6 Business lessons from hiking Mt Kilimanjaro​ – Part 1

6 Business lessons from hiking Mt Kilimanjaro​ – Part 1

I love mountains. Hiking and conquering mountain peaks is one of my favorite activities. It’s both a humbling and exhilarating experience – standing in front of a massive mountain range I feel so small and insignificant that it really helps me put things in life in perspective, but getting to the top of that mountain gives me great confidence and the feeling that I can conquer the world, and the motivation to keep setting higher and higher goals for myself.
My good friend Kristy and I recently hiked Mt Kilimanjaro, which has been my dream for years. It was all I thought it would be, and more. During the 4 day ascend to the Uhuru peak at 19,341 ft, I had so much time to think and reflect on all aspects of life, and in my head popped the words of a former business partner who I started a business with back in 2010: “Silvia, this doesn’t feel like climbing Mt Whitney any more, it feels like climbing Everest.”  I thought – “Yes, building a business is so much like climbing a steep mountain!”.  Businesses take many years to build as compared to the 4 days it took us to climb Kilimanjaro, but the lessons are very much applicable.  Here are my top three learnings that would probably resonate with any entrepreneur.

1. Before you start – set an audacious goal 

Called The Roof of Africa, Mt Kilimanjaro is a formidable mountain – at 19,341 ft the air is quite thin and altitude sickness is a real danger. It’s always covered with snow, even though it’s very close to the equator. You can’t just go and hike it without preparation. Many people give up along the way, some get severe altitude sickness, and a few even die. But once we made the decision to hike Kilimanjaro, we felt a sense of purpose and that we were on a mission.

I realized that the bigger and more audacious the goal, more motivated you will feel to accomplish it and the difficulties you face along the way will pale in comparison with what you are trying to achieve.

2. Do your homework before you start

Hiking Kilimanjaro isn’t something that you just do. There is so much we had to do before we even flew out to Tanzania – get the right gear, hire a company to take us up the mountain, get our vaccination shots, and so much more. I called my good friend Pete, who has done Kilimanjaro a couple of years ago and Kristy ordered a couple of books from Amazon. The advice we got from Pete and the books was invaluable in allowing us to prepare for the hike – from getting a UV sterilizer for the drinking water and a solar pack to charge our phones and cameras, to knowing what to expect at altitude – lack of appetite, headaches, difficulty to get a good night sleep, the need for staying hydrated. Being prepared, and asking people with experience for advice allowed us to avoid so many pitfalls and ultimately have a successful summit.

So many entrepreneurs, including myself with a previous start up, have started businesses without doing their homework, and getting advice from others with experience and knowledge. And that can make all the difference between success and failure.

3. Hire the right people

Another very important aspect was who to hire to guide us up the mountain. It’s mandatory to hire a guide and porters to hike Kilimanjaro. Pete recommended Richard – the guide he had previously used, who had started his own guide company. We went with Pete’s recommendation and it turned out to be one of the best decisions we made. Richard and his staff of 8 people – 2 guides, a cook a waiter and porters were very professional and he ran a very tight and smooth operation. He was very focused on safety – we got a daily exam to ensure that altitude sickness was not affecting us, neither of us got sick or got diarrhea, which is quite common with other climbers.  I kept thinking how hiring the right people to help you start and run your business might mean the difference between success and failure.

Continue to Part 2