twitter.com/farahbelliard ♛ Farah Belliard ♛

    Without knowing it, I have been setting my boats ablaze for years. I thought I was just being clumsy!  LOL

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=692477553 Todd Peterson

    100% spot on my friend! Burning the boats gives you the best chance of success. Nothing motivates the mind and spirit more than the very real threat of facing absolute and imminent annihilation.

    I’m going through that process now with my company http://www.previewstay.com I left an easy and awesome 6 figure job to launch this full time. The insights and advances I’ve made in the 8 weeks that I’ve been doing this full time have been remarkable. It’s so incredible how the mind reacts when it has no choice but to sink or swim.

    Great post man! I’m printing it up and putting in on my fridge door!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=724400946 Carnot Antonio Romero

    When I have NOT burned my boats I have usually had cause to regret it. A man who thinks there’s a way to turn back will always be tempted to try.

    (A side note: I graduated from Princeton, class of 1987. Even if you never finished, don’t be a stranger at Reunions. If you were once a Tiger, you will always be… show up, see your original class, reconnect. Some boats are remarkably hard to burn.)

  • http://justincarper.com/ Justin Carper

    I love the Cortez story. Thanks for the post!

  • Dew

    I know this is years later but this is my inspiration man. Victory or death! I’ll see you at the victory side sir!