- Posted by Paul Towers
- On May 29, 2015
- 0 Comments
- Launching a Business, Ultramarathons
On face value the act of running 100 kilometers appears to have very little in common with launching a business. One is a physical event that has a definitive start date and time. It has a predefined course and normally a set time in which it must be completed. Launching a business however is largely unchartered territory. While you can plan and set the start date, what happens next is largely a result of your planning, execution, product market fit, timing and to some extent luck.
However, as someone who has launched a number of businesses, as well as run a number of ultramarathons, there are definitely lessons that can be learnt and applied in business. Firstly, your friends and family often only see the “event”. You only post on Facebook about running the actual race, completely the event or how tired, battered and bruised your body is after crossing the finish line. What they don’t see is the weeks, months and even years of training that have gone into preparing your body (and mind) for that race. Often I would run 4, 5 or 6 hours in a single training session and then back it up the very next day with another 2 or 3 hour run. Besides the level of physical exertion on your body it can also be mentally tiring.
But herein lays in the lesson. In business, when it comes to game day or product/service launch the hard work should have already been done. You should not be launching blind. You should have spent the weeks and months prior planning and training for this event. You should have trialled your product or service with users, tested out advertising campaigns to get feedback on what does and doesn’t work, and be in a position to a) launch with a bang and b) maintain momentum through advertising, press and user engagement during these key early phases. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
This process of training or preparing for launch leads to my second point. Training for an ultramarathon teaches you a lot about what is required to achieve something big. Ask anyone who has successfully finished an ultramarathon if they skipped training sessions on a regular basis or if they stopped training for a few months before the event and you will be hard pressed to find someone, let alone anyone who did this. To achieve success in an ultramarathon there are no shortcuts. You have to put in the work, because no one can train your legs for you. The same thing applies in business. No one cares about your idea as much as you do. You cannot outsource passion and commitment to getting things done and if you cut corners, miss important steps prior to launch or generally just approach things in a halfhearted manner then it will show when it comes time to announce your product to the world.
In many instances an ultramarathon is not only about a single event. I know in the lead up to many of the races I ran, I had other races that were considered B or even C events. Their sole purpose was to improve my skills and experience as a runner so that when the time come to compete in my A Event I had my nutrition strategy down pat, I understood my strengths and weaknesses and was mentally prepared for the various stages of the race and the associated impact they would have on my mind and body. This again has a number of correlations to starting a business or new venture. In fact I was listening to an interview with Reed Hoffman, Co-Founder of Linkedin, on This Week In Startups, where he said that when he first started out as an Entrepreneur he told his Dad that he probably wouldn’t be successful until he was 5, 6 or 7 companies in. So while you should approach each business with the passion and commitment to make it big and successful, perhaps there are other side ventures you can start or gain experience in before tackling your primary goal. This also does not necessarily have to be a company of your own. Imagine how much insight you could gain working for another startup for six or twelve months before launching your own?
Finally, however, you must launch your business, much like you must show up on race day and start by putting that first step over the start line as you go on your way to tackling 100 kilometers over the next half a day or so. This is normally an euphoric moment when adrenalin is running and there is little thought about what could go wrong. Enjoy this moment, because history shows that it will not last. In fact even the very best ultrarunners or most successful entrepreneurs and companies will say that not every step of the race or process of launching and building the company went to plan, so as long as you know this and have prepared for it you will have the ability to overcome any challenges that may present themselves.
This process leads me to my next insight and lesson. When you run an ultramarathon you get to know yourself on an extremely deep level. You know what makes you click and all your weaknesses come straight to the surface. This can hit you 10 kilometres into the race (as you fear what is ahead), half way though (when you wonder how you will ever finish) or even in the last few kilometres (where you have slowed to a walk and seem to be taking forever to get within sight of the finish). I have experienced this a number of times, even in races that went well. Running 100 kilometers is an emotional experience. You experience extreme highs when thigns are going well, and extreme lows. And your state can change within a matter of minutes. In fact I am not afraid to admit that in a race or two I have been running perfectly one minute, then walking and being on the brink of tears the next.
And just like the above examples from my ultramarathon experience, launching and running a business can provide extreme highs, as well as extreme lows. What separates those of us who succeed from those of us who don’t is simply the will to keep going and keep moving forward when all seems lost or hopeless. While this should lead to blind optimism you owe it to yourself, your employees and your investors to try each and every avenue and to never give up until that last penny leaves your bank account, because you never know what is around the corner. In fact I can relate this to a specific race, The North Face 100 in 2014, I was own about 35 to 40 kilometers into the race and I was struggling. I had gone out way too hard and I was paying the price early. I kept checking my GPS and could see that I still have more than half the race to go. I began to wonder how I would ever make it, or if I would make it to the finish line at all. I pulled myself together enough to make it to the next checkpoint. My family where there and helped lift my spirits and I just committed to getting to the next checkpoint. I kept doing this checkpoint after checkpoint and by the time I left the final one I knew I was going to finish, even though I still had 23 + kilometers to go. By not giving up and just putting one step in front of the other I made it. And better yet I still achieved my goal of going sub 14 hours, even though all seemed lost at kilometer 40.
Finishing an ultramarathon is an awesome experience. You are dead tired but at the same time over the moon with what you have achieved. This is the only point where this story diverges. Even if your business has an “end date”. I.e. you are in talks to be acquired you cannot stop or slow once you near the finish line. You must continue to focus on building a great product or service because business is unpredicatable and you will never know if that agreement will fall over until it is signed sealed and delivered. So while this aspect is different to ultrarunning the things that help get you to the start line are not. You need to surround yourself with people who can support and guide you along the way. Going back to the North Face 100 I would not have finished if it wasn’t for the support my family offered, and in business it is exactly the same. Whether your support network is family, friends, colleagues, past business partners or even a core group of employees you need to find the people who believe in the vision and will help you during both the up times and the down times. Above all business, as in Ultrarunning is a team effort, even if at times they can seem a solo pursuit.
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