Why a Startup Journey Is Like a Rocket Launch 🚀

“Why a Startup Journey Is Like a Rocket Launch” by James Zhao, Co-founder of Thought&Function

Startups and space flight might seem worlds apart, but there’s a lot they have in common. They’re both about breaking new ground and finding unique solutions to overcome problems. They both need a lot of expertise and careful preparation to be successful. And, of course, they both come with a fair amount of risk and the potential for even greater reward.

In fact, the startup mindset is even being applied to the space industry itself, with Elon Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos launching their commercial missions. From the importance of careful planning and a clear vision to learning and adapting when things don’t go according to plan, there’s a lot that entrepreneurs can learn about being successful by looking to the stars.

A Clear Mission Statement

Every time a rocket flies into space, it goes to fulfil a mission. For NASA, that’s to conduct experiments to understand the universe and improve life back on Earth. For Elon Musk’s SpaceX, it’s to pave the way for humanity to one day live on other planets. Nobody launches rockets for the fun of it—there has to be an apparent reason behind it to justify the extreme cost and risk involved.

The same is true of startups. At the heart of every successful startup is a clear mission statement, one that sets out the reason the business exists and exactly what it’s trying to achieve. As a founder, your mission statement will help you inspire your team and help you persevere through tough times ahead.

Defining the bigger picture will also help you clarify the steps you’ll need to take to get there. For example, NASA might plan to send humans to Mars one day, but they need to send rovers first and build from there. Likewise, you need to set out clear phases for your startup journey, as well as the specific short-term goals that will take you to your long-term ambition.

Perseverance Is Key

You’ve probably seen footage of SpaceX testing its latest reusable Starship rockets. Or rather, you’ve probably seen footage of them exploding shortly after touching down on the landing pad.

But even though the last four Starship prototypes all went up in flames, the test flights are still considered successes. That’s because their goal wasn’t to build a perfect rocket at the first attempt—it was to trial their solution, see what worked, and learn from what failed.

Remember that failure is a normal part of any startup journey, too. As a founder, being able to persevere when things don’t go to plan is just as vital as your business and commercial acumen.

You don’t have to get everything right in order to succeed—what’s more important is that when things go wrong, you’re able to pick yourself up, learn from what happened, and keep going.

A Launch Is Only as Good as Its Prep

Getting a rocket to the launch pad takes thousands of hours of preparation, research and technical brilliance. And while you might not be sending something into outer space, you do need to take the same approach when launching a startup.

Startup Launch

Before anyone launches a rocket, they need to run simulations, research and calculations. So, likewise, it would be best to establish that the market is big enough, the demand is there, and the solution is viable. 

Your market insights and technical solution is the base upon which you build the product. The essential groundwork will help you work out what will add the most value to users at the least cost to you. And this will clue you in on what features to prioritise in the first iteration.

That same methodical mindset applies to building your product, too. Every part of a rocket is meticulously engineered to serve a purpose and solve a particular problem, from the aerodynamic fins to the heat shielding to protect the astronauts to the scientific equipment inside. Nothing is added for the sake of it — everything is necessary.

For your tech product, you need to know exactly what you need to build and why. It is another way having a clear mission statement will help you. Keep in mind the solution you’re trying to bring to your users and prioritise the build based on what’s absolutely necessary to deliver that.

Rocket Launch

The Importance of Mission Control

Of course, you can’t build a rocket without expert rocket scientists either, and finding the right technical team to support you is going to be one of the most critical parts of your startup journey. Of course, part of that is finding a team with the specialist skills and expertise your product requires. But the right technologists can do a lot more than just develop your app.

Launching a startup is a step into the unknown, and there are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong. For new founders especially, the best way to lower that risk is to work with a team that’s done it before, that’s worked with enough startups to know what’s likely to succeed and can provide that insight to help guide you early on.

An experienced technical team is like your mission control. It’ll help you with the calculations and preparation to make sure the launch goes to plan—and if anything does go wrong, they’ll remain calm and devise the right solutions to get things back on track.

James Zhao Profile Picture

About the author: James Zhao began his career as a software engineer—quite a successful one too—working for Barclays, KPMG, and various projects at McLaren, Aviva and the Metropolitan Police. Four years ago, he co-founded Thought&Function, where he brings commercial and product expertise together—along with an understanding of the start-up process—to give start-up founders the start they need: advising on strategy, handling marketing and sales, all while still dabbling in the build process.