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How do you generate ideas for your business? Are you used to brainstorming with someone?

Before I went to press with Bootstrap Business, my business partner and I were able to claim victory with the company we named CastleWave. This little test case we had started with $5,000 cash ended up being profitable every single month. It grew to become a multi-million dollar business, it won many awards in the community, and we sold it to a publicly traded company for a profit in the seven figures.

Midway through the development of CastleWave, Ron Porter and I were sitting at our whiteboard, plotting the paths we were taking toward our target. Originally, in keeping with the mindset I came out of business school with, we had outlined our starting point and our end goal. It was essentially a straight line. Somewhere along that line, however, we realized we needed a million to a million and a half dollars to hit our goal. Seeing that our original course was just not possible, we started drawing a sequential series of steps that needed to occur.


As we stepped back, we realized there was a big “Z” on the board. More specifically, there were three distinct targets we needed to hit in order to meet our first series of goals. First, we had to get to cash. Second, we had to add resources. And, third, we needed to scale our business. Each of these steps required an entirely different mindset from the one before. Even after having been subjected to Vish’s scolding years before, this was my moment of full clarity as I realized that—just like skiing down a ski slope—getting to our goals requires a deliberate set of zigzags. This was the moment when the Zig Zag Principle was formally defined.

Since this realization, it has been interesting for me to see that before I defined the steps of the Zig Zag Principle, my business model was that I would succeed one out of three times. In fact, I would create three businesses, consciously telling myself, “Okay, of these three, one is going to fail, one is going to be mediocre, and one is going to turn into a multi-million dollar business.” I figured I was batting about .333 with a series of strikeouts, easily caught pop-ups to left field, and hits that scored. Frankly, I was feeling pretty good about my average. But, in looking back, I’ve realized I was zigzagging, just without any real structure or discipline. Ever since my moment of clarity, I have been consciously applying the formal structure of the Zig Zag Principle, and my success rate has dramatically increased. My partners and I have now had four out of five successes—an average I’ll take any day.

As I’ve considered this revelation, I’ve come to realize that the Zig Zag Principle has its roots in the laws of nature, with evidences everywhere we look. Rivers don’t flow in a straight line from mountain springs to the ocean. They twist and turn as they adapt to the obstacles that impede their flow. Mountain peaks are formed by the violent acts of nature, which leave no straight shots to the top. So much of the beauty we see in nature is the result of its forces carving out paths that must wend their way around never-ending obstacles.


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