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Peak Performance: How Entrepreneurship Is Like Climbing Everest

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The incredible people at The Great Room is at the heart of what we do. This is a story about GRIT and GREATNESS.

One of our long-standing hot desk members, Paul Valin (MD of Samara Consulting) provides support to European startups establishing operations in Southeast Asia, helps identify strategic partnerships, offers advice on angel investments and mentors founders in fields including fintech, ecommerce and pharmaceuticals.

In his private life, the Frenchman is also a passionate mountain climber who earlier this year, achieved a lifetime goal of summiting Mount Everest.

Here, Paul shares his heroic experience climbing the world’s highest, most formidable peak. And how that parallels the challenges he faced in his startup journey.

The biggest similarity that strikes me between climbing and entrepreneurship, is that they’re both about taking things step by step. Climbing a mountain, like Everest, or establishing a business, they’re both long, tough processes. And a lot of it, you have to handle on your own.

Before facing either challenge, you have to ensure that you’re prepared — mainly, mentally prepared. But in climbing, of course, there’s a big physical aspect to it as well. I’ve been preparing myself since 2013. This year’s climb was my second attempt to summit Everest, I’d previously tried in 2014. I wouldn’t say that I failed that first time — they closed the mountain after a disaster, an ice avalanche that tragically killed 16 sherpas. There’s a risk involved in entrepreneurship, however in climbing, the risks are obviously greater. You can die.

Approaching Everest, you need to be ready mentally to endure this long and very tiring ascent where anything can happen — you can get sick, you can get weaker. So you need to be ready in your mind for that, and you need to train hard, physically, for that. I’m quite a big guy, I weigh more than 100kg, so that was the first challenge: Could I do it with my weight? I had to find a chief of expedition to take me because I didn’t have so much experience in high-altitude mountaineering, we went to Nepal in 2013 to test my capacity to handle high altitude, and subsequently we made the first attempt in 2014 and tried again this year. Equally, in business, it took a long time to ready myself before I fully became an entrepreneur.

The stakes are much higher in climbing, the risks aren’t just to the health of your business but to your life and limb, your physical wellbeing. But in a similar way, when you embark on the entrepreneurial journey, you have to recognise the fact that you might fail. A lot of startups, in fact, most small businesses do fail. So you have to be mentally prepared for that to be a possible eventuality.

More to the point, you have to be aware that you may fail and even if you do fail, you’ve just got to stand up again — you have to go back and try again. Over there on Everest, a few times, including one point a few hours before reaching the summit, I was in a situation where I was really down and I was thinking, ‘Boy, I am going to make it?’ But finally you find some strength and in the entrepreneurial story, it’s the same – everyone faces big issues when they launch and when they’re running their own company. You just have to push through it.

For me, running my own business, on my own — that’s my idea of freedom, taking a risk and going for your dream. If you don’t take the risk, you’ll never know what could have been – you’ll never know what’s after the bridge, you might say. It was an amazing feeling for me, succeeding in climbing Everest. I had what they call ‘summit fever’: I couldn’t use my hands any more, my sherpa had to fix my rope, I was going very, very slow. But I was compelled to continue, and when the sun rose a couple of hours before I reached the summit, it was really stunning and that was the peak of emotion for me.

I had very good weather conditions and was lucky enough to spend an hour on the summit. I thought, ‘You will never come back here — enjoy it!’ Then I mustered my strength, because most of the accidents happen on the way down, but it’s compulsory that you move on, you cannot stop there, you cannot stay and rest there. It was frightening, facing that return journey. It’s another 12 hours to go down. The climb is very, very long and though reaching the summit feels like a success, you also have to survive the trip back down.

As an entrepreneur, I’d say I am more confident as a result of climbing Everest. I think my clients trust me even more, knowing that they’re working with someone who can handle that level of stress. My clients respect it. On a personal basis, it’s a game changer. It will probably take me another couple of years to fully process and digest the ways it has affected me. This has been a dream of mine since I was a little kid. When you make a dream reality, that changes you.

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