Durability is the Key to Success

Bergfurher Inderbinen with the President of Switzerland, Arnold Koller, at the dedication of the fountain honoring Uli’s 100th birthday in Zermatt in 2000.

Bergfurher Inderbinen with the President of Switzerland, Arnold Koller, at the dedication of the fountain honoring Uli’s 100th birthday in Zermatt in 2000.

Peter Roshko, my partner at Boulder Ventures, and I took a ski tour in Zermatt in 2011 with our Swiss partners, Dominik Meyer and Uli Geilinger. Zermatt is the birthplace of mountain guiding, and we were privileged to have as our guide Hermann Biner, the President of the IFMGA (International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations). In our hotel room in Zermatt the night we arrived, Peter and I noticed a framed summit photo. I took a picture of it since it seemed important.

When I showed it to Hermann on the first day of our tour from Zermatt into Italy, he recognized the older guy in the photo as Uli Inderbinen, a famous Zermatti guide that climbed the Matterhorn more than 300 times. Hermann said the photo was a Matterhorn summit shot of Uli at age 90, the oldest guy to ever climb it.

When we returned from our tour, Peter and I had dinner in Zug with Leo Caminada, another revered Swiss Guide. Leo also recognized Inderbinen, and remembered that he took this photo the day of the 125th Anniversary of the Matterhorn’s first ascent, a day that Leo guided the President of Switzerland to the summit as well. Peter loved that story.

Bergfurher Inderbinen possessed one of the most important qualities in a successful mountain guide: durability.

We guide our clients on good days and bad, sometimes to the top, sometimes not. We learn every time we succeed and every time we fail, but most importantly, we always return to climb again.

In mountain guiding and in venture capital, durability is the key to success.

It takes a long time to understand how to guide your range properly, to develop a deep repertoire of routes that you can offer clients, and to understand their strengths and weaknesses. It’s only in retrospect that we can bring perspective to these experiences, and to do that you have to survive long enough to develop those skills.

Great VCs know when to charge with their entrepreneurs when the conditions are right, and when to back off when they’re not. They guide their clients in good seasons and bad, and because of their reputation for consistently reducing risk and maximizing returns, they attract the best clients. After many years of guiding on their terrain, guides develop a combination of intuition, experience, pattern recognition and a deep client roster that proves unbeatable in the mountains.

They achieve durability.

One of the most experienced and durable mountain guides in the world is my friend and climbing partner Erich Unterberger. Erich ran the Adamants Heliski Lodge for CMH (Canadian Mountain Holidays) for many years, and is now the Head Guide for all of CMH’s heliski operations in Canada.

CMH made a short video of Erich guiding in the Adamants in the summer, in which he honors Inderbinen as his hero, and I now understand why.

James Dudley