How Long Is Your Startup's Runway?

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Why runway is one of the most important things for a startup founder. By Florence Lowe (Founder & CEO, SQBlueSky)

From a simple Google search:

Noun: run·way [ruhn-wey] 1. Strip of hard ground along which aircraft take off & land. 2. Raised aisle extending into the audience from a stage.

Let me suggest a third definition.

3. The amount of time a startup founder has to figure it out and make it happen before they have to give up and go find a job.

I was seeking advice from an experienced and cashed out entrepreneur the other day – perhaps pricing. He has a sales background and at his previous company he brought in $1 million in business before he took the plunge and quit his job along with his partners. They eventually figured out their business and delivery model and successfully delivered to their customer. He and his partners created for themselves a million dollar runway that gave them room to figure it out and make it happen.

My approach has been drastically different – we have built a product, a large database and a fabulous team – and in spite of single one client, for all intents and purposes we are pre-revenue. However I did start with a runway of my own. My runway is composed of personal savings and investments, for living expenses and funding the business, and programming, finance, and management experience that I am using to figure it out and make it happen.

Young entrepreneurs have the runway of youth and ambition, and a lack of bills and responsibility. Additionally they don’t know what they don’t know, so that makes them fearless and indomitable. That is all the runway they need to figure it out and make it happen.

My friend and I ended our conversation realizing that what we had in common was that we are both dead serious about doing this. We are not just dabbling around with starting up we are both trying to build companies and are willing to do it until we wrest some semblance of order out of the chaos that a company built from scratch can be.

This leads me to suggest a fourth definition:

4. The time a startup founder starts to spend a 100% of their time and attention on their company, in order to ensure that they do not run out of the same.

And this why, entrepreneurship and startups, in spite of surface challenges, are some of the most egalitarian pursuits out there.

As a woman you may have fewer men to relate to and learn from, or get a boost from just because they see themselves in you. But at the end of the day maybe you are more flexible and can find patterns or opportunities that men don’t.

If you are young, you have time on your side, and plenty of mentors who are older and wiser to look to, as well as very little to lose, but you will struggle with your inexperience in managing and in knowing what problems need solving.

If you are older, like me, you have experience on your side and real knowledge of problems that could do with an innovative solution, but you will struggle with an incredible fear of failure and have much more to lose on a real basis, not to mention a family whose future and well-being you put at risk.

But if you are a true entrepreneur you will learn to build from your strengths, and figure the rest of it out and make it happen. You only need a good runway.

Editor's note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below. About the guest blogger: Florence Lowe is Founder and CEO of SQBlueSky, (pronounced "skwer-blü-sk"), a financial research data and software company bringing blue sky thinking and products to the financial information industry. Previously, Florence was CFO at iSIGHT Partners. In a prior life, she was a software engineer at UBS Warburg and IBM. Florence lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and 3 year old son. She blogs. Follow her on Twitter at @florencelowe.