Startups are wonderful, but they're no sprint. You're going to have to work day after day to go the distance.
Every entrepreneur can attest to the fact that the single scarcest resource you have when building a startup is time. Night and day you are submerged in algorithms, UX and UI, and as you scale, you are wrangling with HR, partnerships and product flow. A perfect time to train for a marathon? I would argue it is.
The simplest explanation for my choosing such a seemingly wasteful endeavor is that like of many entrepreneurs, I'm a bit insane, and I love testing and ultimately overcoming my perceived limits. But this was no whimsical experiment with boundaries. Rather, it was an attempt to gain a fresh perspective into many of the challenges that training for a marathon and building a company share. Here is what I learned.
- Challenges forge who you are. I'm not a naturally gifted runner, or to be more blunt, I'm terrible at it. I didn't need to run a marathon to discover that, but what I didn't know was that putting time and effort into training would make me significantly better. With a well-designed system, it's possible to build up the stamina to take on longer distances at a faster pace. Building a successful business that "goes the distance" similarly relies on putting in place systems that enable you to improve as you grow. Just like running, the toughest moments, which bring about a mixture of nervousness and nausea, tend to occur more frequently early on, but things get better as you stick to your plan and follow through.
- Invest in yourself. When building a startup, you're in danger of being sucked into an all-encompassing vortex, where your life itself is reduced to the startup. The marathon reminded me of the importance, in both running and in life, of investing in yourself. If you are unhappy or unfulfilled as a human being, you inherently bring less to the table. Taking a break from the task at hand and then coming back to it often boosts creativity. If that break includes taking a run or any other form of exercise, that provides a whole host of benefits, from faster learning to improved attention span. Yes, there are times when every waking moment is your startup, and it probably should be the most important thing in your life for a good couple of years, but if you don't invest in yourself as well, you'll feel the impact on your health and almost certainly your bottom line as well.
- Be creative with time. Running isn't a black hole where time disappears into some abyss, it's an opportunity to enrich yourself mentally while improving fitness. I never only ran, I listened to music to relax before a stressful workday, and devoured audiobooks that helped me improve both my temperament at work and knowledge about topics related to my business. And even those books that didn't relate to my business directly, such as Moby Dick, left me feeling more fulfilled and joyful when taking on the daunting challenges ahead in the office and that’s definitely not a bad thing.
- Don't give up. During the runs, you often want to give up. Your entire body screams to stop and warns you of impending collapse. The only thing that pulls you on is your inner conviction and determination. When building a startup, all odds are against you, but amongst the startup failures, there is a winner. When you hit seemingly insurmountable walls, don't give up.
- Inner strength. When I went back to work the day after the marathon I didn't feel invincible, but I did feel proud, and I gained a new appreciation for my inner strength. I knew I would be able to undertake almost anything. Believing in your ability to overcome whatever lies ahead is critical, because things will be hard, and a lot will go wrong. It's all about who you are when meeting these challenges and the strength and confidence you accrue as you overcome each hurdle.
Would I recommend you run a marathon while building a startup? Not necessarily. But I definitely would recommend investing time in yourself and finding creative ways of building up and expressing your inner strength. You're going to need it. Startups are wonderful, but they're no sprint, you're going to have to put in work day after day to go the distance.