Startup Analogies: Fixing a flying plane

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I have been compiling a growing list of analogies (some cliché) I hear in my world either from VC’s, Entrepreneurs, Lawyers, or anyone else in the startup ecosystem. There is no rhyme or reason to the order of these but I think they are worth sharing. I will provide attribution only if I get permission.

Some stories changed slightly to protect the innocent.

Fred Wilson used to post about VC Clichés and I thought they were great. In that vein I thought I would start posting a series called startup analogies that contain analogies I have found useful.

The first is one I enjoy a lot each time it is explained:

There is a right way and a wrong way to fix a flying four engine plane. If you fix all four engines at once, your plane will crash. You can only be working on at most two engines at any given time to ensure your plane will continue to fly.

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This can related to juggling just about any mission critical task – but I hear it most in the context of restructuring a service. This can involve changing hosting providers, swapping out a backup solution, going with a new data center, or simply re-writing a codebase. This mostly applies to mission critical applications like email and voice service, but anything that ends up being critical to the lifeblood of your service fits into this category.

Properly separating and organizing pieces of your company so that they truly become modular is the best way to ensure that one piece will not bring down the entire plane. This enables you to hotfix problems when they occur without having to worry about the rest of the structure. It also allows you to swap out a better solution in the future without having to worry about all the parts connected to that business unit.

So if you have to fix your plane while its flying, remember, at most only two engines at a time.

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