Twenty years ago, Connie Martinez decided she and her friends needed to have more fun. Martinez was a smart, ambitious woman living in Silicon Valley. Most of her friends were also accomplished women who put their energy into their careers and their families. Like many businesswomen and entrepreneurs, they didn’t spend a lot of time taking care of themselves.
“One day Martha Kanter and I were together,” said Martinez, and we said, “We need to have more fun. My family and I had been white water rafting, so I got the idea of getting together with friends to go rafting.”
Thus, Martinez created the “Wild Water Women” – a group of about 25 women who, once a year, travel from the Bay Area to Ashland, Oregon, where they see plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, shop, hit the spa and hang out.
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But the activity that cements the group’s bond is a full-day, white-knuckle whitewater rafting trip on the Upper Klamath River.
This is no snooze cruise. It’s a continual series of 47 named rapids, with many classified as IV and IV+. Rapids are rated on a Class I-VI scale with Class IV “characterized by intense, powerful, turbulent water…risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high.”)
“We had only one reason for getting together,” said Martinez, “to have fun and enjoy one another. There’s no networking, no job hunting. No one is here to use one another.”
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How to create a long-lasting organization
I’m fortunate that Martinez, a friend, invited me to be a Wild Water Woman. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about business, myself, and friendship from the Wild Water Women.
You, too, can learn a lot about running a small business from the people who’ve made the Wild Water Women succeed for two decades.
Martinez, in particular, is an example of how to create a long-lasting organization. She did all of the following:
- Had a vision based on a real need.
- Found a unique and interesting way to meet that need.
- Gathered the resources to achieve her goal.
- Motivated the people who could bring her vision to reality.
Most importantly, Martinez took charge and accepted responsibility. She organizes the trip every year, makes all decisions such as where the group will eat or stay. There’s no debate on unimportant issues. Since members of the Wild Water Women are all extremely accomplished people who make dozens of decisions every week, they’re delighted to let someone else have responsibility for a change.
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Identify the right people, a purpose and a process
Martinez attributes the group’s longevity to three things – and these are three key aspects you should be able to articulate when shaping your small business:
- People. Martinez carefully curated a group of intelligent, fun, respectful women, so they all get along.
- Purpose. There’s only one clear reason for the group: to have fun.
- Process. Martinez makes all the plans. Responsibility doesn’t rotate. Decision-making is clear.
For all 20 years, Martinez has chosen Noah’s River Adventures in Ashland, Oregon, as the outfitters who guide the women down the exciting span of whitewater on the Oregon/California border.
“Throw 30 people on a big river and have multiple problems, and that’s where I shine, but put me in an office with a permit to fill out, and I go cross-eyed,” said Burt Baldwin, owner of Noah’s.
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Baldwin and another experienced river guide, Justin Wright, , purchased the company from founder Noah Hague in 2007. Fortunately, Baldwin recognized he had to know about business, not just about rafting.
“Noah had taught a business class before he started the company,” said Baldwin. “He was really organized about filing, details. All the t’s were crossed, all the i’s were dotted. We protected our employees, paid them well, listened to them. I had a really good mentor in Noah.”
What can river running teach you about running a business?
I asked Baldwin, “What did being on the river teach you about running a business?”
Here are his biggest lessons:
- There’s a lot of things that you want to control that you can’t control.
- Plan ahead and plan for those things where there’s even one-half of one percent chance that it could go wrong.
- When things happen, it’s OK to let your plans go, such as a tight timeline. Take care of what you need to take care of – even if you have to change your plans.
- Don’t overreact. You just have to learn to attack it calmly, not dwell on it.
As you’re navigating the challenges in your small business, remember these lessons from those who regularly navigate the rocks and shoals of treacherous white water.
And remember to have fun.