What Founders Can Learn From Astronauts

By Valerie Vlasenko | learning | November 11, 2016

Astronauts don’t care about raising funds, developing an MVP or finding the right team member. They have plenty of other important things to do. That doesn’t mean that you as a founder can’t learn anything from them. 

Meet Luca Parmitano, an Italian astronaut for the European Space Agency, who was the youngest astronaut to take on a long-duration mission. At the age of 36, he spent 166 days on the International Space Station.

He was also the only human in space, who had a near-drowning accident. During an EVA (extravehicular activity) in July 2013, Luca Parmitano had a water leak in his spacesuit – by far, one of the scariest human emergencies in spacewalk history. Setting Luca’s nearly drowning story aside, here are some learnings that every startup founder should embrace.

Learn to speak your customer language

I met Luca Parmitano in the Space section of the Science Museum in London. He spoke fluent Russian to me. Noticing my eyebrows rising he told me that every astronaut must learn the language as part of their training – because of the Soyuz. All Soyuz spacecraft controls are in Russian, plus the Mission Control Center gives commands in Russian for the entire time of descent.

The Russian language is quite a challenge for many astronauts. Tim Peake even called it the biggest challenge in his astronaut career.

Let me translate this into a startup language. If you want to conquer a target market- you’d better take the difficult task of learning their language. Be it their actual language or just the way they communicate. Knowing startup-investor “slang” will make your communication a lot smoother and painless.

Be humble and T-Shaped

According to Luca, the selection process favors those who can easily be trained for what they need to do. This means that superstars have a harder time getting in, while the average folk gets a green light.

“Many people see astronauts as super-humans. The truth is that astronauts are the most average people you can find on Earth. What sets us apart is our training. We are able to perform in the extreme environment like space because of the people that train us.” – says Luca. 

This also reminds us what many great companies talk about – hire T-shaped people. Find the true geeks in their own field, and train them to be well rounded overall. Investment in people is probably the most important investment you as a founder can make. 

If you do not share your story – it did not happen

Outer space is a great inspiration for lots of people for infinite reasons. But seeing our planet from above – that’s the perspective that only astronauts can share. Although there is no requirement to share their experience on social media, Luca was happy to tell his story.  

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound? Luca sees stories this way – “Even the most beautiful story that isn’t shared, basically never happened. Communication through social media platforms is a powerful tool. Astronauts want to share their experience, a message that will matter, be relevant and be heard.” 

As a founder, remember to be a storyteller for your own startup. Create a narrative that both attracts customers and excites prospects to spread the word about your business. Storytelling is the most powerful wat to spread ideas out into the world. 

Connect with communities

Luca goes on and reveals what it felt like to see the Earth from space.

“Europe at night looked like a living organism. Have you ever looked at brain activity in an MRI? That’s what it looks like, you can just imagine the neurons communicating with each other. From outer space, Earth is a living thing – one big creature, one big brain. What I couldn’t see were borders between any countries.”

 “Once we understand that together we are like one big brain, one incredibly big unit working in perfect sync, but only once we remove internal divisions. This image is more important in what’s missing than what is in front of you.”

Doing it alone, although possible will not get you anywhere far. Your network is your net worth. To become successful – you need to build teams and communities around you and your business, and eventually the whole world.

Have a big vision

Realizing that the planet is really one large living organism, Luca discovered that as a society, we can only go beyond our capabilities and explore the universe if we do so in unity. 

“Astronauts and agencies have one big vision. It’s not a dream. The dream is unachievable, but the vision is something we are working for. The more ambitious the vision, the more people will unite behind it.”

Back in the day, Steve Jobs was dreaming to grow Apple and take-over IBM. Today, most entrepreneurs dream to become somewhat big and sell to Apple. Let’s instead listen to Luca and start dreaming big, really big. 

See you in Space, 

Valerie

Read the full article in the print edition of CoFounder Magazine.