Burn the Ships: Extreme Risks in Entrepreneurship

Hung out in Santa Monica (LA) with cool people

Hung out and learned a lot from Sean Percival (LALAWag), Lotay Yang (Black Card Circle), Andrew Warner (Mixergy)

Andrew Warner’s Extreme Gutsy Move for his first business

Andrew needed to sell ads on his first business, but he was too small for the advertisement agency to consider. He wrote a check that is all of his and his brother’s personal money and asked the company to do business with them. That converted into a company with over $30M in revenue.

Lessons from Chinese History

This general in China (just checked it’s Xiang Yu) burned all the boats and cooking tools to make sure that his focused army would beat the other army that were outnumbering them but didn’t have that determination. I also just realized that the same thing happened with Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez.

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23 thoughts on “Burn the Ships: Extreme Risks in Entrepreneurship”

  1. Another great post. This is a principle many people are aware of, because they favor external security and make back-up plans. Back-up plans cancel out persistence, learning from mistakes and creating momentum. When something doesn’t work out, instead of learning from mistakes you might just move on. I think it’s more efficient to reshape a plan and learn something more before completely moving on.

    Burning the ships seems to be a common principle in success.

    Will smith said in an interview that the success of his marriage to jada (even though he had previously had a divorce) is that they can’t have divorce as an option. They both don’t even consider that, it’s non-negotiable. They have problems but work thru them. He took his vows more seriously. They’re either going to be together forever or someone has to die.

    He also made a great point in another interview. He said when you create a backup plan you also create the necessity for that backup. You are subconsciously telling yourself,” I might not wanna go through this, I don’t know about this, let me just create this backdoor so that I might be able to escape when the going gets tough.”

    Sun Tzu mentioned in “The Art of War” how it is necessary to create an image of retreat for your enemy so that they won’t fight as hard.

    Napoleon Hill also told the tale in his classic “Think and Grow Rich” about the army that was clearly outnumbered, but the general told them to ‘burn the ships’ and that the only way for them to leave was to win, and they did.

    I believe in that principle because it fuels motivation. It puts you in a “sink or swim mentality”, you leave yourself two extremes. Choices are great but with the number of choices nowadays:women, stores, barbers, brands, etc. it makes it harder for anyone to pledge a strict loyality, unless of course, you ‘burn the ships.’

    Great topic and examples. I also like how you let all those impolite comments just roll off of you

  2. Next time, do your homework and get your facts straight. The story about the army general burning his boats refers to Hernan Cotes at Vera Cruz.

    1. Hello Joe,

      Thanks for the info. Much appreciated. I was actually talking about another story. The general is Xiang Yu of the Qin to Han Dynasty. I did my homework but did not want to boggle people with too much technical details.

      Now I learned about Hernan Cotes too. Thanks but it would be nice if you spoke in a more polite manner 🙂 (sometimes that’s a lot to ask from anonymous commenters)

  3. Thanks Yu-kai!

    Well, i think i would have given 110%, even if the situation wouldnt have been desperate. My power behind doing my own business is my vision, and visions are always worth fighting for, as long as they are humanly. My goal isnt to be rich, its more, to dont have to work 24/7 to have a good life plus i want to be independent from a office. I want to be able to work, while being wherever in the world i am, so for that goal theres definetely still enough work to do, what means, that my 110% wont become less soon.

    But as important hustling is, as important it is to have at least 1 day per week, to do, whatever you want to.. thats what i think.. the first weeks i really worked every single day for about 16 hours.. but i think it helps you really a lot for being productive, when you take a little break every once in a while. Batterys can recharge in that time…

    Wish you all the best!

    1. Haha, I’ve actually been applying the things you said and have been taking a bit more rest. It does help a lot! Thanks 🙂

  4. Entrepreneurship is all about the do or die attitude. I love the drive, success really comes down to the fact if you want it or not.

    My hometown is the Los Angeles and Orange County Area. We all should network when I’m down from school.

    1. Haha, pretty amazing move. Was your brother on that frequency too when you asked him? Or did it take some convincing? What would you have done if your gamble didn’t pay off?

      Can you think of any other “best moves” in you career?

  5. Hi Yu-kai!

    You asked us to share our experiences, and so i do that now 🙂 I am 23 years old and i am from Austria. My from age 7 till 19 i was a racing-driver and i had a lot of success in all over the world. I stopped racing one day, because there was no way to continue it without big sponsors… so i concentrated on another passion i have since i am really young… DESIGNING…

    I was always struggling when working at companys… I didnt find my way and never felt like doing “my thing”… Finally i started some weeks ago, without any financial background… I was putting all risk on ONE CARD. I had zero money, no idea of how to pay my rent in the next month and also no clue of how to pay food in the coming weeks. Well, i worked as hard is i could, day for day to work on my vision of doing what i love to do.. i had some really desperate weeks, where there was nothing to eat, but noodles, and only water to drink… But still: I had a computer and internet PLUS skills on a specific area, what more do you need these days? Right…

    I had trust in life and gave 110%. I fighted the desperate situations and my patience was really worth it. I got an amazing customer, which not only have big projects on which i am going to work with him, but also supports me now. I think it was worth trying to live the dream…

    PS: You and Jun Loayza, are really a inspiring team.. Great job!

      1. Hey Syia,

        Hahaha, I’m not sure if you are referring to my business or Nico’s business, but I’ll thank you for the both of us 🙂

    1. Hey Nico!

      Thanks for sharing! It sounds like a great experience! You definitely took some great risks for something you are passionate about.

      For a lot of things like that, “starting” is definitely the hardest. Once you have your first customer, things develop much easier.

      Did you feel like being in a desperate situation helped you put in 110% and drive you to success? Or you would have worked equally Hard?

  6. For inspiration, check out the Thrice song “Burn the Fleet”. It’s not about business, but it’s the same concept.

  7. Hmm….must be nice living off daddy’s money ever since college, so you can preach the principle of ‘burn the ships’ and start lots of useless startups.

    1. Hello Startup,

      Thanks for the comment. i’m very curious about what do you know about me to say these things. I have always been “preaching” that one should also work 40 hours a week, sleep 40 hours a week, and have the rest of the 88 hours a week to do what they are passionate about, like start a business.

      Also, if you paid attention, I wasn’t telling people that they should burn the ships. I was saying that someone did it very successfully and I asked if others had the same experience. I said I was more interested in hearing people who take these risk and failed.

      Finally, I would be happy to hear which startups I created are useless and why do you think so. I would be more than happy to discuss with you how can I make my businesses more useful.

      Again, thanks for the comment and take care!

  8. Gr8t post, Yu-Kai! I think most entrepreneurs as well as successful athletes have a “do or die” attitude. They never stop believing in themselves, and that is why they are willing to take extreme risks. Also, most fail more than they succeed (i.e. Babe Ruth, Thomas Edison), but they keep on believing. Cheers from Florida!

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I agree that sometimes people just need to always be taking a little risk. When it comes to extreme risks, perhaps you it’s healthy to take one or two of them as long as you remain persistent.

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