Startups are like Slot Cars

I recently got a slot car track for my kids.  And me.  I had one up until the middle of high school (my cars were actually stolen when I brought them to school for a speech and that kind of killed my track time).  So, 28 years later, I got the urge for a track and knew my kids would love it.  I found an incredibly good deal on Craigslist and picked up a nice one, and then invested in a bunch of cars and extra track and made a table.  Here is the current configuration in my basement (not the greatest picture, but it will work for purposes of this post; it is roughly 8′ x 8′).

Slot Car Track in Basement

Ok, I am guessing some of you are thinking “cool” and some of you are thinking “huh??”.   I can understand that.  But, the other night I was doing some racing (a bit like meditation for me), and I started thinking how slot car racing is analogous to startups.  Here are some of the ways (not exhaustive by any means):

First, the path to success is not straight.  See curves in track.  The favorite startup word lately seems to be “pivot”.  Well, startups pivot and change direction all the time.  The key is to be able to do so without coming off your track – just like slot car racing.  Here are the S-curves in the current track.  Accelerate into the corners.


Second, there is always competition nipping at your heals.  In slot car racing, it is your bumper that is being chased.  In slot car racing, the competition always passes you at some point and you typically always catch up and pass them.  Same with startups.  Here is a picture of one of the 4-lane spots on the track where lots of passing and catching up happens.

Competition Alley

Third, the cars do come completely off the track once in a while (or when my 9 year old races, all the time; my 5 year old is much better at keeping the cars on the track). At a startup this comes in a variety of forms:  product restarts, management team shake ups, key employee defections, approaching your fume date, losing a key customer, etc.   You have to pick up the car, put it back on the track, PULL the trigger to give it more gas and accelerate in the right direction.

Fourth, it is really fun to win.  I think that winning at a startup (for example, acquiring customers or getting to an exit) is thrilling.  Winning at slot car racing, particularly when my dominant competition is my 5 year old (yes, he beat me last night), is not quite as exhilarating, but still tons of fun.  Actually, the whole racing experience is fun, and hopefully the startup experience will be often fun as well.  Startups are not always fun (hence my use of the word “often”), but if the enlightened moments don’t occur, startup life is just a drag (and no, I am not referring to any race this time).

BTW, if you have any HO scale slot cars hanging out in your basement or closet, I want them!


2 thoughts on “Startups are like Slot Cars

  1. Sign me up for the HO-scale train set! Maybe I’m an operations guy as much as a startup-person – I like not going off the tracks nearly as often as slot cars.

    Terrific analogies to start-ups, and also different levels of development (kids ages, as well as adults). Thanks for the interesting blog.

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