Beginning A Mission Like Building A Startup

2013-09-05 — Good Characters (Leave a message)

Every public school fourth grader in California has to learn about the California missions. The subject is often taught in the context of social, political, cultural, and economic development from the pre-Columbian societies to the Spanish and Mexican periods.

For a state that is known for its Silicon Valley and is in many ways the world leader in entrepreneurship, are there entrepreneurial lessons to be learned from this period?

I think there are history lessons—economic history lessons—that are worth a closer look.

In the process of working with author Ann Byers for her audio book Stories of the California Missions: 16 True Stories from California’s Early History, it came to me that there are parallels between building a mission and developing a startup.

Ann opened the first story, “Beginning A Mission,” with the following question:



“How do you go to a brand new place—a place that is pretty much barren land—and entice hundreds, even thousands of suspicious people who do not speak the same language you do to . . .”

Reading the story from a startup founder’s perspective, I saw several parallels:

California MissionsStartup Founders
San Diego, 1769Silicon Valley, 2013
How do you go to a brand new place—a place that is pretty much barren land—and entice hundreds, even thousands of suspicious people who do not speak the same language you do to . . .How do you enter a brand new market—a place that is pretty much virgin territory—and entice hundreds, even thousands of customers who do not have the same vision as you do to . . .
accept your faithaccept your vision/want your product
construct a massive building complexhelp you build a scalable business
adopt your language, your clothing, and your way of livingadopt your brand language, your products, and stay in your platform and product ecosystem
and let you control every aspect of their lives?and trust you’ll respect their information and privacy?
How do you plant olive orchards, wheat fields, gardens, and vineyards and raise thousands of cattle and sheep where only grasses and wild plants grow? How do you start? The Spaniards had a plan.How do you plant profitable seeds; develop scalable processes, products, and business models; and hire the best people with limited time and resources? How do you start? Do you have a plan?

For me, every chapter in the Stories of the California Missions has a lesson that can be applied to a business. For example:

The StoryThe Lesson
The MissionsThe business plan and the reality. The rise and fall of the business.
Beginning a Mission (San Diego, 1769)The art of the start.
Father Magín (Santa Clara, 1794-1830)Founder’s vision.
A Marriage at the Mission (San Antonio de Padua, 1773)Unexpected finds; partners.
Mission Martyr (San Diego, 1775)Bad things can and will happen to good people (but they don’t stop the venture.)
The Indian Girl Who Saved a Mission (Santa Inés)A skeptic won can be a valuable ally.
From Russia with Love (Dolores, 1806)A great vision is worthy of great sacrifice.
Good and Bad Pirates (Santa Inés, 1818)The story of how one overcomes his seemly impossible obstacle or unjust circumstances can be turned to profit.
The Town that Destroyed a Mission (Santa Cruz, 1818)There are usually people eager to take advantage of your difficulties; don’t let them stop you.

I’ll leave it to you to draw your own lessons from the other stories:

Chumash Revolt (Santa Inés, La Purísima, Santa Barbara, 1824)
The Indian Who Outsmarted Three Armies (San Jose, 1829)
The Battle Nobody Won (Santa Barbara, 1829)
The Island Woman (Santa Barbara, 1835-1853)
Farewell to San Luis Rey (1832)
Murder at the Mission (San Miguel, 1848)
The Last Mexican Governor (1846)

Do you see what I see? Or am I just hallucinating? Feel free to leave me a message and tell me what you think.

I’ve included a link at the bottom of this article so you can download six of the full-length stories for free.

If you are interested in the background story of the app, here’s more:

The original purpose of the app:

Four years ago Ann had an idea of creating an audio book for families that might visit one or more of the missions. As a teacher and a historian, she knew that the best way to learn about the Mission period and to appreciate the missions is to hear some of the real-life stories of the people who lived the history. So she collected and wrote a number of the stories that give a broad yet close-up picture of life during one of the most important times in the shaping of California and the nation. After many lunches and discussions, we ended up making an iOS app titled “Stories of the California Missions.” We released it in January 2011.

There are many books and pamphlets about the Missions but two features set Ann’s apart. First, hers is a collection of stories, and stories are simply better ways to communicate, learn, and remember historical detail. Second, the stories were selected in such a way that reading or hearing all of them gives a full picture, a comprehensive overview, of a 65-year chunk of history during which much happened.

The current state:

Since the initial release of the app we have small but steady sales. As the time has gone by, more schools have started to purchase our app. We see bulk sales of 30 copies here and 70 copies there. I personally love these stories because they bring the history to life for me. Let me know what you think.


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