Ride Of Your Life

The Clipper Around The World Yacht Race provides a great metaphor for your start up journey. By understanding what it takes to sail around the world, we can learn a lot about how to build a successful start up. 

The Clipper Around The World Yacht Race is the only one of its kind. No other race is focused on involving amateur sailors, and also recruiting so many crew who have never sailed before. Crews race in 12 teams, navigating 8 stages over the course of a year. Leaving Liverpool on August 20, the crews navigate their way across the Atlantic to Punta del Este in Uruguay, then on to Cape Town, then on to Australia, China, across the Pacific to US and back across the Atlantic to Liverpool.

A Business With A Social Mission

Clipper 2018 is itself an entrepreneurial venture, established by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to sail solo non-stop around the world. Like many enterprises, the Clipper Race is hybrid. Clipper 2018 is at one level a profitable global business based on sponsorship, TV rights, entry fees and merchandising.  Yet, at its heart Clipper 2018 is a  social enterprise with a clear mission to provide life changing experiences to people from all walks of life, and make the experience of ocean sailing more accessible to all. For instance, 40% of the crews have never sailed before.

Training is of course mandatory, but this can only prepare any crew to a certain degree. Learning to sail in the sheltered waters of the English Channel is not the same as facing a force 9-Gale in mid Atlantic.

As the Clipper 2018 web site states:

“The sea does not distinguish between Olympians or novices. There is nowhere to hide – if Mother Nature throws down the gauntlet, you must be ready to face the same challenges as the pro racer. Navigate the Doldrums en route to South America, endure epic Southern Ocean storms, experience South African sunsets, face the mountainous seas of the North Pacific – and bond with an international crew creating lifelong memories before returning victorious”.

So what does Clipper 2018 tell us about the start up journey? There are some broad comparisons:

The Journey

A journey is more than a route from A to B to C. The pathway the boats will sail is broadly known, but there are key choices along the way. Whether to sail south or north of the Canaries? How to navigate the windless doldrums? These are key decisions that will affect the winners or losers in the race.

At a tactical level, no yacht can sail in a straight line. It must “tack” continually at 90 degree angles to maximise the exposure to the wind whilst moving in the desired direction. The split second timing and team cohesion needed for this must be continuously perfected. Like yachts, few start ups travel in straight lines. They too need to tack at pivotal moments, to respond to opportunities or avoid threats.

But even more than this, the sense of journey carries an understanding of the purpose, the underlying reason why you’re doing this. What is carrying you forward towards your goal? No yachtsman would do this for the money. Equally, given the risks and time commitment involved over years, few founders would cite money as a reason for starting a venture. There is likely some other reason driven on the on founder, whether it is to make a change in the world or challenging oneself to reach your limit. Being aware of this inner purpose and sharing this amongst your team mates can be a vital ingredient in sustaining each and every one of you on the voyage.

Global Context

The race involves 41 nationalities and is round the world. Start ups, and especially digital businesses, can explore opportunities around the world and can connect with talent anywhere any time.

On Show 7 x 24 x365

Just like a start up, the race is full on for a whole year. Even in dock, crews race against time to make repairs, gather provisions, plan the next leg.

Social Media Exposure

Crews, like start ups, are under constant social media exposure. Live streaming from each boat places the crews under added strain. Mistakers are seen by the watching public worldwide. Watching the race start on Sunday, the Sanya boat lagged the others badly, in front of thousands of spectators and TV cameras from around the world. Crews and start up teams need to take this in their stride, roll with the criticism, the set backs and remain resilient and focused on their goals.

Competition and Collaboration

Each boat, like each start up, competes with other start ups. This is not just for products, but also for talent, investment, and social media exposure. At the same time, they are part of a community of people who are traveling together in a similar direction. They help each other out, share stories, tips, and build alliances.

Team Dynamics

At the heart of the race, is a team of people working with synchronicity and agility, responding to the ever changing conditions. The team itself will change frequently as new team members are brought in at different legs. The team needs to re-generate itself and quickly on-board new members. Dissonance arising from ego-mania, rivalries, ill-discipline, personality conflict, poor communication, can capsize the boat as much as any freak wave.

Action Learning

Training and practice in classroom conditions while essential, can only take you so far. Action learning involves continually processing new information, anticipating developments, reflecting on what just happened. In a yacht, as in a start up, this needs to be done as a team process, so the insights of those closest to the action get attention.


Each yacht participating in the race, as with each and everyone start up, begins with someone having a vision like: Let’s sail around the world! Or even “let’s win the Clipper 2018 race!”. This vision needs to expressed in a compelling and authentic way, filled by the energy of your inner drive and purpose. This can be a powerful means to attract people to a venture. Ultimately, do they believe in you enough to follow you across the oceans?

Articulating a powerful vision is a key necessity for any founder looking to build a solid and committed team, and acquire the funding necessary to accomplish the mission. More than this. The vision needs to become shared amongst the whole team. As each new team member joins, they will have a role in shaping the vision in some subtle way rather as a map becomes increasingly filled with fine detail and salient features. The whole team must believe that it is their own vision and not just a concept or idea annunciated by the founder.


Translating the vision into reality requires expert detailed design, planning and costing. Risk and opportunities must be identified. Technologies need to be researched.  Training programmes set up. Key people must be hired…the right people. The organization and structures need to be put in place, along with the policies and procedures that enable teams to know what to do at pivotal moments.


Pulling the plan together requires people with networks, and the influencing skills to get key people onside. Sponsors need to be ready to hand over large sums for what is likely to be intangible value in the early phase. Team members need to be brought in to what can seem like uncertain and risky ventures.


Ultimately, when all of this is done, the skipper and the crew will need to develop excellence in their seafaring skills. This is both an art and a science. There is quality to this. It isn’t about what is written in the manual. Each situation needs to be interpreted anew.

Learning for Landlubbers

We can see therefore that the voyage these 12 yachts will undertake can teach us a lot about our start up journeys. Many of the mindset, social roles and work styles are very similar. Fortunately, Pivomo has designed a psychometric tool that can help start up teams anticipate and prepare for many of these issues, even if you’re staying firmly on dry land.

By completing the Dynamiqe profiling tool, team members can generate vital insights into their own mindset, social preferences and work style; and then compare those with team mates. This can help a team avoid getting capsized and keeping it tacking into the wind. Take a look at the Dynamiqe model below and think about the roles and capabilities you need for your team to succeed.

Dynamiqe can’t beat Clipper 2018 for a life changing experience, but it can give you useful insights in 15 minutes and for the cost of a pizza! Click here for for more information 

Andrew Atter, CEO, Pivomo