4 min read

🗻 Pick Your Peak

It’s not enough to decide to create a business.

That’s a start, but next you need to decide what type of business you want to create.

Sure, there are infinite industries and plenty of proven business models (as well as more models that haven’t been tried yet).

Yes, you need to decide what “Real People” you will serve and what “Real Problem” you will solve—but you also need to pick your peak.

What is the ultimate goal you’re working towards? What is your definition of success?

Curtis Morley is a successful serial entrepreneur and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Entrepreneur's Paradox: How to Overcome the 16 Pitfalls Along the Startup Journey (Keys to Success for a Startup Company).

In his book, and an episode of the Thrive School Podcast, Curtis cuts through the confusion on countless business opportunities by grouping each opportunity as a path to one of three mountain ranges on “Entrepreneur’s Island”:

The Lifestyle Range

Adorned by the smallest and most navigable mountains, this range is marked by small, typically one-shop businesses focused on earning enough cash to support a desired company culture and/or lifestyle. But there are plenty of pitfalls for the unwary: it looks deceptively easy (but it’s not). One of the greatest risks is a loss of passion.

Honestly, my business is currently in this range. I’ve got a small entrepreneur center, a couple of books, and an accelerator program—run mostly by me, with a very small team.

My friends Matt and Chris own another business in The Lifestyle Range called Muletown Coffee Roasters. Their coffee is fantastic, served at their popular coffee shop as well as by 100+ restaurants and other businesses (including my entrepreneur center).

It’s a “multi-million dollar business” but for them it’s about fueling their family lifestyle and serving their community while employing a dozen or so people they know, like, and trust.

Mountain-wise, Curtis compares this to Mt. Timpanogos—a 11,752 peak in Utah that I actually climbed with Curtis last year. It was tough, but despite a surprise hailstorm we made it to the peak and back in one grueling, 20ish hour hike.

The Buy or Be Bought Range

Marked by significantly higher mountains with more technical paths to the summit, this range consists of entrepreneurs building businesses in preparation of an acquisition or a merger with another company. For many, the mountains found on the Buy or Be Bought Range represent the most compelling reward for the time and effort required to get to the top. Mountains found on this range can be exciting to tackle, as things take off quickly and it’s likely others around you will take note. Recognition and awards may come quickly, but climbing a mountain on this range requires a greater degree of preparation, team support, and leadership prowess.

My friend Aaron owns Preventia Security, a great example of a successful company in this range.

Their purpose is to “help people sleep at night and to get the most out of their day” which they are on track to accomplish by hitting their goal of shielding 75,000 homes and businesses across the Southeast.

Preventia Security has nearly 100 employees across four offices, and the company has hit the Inc 5000 list twice, as one of the fastest growing private companies in the US. A big reason for their growth is that they’ve acquired their eight of their competitors (one by one) since 2010.

Mountain-wise, Curtis compares this to Mt. Kilimanjaro, the 19,341 peak known as the “roof of Africa” and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. I’m scheduled to climb this peak with Curtis in October, which requires months of prep for a two week trek with a crew including a guide and two porters just for me!

The IPO / Private Offering Range.

Home of the very highest and most technically demanding Public Offering mountains. This range is impossible to navigate without highly trained experts, careful planning and preparation, and a willingness to follow a very exacting route that allows little or no error. This is not a range for novices to attempt. It is fraught with pitfalls at practically every step. Making the final ascent to the summit, however, can be truly life changing.

At 29,032 feet, Mt. Everest dominates this range as the tallest peak in the world.

Thousands of people attempt to climb Mt. Everest each year, but 40% of people who start the climb never reach the peak. It’s an incredibly difficult climb requiring extensive training and complicated gear—plus the right weather conditions, too.

Many climbers hit their personal limit and turn back, but some don’t get that chance and die on the mountain—there are still more than 200 frozen bodies on the mountain today.

Some people find that risk exhilarating, but I personally have no plans to climb Mt. Everest or list my company on the stock market with an Initial Private Offering (IPO).

Camping World started as a Lifestyle business in 1966 with a single store at a Kentucky RV park, the same year that Good Sam Club began as a magazine business in California. Over the next few decades, both businesses did very well.

In 1997, Good Sam Enterprises bought Camping World and began growing further and faster—now as a business operating in the Buy or Be Bought Range (more recently, Good Sam bought my friend Heath’s software company).

In 2006, Marcus Lemons became CEO and started the growth trajectory required to climb Mt. Everest and successfully raised $251 million in a 2016 IPO.

In other words, yes it is possible to climb all three mountain ranges, one by one.

The choice, then, is yours. Which peak do you want to climb?