If startups had a spirit animal, it would be the sea turtle. The lifecycle of a startup bears an amazing resemblance to the treacherous journey of a baby sea turtle.
The baby sea turtle is the spirit animal of the startup world. Let's take a look at their parallel journeys.
Once a female sea turtle finds a suitable nesting beach, she pulls herself ashore and chooses a dark, quiet spot to lay her eggs. Once she has dug a proper nest, known as a clutch, she lays around 100 eggs. Around two months later the baby sea turtles hatch and begin to emerge from the clutch.
Much like a female sea turtle, a startup founder must first choose a startup scene in which to build his or her company. The founder must then choose a dark, quiet spot of the market to hatch their product or service. Each idea they have is like a sea turtle egg. They are soft on the outside and easily broken, so they must be hearty and well-protected if they want to survive. Some sea turtles will lay infertile eggs that incapable of maturing and some founders will begin with empty ideas that don't have what it takes to grow. For the sake of this analogy, each egg that emerges will represent an individual startup company.
When momma sea turtle is done building her clutch and laying her eggs, she conceals the spot where her eggs are by throwing loose sand over it and covering her tracks. Many startups do this when they choose to operate in "stealth mode," only revealing their idea and plan to the most trusted advisors. After the two months is up, the baby sea turtles hatch from their eggs and begin to climb out of the nest.
When they reach the open air, one of the most important evolutionary instincts kicks in -- the baby sea turtles begin to head toward the brightest light. Normally, the brightest light in the area would be the sun or moon, which would lead them to the ocean horizon and into the water. But, the advent of artificial light and the increase in real estate development have created competitors for the natural light of the sun or moon, leaving babies confused and disoriented. This often leads baby sea turtles to make their way toward lit buildings and away from the water.
Once a startup has its minimum viable product (MVP), it is ready to take its first step on the path to market. The sea turtles emergence on the beach is analogous to a startup acquiring its first beta customers. There is a set path to market, but a misunderstanding of its audience or customer can lead a startup down a different path and away from profitability. Much like the turtle can realize the error of its ways and turn around, a startup can pivot. Unfortunately for both parties, this is often done when it is already too late.
For those turtles that do orient themselves correctly and begin heading to the water, a whole new set of dangers are presented. The same goes for startups that begin their path to market. Just as the turtles face aerial attacks from sea gulls or the possibility of going head-to-head with a hungry crab, startups face their own challenges. Startups can run out of steam or capital before they make it to market, or their IP can be patented by another company effectively killing their value proposition.
Even if sea turtles make it to the ocean, or startups make it to market, more dangers will be waiting in the water. If they make it past the new set of predators that live in the ocean, there is still the issue of finding food. While global warming and oil spills can make sea turtle food scarce, startups can face a crowded market that leaves them with too little market share to ever generate enough revenue.
When sea turtles first enter the ocean, they begin a process that is often referred to as the "lost years," where the turtles swim around as they mature. This process could take up to ten years. The startup equivalent is there first few years in the market as they establish their brand and build their customer base. Sea turtles continue to forage and grow as startups often acquire younger companies and/or start on a path toward an exit, such as an IPO.
Once mature, an adult sea turtle will often return to their place of origin to reproduce. Once a startup has grown into a big enough company, the founders will often invest their own earned money into another company as a venture capitalist or angel investor, essentially perpetuating the startup lifecycle.
Scientists believe that some sea turtles can live up to a century in the wild; and the most successful startups can also mature and live on as long-standing companies. Of course, unlike sea turtles, some startups aren't worth saving. They are ultimately destined to be nutrition and sustenance for other creatures.