We survived January aka the month that lasts 10 years. In celebration I wanted to relay to you a story that I found so delightful I wish I could hear it again for the first time. I’ve been thinking—and laughing—about this anecdote that Matt Smith, founder of Tribe Pilot, told me for a few weeks.

IMHO not only was it very entertaining, but I also believe that buried not too deep in this tale is a lesson that startup founders, potential founders and the rest us can draw on when we’re having a hard time making a big leap. More on that in a minute, but first Matt’s story – in his words:

“I was snorkeling in Australia. The boat had stopped and we were in really deep water, the kind where you can’t see anything except blue. I’m looking down and all of a sudden I see a thing swimming up from the deep. It was moving pretty fast and coming right at me. I realized it was a whale. Then I see that it has its eyes closed and it’s going to hit me. Or maybe eat me.”

Pause for a minute to contemplate—a whale swimming at you with its eyes closed. Back to Matt …

“I didn’t know what to do. So I just yelled underwater as loud as I could. I saw it open a giant eye, see me and then veer away.”

As it turned out the whale was a baby and probably still learning its way around the ocean. Matt notes that its mom was following close behind—undoubtedly yelling in whale at her baby to stop swimming around with its eyes closed.

Doesn’t Dory speak whale … via GIPHY

That Matt could almost be hit by a baby whale is so ridiculous that I laughed for weeks. For the record, Matt is a valuable member of our startup community and a friend, so we’re supremely glad he didn’t get whaled.

But as I thought about it, I found a correlation that I think fits with what a lot of us are trying to do. Starting a business is one of the few endeavors you encounter in your adult life that is full of unknowns. You ferret out as much as your can, but at some point you just close eyes and dive in. You have to trust you’ll learn while you’re doing.

You baby whale it.

Chances are, you’ll learn to swim or at least find your way around the ocean better. To be clear, swimming blindly through work and life isn’t recommended. Instead it’s about having the courage to try something and being open to going where you haven’t before.

You can make the leap–with eyes closed if needed–knowing that you can always course correct. And if you’re doing it wrong, then your mentors, advisors, customers, employees, a whale mom (or maybe even Matt Smith yelling in your face) are going to let you know.


The only thing you can’t do is … nothing. It’s easy to let the fear of not knowing an outcome paralyze you. If you want to do a big thing– if you want to learn to swim in the ocean — the best, most powerful move you can make is to try. Dive in. Dig in. Move forward.

So my StartupBend friends if you’re thinking about starting something or stuck in a holding pattern, consider whether it’s time to baby whale your way out. Be brave. Be bold. Have a sense of humor. We’re cheering you on.

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley