The Privilege of a Runway

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picture courtesy of #WOCinTechChat

written by Devin Dixon


If you had one year of living free of bills, what would you build, what company would you start, or what problem would you solve?

The issue is critical because of some today’s most famous companies [both in technology and otherwise], began with the generosity of family and friends that provided them with ‘runways’ to start.

What Is A Runway?

One of many typical patterns that tie successful companies together is a ‘runway.’ I describe a ‘runway’ as dedicated time and resources to help get an idea to a successful state. The term is a good way of depicting the requirement for starting an idea, because before a plane can fly, it must pick up speed along a runway to takeoff.

A mistaken notion is that you need cash for an adequate ‘runway’, but in the beginning stages of starting your idea, this often is not true, especially for technology ideas. The most important elements of your runway will be time, creativity, ability to pivot, perseverance, and your own space.

Creative Space

The first thing you need for your runway is your creative space. Often this can be a friends garage, your parent’s basement, a tiny special room in your house, the back of the truck, dorm room, etc. The purpose of the creative space is a place where you feel protected and focused.

Time

Time is critical because good ideas need to be developed, and that does not happen overnight. Through conversation, customer feedback and failing, ideas become sharper. This process can be time-consuming, which is why it’s important to fail hard and fail fast. Give yourself anywhere between 6 months to 2 years to figure this out. Remember, real failure only happens when you give up, otherwise is called learning.

Creativity and Ability To Pivot

Creativity and the ability to pivot work together. If you are creating something new, you are often heading into uncharted territory. You must be able to imagine outcomes, implement them, and the pivot when the results are not favorable. I go by the logic of: ‘as long as it’s legal and moral, there is no right or wrong answer, just fun experiments.’

Perseverance

Perseverance is the most important trait for pursuing any idea. As an idealist trying to continue your dreams, you will run across a lot of problems and often feel down and defeated. The most successful dreamer realized success is not a sprint but a marathon and persevered through those the long miles.

To sum it up, you will be spending a lot of time (6 months – 2 years), in your creative space, pivoting your idea until it can take off.

Famous Companies With Runways

Below are well-known businesses that were started with great runways because of the kindness and generosity of family or friend, or began in an environment that allowed focus. Many of the examples started with almost no money but a lot of ambition.

Michael Dell – Dell

Dell Computers was started by Michael Dell while in college. Like any college student, being in college with minimal experiences and lots of time gives the ability to focus and innovate.

Walt Disney – Disney

Walt Disney was laid off and moved to Kansas where his Uncle let him use his garage to start creating animated films.

Steve Jobs – Apple

After Steve Jobs had returned from India after a spiritually enlightened journey, he started Apple computer out of his family’s garage.

William Harley & Arthur Davidson – Harley Davidson

William Harley and Arthur Davidson used their friend’s home, Henry Melk, to build the first engine for their motorcycle.

Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook

Mark Zuckerburg started Facebook with from his Harvard dorm room. The great thing about college is the amount free and the lack of responsibilities.

Larry Page – Google

Another dorm room problem solved, Larry Page and Sergy Brin started Google while in Stamford. And they had a family garage they were able to use as their development space.

How Runway Requirements Changes With Progress

You runway requirements will change over time. It is important that you can recognize the changes and demands and adjust accordingly.

Stage 1: In the beginning stages you may only find yourself working a few hours a week and maybe weekends. At this juncture, your vision will be blurry, and the path you want to take will be unsure, but this is normal and expected. Keep going!

Stage 2: As the idea starts to progress and gains traction or validation, you will start to spend a lot more time developing it. This can turn into every night after work and consume your entire weekend. If you are passionate about your idea, it won’t feel like work. It will also affect your social life, but you are pursuing a big dream that requires sacrifice.

Stage 3: If you stick with your idea and start to have real success, it will start to consume almost all your time. At this point, you will make crucial decisions about your commitment. For example, if you work a full-time job, will you quit your job? If you are doing too much by yourself, you have to bring on a partner(s).

Stage 3 is the spot where your idea can either take off or be broken and where you runway matters the most. Can your lifestyle be supported by your idea if it’s making money? If it can, excellent! If it cannot, is your significant other(wife, boyfriend, etc. ), willing to support while you focus o the idea? Can you live in your parent’s basement, friends garage, or out of your truck? How will you eat or pay your bills?

Runway Stage 3 & The Challenges For Minorities

If your idea is not able to support your lifestyle, stage 3 will present the biggest challenge for minorities.

In the United States, the average black/Hispanic household wealth is $12,000, while the average white family is $144,000. White families net worth is about 10x greater than minority households. As a minority, your friends and relatives will be more strained in their resources if they have to support you. So how do you overcome this:

1. Sell Them Your Vision: One day what you are doing may make millions or billions. Outside of your friends and family loving you, they have to see your vision. Being able to sell your vision is the sign of a leader, and the people closest to you is a good starting point to perfect that skill.

2. Have Clear And Measurable Milestones and Goals: If someone is going to be supporting you, you should set up clear benchmarks that show them your progress. This will make them want to keep supporting you because they see how their help is directly contributing to your growth.

3. Present The Obstacles You Face As A Minority: For minorities looking for capital, 23% of loans are approved for non-minority vs. 17% of loans are approved for minorities. When a loan is given, on average non-minorities receive $310,000 while minorities only receive $149,000. And regarding venture capital, only 1% of minorities receive funding. You supporters need to understand these obstacles and why their support crucial to your success.

On a personal note, having other people who have invested in you will help to keep you from failing. There have been many times where I’ve felt like giving up on my dreams. But with so many other people who have invested and believe in me, if I give up their dreams die too.

Conclusion

Rephrasing the question at the beginning of the article, if someone gave you a year of runway, what would you create or problem you would solve?

Notice from the above, many great ideas started in college. If you are in college, you should utilize your time to hone your thoughts and skills because you have the easiest runway to take advantage of. This is also another reason why if you are considering college, you should attend because it’s the perfect environment to incubate your dreams.

As minorities, to be successful, we have to recognize the challenges that we face and try out best to help each other with our dreams. Within reason and with responsibility, you providing support to a loved that is pursuing a big dream could one day be the next big thing.

Devin Dixon
Devin Dixon

Devin Dixon is a technologist and a serial entrepreneur. In 8th grade, he taught himself how to program in C++, started his first business while in college, and majored with a computer science and business degree. Today Devin is the CEO and Founder of Sprout Connections, a lead generation platform centered around professional events. While pioneering his own business, he likes to help many other entrepreneurs with their technical needs and give back to the community that has supported him. Outside of business, Devin is an avid runner. After running D1 Track in College, he loves to compete in Spartan Races and Tough Mudders. He also likes to watch Anime and read Japanese Mangas.

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