I love running my company, but of course, the risky business of entrepreneurship comes with its stressors. To clear my head and keep my body and mind in shape, I maintain a strict running regimen and make sure to hit the pavement almost every day. This is where I do some of my best thinking, and during a recent run, I realized how closely the sport aligns with my business mentality.
While training for a marathon or a road race isn’t for everyone, but here are five lessons entrepreneurs can learn from the discipline:
1. Always run, but save enough energy to push.
Building your own company is definitely not a sprint. It’s a marathon (and maybe even longer than that). A successful entrepreneur needs to constantly perform over a long period of time, and he can’t afford to lose his pace. Professional runners know that if, for whatever reason, they aren’t able to stick to their pace in the first half of the race, it’s twice as hard to achieve their goal. They have to overachieve in the second half when they’re already out of energy from the first.
I remind myself every day to always run--never walk--and to hit my goals every single day. Otherwise, I know the next day will be twice as hard. That said, I always keep enough energy on reserve to be able to push extra hard for special occasions, such as closing an important customer deal or raising an additional round of funding. I know I need to be fit enough to power through to the home stretch, and I can’t do that if I try to sprint every mile in between. In short, go fast, but never forget you are in this for the long haul.
2. Train with others.
Running is an individual sport for which many train alone. Without fellow runners by my side, it can sometimes be difficult to stay motivated, run that extra mile or worse--get up on a weekend morning to train. Trust me, it’s not always fun. I’m often up early in the morning doing high-intensity training by myself. During those sessions, I know it would be easier if I had someone with me to help stay motivated.
The same holds true for building a business. Collaborating with a group of likeminded people pushes me to the next level -- especially if they’re “fitter” and more “athletic” than I am when it comes to business.
Get a peer group and meet other founders or CEOs. Talk about your struggles, share your war stories and get their feedback. Learn from them and always be brutally honest about your own experiences. Help them whenever you can and don’t be afraid to ask for help. They will be there for you, because they understand what you are going through.
3. Follow your own game plan.
Everyone knows that you should stick to your plan, but I’ve seen many of my friends make this mistake--and I’ve made it too. You make a grand plan to run a race, and then you train, prepare and define your target pace. Once the race starts, you seem to forget everything and start off way too fast. After your first mile, you realize what you’re doing, force yourself to slow down and you’re able to get back on track. But then, out of the corner of your eye, you notice someone else passing by you, and you try to match her pace. And then again, you start to crash and you end up suffering throughout the rest of the race.
It’s important to have a game plan and to stick to it. Don’t get nervous because your competitors are doing X, Y and Z. Never let them dictate your strategy. It’s okay to be slower in the beginning if you know how to outperform everyone else in the long run. Don’t blindly copy someone else in the market. Understand their reasoning, their customers and be flexible enough to adapt your own strategy, if necessary. Before changing anything, think long and hard about the decision and try to remember the reason you created your game plan in the first place.
4. Embrace the pain.
You may love running, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to enjoy it every single day. Of course it is satisfying to go out on a perfect day after sleeping eight hours and it’s not as much fun when it’s cold, dark and rainy. Get over it and stick to your plan. You won’t achieve something great otherwise. Find those small things that still make it fun. Embrace the stress and stay positive.
I love running my company, but there hasn’t been a single week in the last few years when I haven’t thought, “Oh, boy. It’s always something!” Nevertheless, I have made it a point to enjoy at least some of every single day.
5. Always win.
It’s race day, you tossed and turned all night and it’s pouring rain. It doesn’t matter. Nobody cares if you are having a bad day, and you shouldn’t either. Stop giving yourself excuses as to why you can’t win or why you can’t run your pace. Go out there and achieve your new personal record or run a complete marathon for the first time. The biggest mistake you can make during a race is to start thinking about why you should go slower or why you should give up.
Building a successful company is extraordinarily difficult. Most entrepreneurs fail--even those backed by a huge amount of venture funding. Those are the statistics. We all know them, but they don’t matter once you’ve started your own company. As soon as you do it, you are all in. Focus on winning, focus on building your dream and never, ever stop until you’ve crossed the finish line.