Motorcycle Repair for Startups

When I was 19 I owned a 1970s Kawasaki 1100CC motorcycle. I bought it cheap at an auction and then spent the rest of the summer getting it to work again. First I had to replace the electrical harness. Then I had to get the engine running.

This was a fairly simple engine. Nothing fancy, just a carburetor to mix the fuel and air,a timing chain, spark plugs, 4 cylinders, and an electrical & manual crank. First order of business is getting the engine to turn over. Kick-starter won’t budge, so adjust and tweak until finally I can, with great effort, get the engine to turn over once.

Next I work until the engine will turn over twice, three times. Now I try adding some fuel and keep working until I can kick start the engine and it will catch. When I turn the throttle the engine sputters and dies. So I keep iterating and tweaking until I can give it some gas and the engine roars to life.

Slowly I put the bike into gear. The engine seizes and stalls. Despite being able to run on its own, it has no power. It can’t even turn the chain and rear wheel, let alone carry me around town. So I start tweaking again, this time adjusting the carburetor and timing chain to get better efficiency and power from the engine.

At one point during the summer I think I have it working, so I go for a spin around the block. Everything works fine, so I go out on Skyline Blvd and open up the throttle. Want to see what it had in her. The engine sputters and dies. I can’t get it running again.

After pushing the bike home I find that I flooded the carburetor. After fixing that I continue tweaking, this time vowing not to get ahead of my self. By the end of the summer, my bike is working well enough that I’m able to drive it from San Francisco to LA, where the starter coils burn out. But that’s not the point.

The point is that this is so similar to building a sales process. Sales is your startup’s engine. At first it just won’t turn over. You try and try but can’t get a sale. Through sheer will you keep trying until you get that first one. That first customer. But it was a lot of work. You put more time, energy and cash into that first sale than it was worth.

So you persevere until the sales process starts turning over on its own. However it is not efficient. It has no power. It can’t even power itself, let alone the company you imagine building. This is where you start optimizing. Making the lead generation more efficient. Reducing the closing time from 3 months to 4 weeks.

Be careful not to give the process too much gas at this phase. It’s still fragile. Like when I flooded the carburetor, if you push it too hard it might break. You will need to stop, repair, and retool.

The good news — if you treat building your sales process like repairing an engine, with lots of little tweaks and large amounts of patience, eventually you will have a business that can take you most anywhere you want to go.

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2 Responses to Motorcycle Repair for Startups

  1. Martin says:

    Instead of tinkering with the engine you should have just pulled it to bits and re-built it, more work to start with but at least you will know it inside an out, it will run reliably and all the broken or worn bits have been replaced.

    There will be bits you put back wrong and it may take a bit of problem solving to get it going but it will be a stronger engine than it ever would be if you use the old knackered one.

    I think this could transfer to business as well……..

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