They used to make garage doors in the space, and one of the main selling points was that they had installed a large one with a ramp at the front. That may have been the only real selling point, actually. But it was in budget and according to the tape measure, just big enough, with two small “offices” near the front door and two rooms of painted concrete behind. There was also a deli on the corner. Perfect. We signed the lease for the shortest term we could get the landlord to agree to and moved in. “Moving in” consisted of figuring out how to get the old milling machine that Andrew had purchased second hand off of a lab at MIT into the building and heading to IKEA for some furniture. But before we built any of our desks (it would be a rite of passage for many years that all new hires had to assemble their own blonde pine IKEA desk and royal blue swivel chair), hung the sign by the door, or even ran the cables for internet, we got out a roll of blue painters tape.
Carl’s feet are almost exactly a foot long. So we measured, the four of us – Carl, Sam, Andrew, and I – with his beat up work boots and our trusty tape measure in the middle of the empty shop, the wingspan of the Transition®. Paced out the shape of the fuselage, the empennage (this was the Proof of Concept design, before we went to twin tail booms), the canard (also before we got rid of that), the location of the front wheels. Marked it down on the gray concrete in bright blue, one strip at a time. We were all a little relieved to see that it actually fit.
Then we found some folding chairs. Set them in the cockpit. Sat down in them and pretended to hold the steering wheel. At least one of us probably made “vroom vroom” noises. In hindsight it reminds me of my toddler daughter playing pretend – making Amazon Prime boxes into rocket ships and laundry baskets into boats – and maybe that’s “all” it was. But you can’t be an entrepreneur unless you can play pretend. You have to be able to see what no one else can, what could be. We could see a Transition®, wings out, ready to fly. And then drive, and then fly again. For the first time, we had something that was the full size of the vehicle. It had started to become real outside of our imaginations.
And that’s what entrepreneurs have to do: play pretend until they change the world to match their vision. It’s its own special kind of faith in things unseen. Faith in yourself, in your team, in the ability of your head and hands to manipulate the world around you until the first blue painters tape lines appear and other people can start to see what you see. Faith in your heart that you can make it through the ups and downs.
Most people won’t bother to look past the fact that it’s just painters tape on the floor of a slightly shabby shop down little street in Woburn. Most people will shake their head and chuckle that well, they seem smart enough, but aren’t they really just playing pretend? But then, little by little, those lines gained bulk. They turned into 3D models and dimensioned drawings and tooling and plies and parts and assemblies and prototypes. And then suddenly, reality is different and it’s not pretend any more.
It’s not pretend anymore and you’re standing next to this thing that you’ve built. That you’ve built in every possible way – not just getting epoxy on your jeans while physically putting it together but building its home and family too, the team and the company, all the pieces and permissions and supporting tidbits that are necessary to have it really and truly exist. The blue painters tape was still there, scuffed in places, dirty now, and not at all where you’d ever actually put the plane now that the shop is set up and the thing is actually built. And then we moved. Bigger and better things ahead. More space. No need to measure out a wingspan in tape to see if it will fit. The last thing we did on our way out was pull up that tape. We had a plane to sit in now.