Success Strategies

The 3 Traits Marathons and Startups Have in Common

The 3 Traits Marathons and Startups Have in Common

Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi running in 2009 NYC Marathon

Image credit: Randy Lemoine | Flickr
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This week marked the 119th running of the Boston Marathon.

Every year thousands of runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators come together to experience the world's oldest annual marathon.

For many the 26.2-mile run from Hopkinton to Boston serves as the ultimate test of stamina, will and determination. 

I have been fortunate to run and complete the Boston Marathon twice (2012 and 2014). Both times I came away from the experience with sore legs but also renewed perspective for what it takes to cross the finish line. This same mentality can be used in the startup world.

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In 2013 I left Microsoft and joined startup Porch.com. Since that time I have observed that the growth of this company is a lot like running a marathon.  

Here are three traits marathons and startup life have in common.

1. Preparation

When you set out to run a marathon the first thing you need to do is prepare. From training to diet, you need to understand what it takes to succeed and build a plan to get there. My marathon training involves four months of dedicated training, a strict stretching plan and specific diet, so I am at my best on race day.

How this relates to startup up life: When you set out to join or build a startup you need to come prepared. Do you have the right people on the team? Are you working with the right partners? Do you have the right product market fit? How are you going to differentiate from others? All of these questions can only be answered once you have put in the time and effort needed to prepare properly. 

Related: Forget Your Team. How to Motivate Yourself to Succeed.

2. Patience

To complete a 26.2-mile marathon course you need to exhibit a high degree of patience. My marathon time hovers around four hours. That is a long time on the course with nothing but your thoughts to keep you company. When the race begins you need to put yourself in the right frame of mind. The finish line is far away so you need to attack the course one mile at a time. If you sprint out of the gate you won’t make far.

How this relates to startup up life: At a startup you need to be patient so you give yourself the flexibility to grow, learn and thrive. You won’t have all the answers at the outset so you need to pace yourself. Each day you will get a little bit closer to your goals. Whether it is launching a product, securing a partner or locking up financing, all of these milestones build on the success of previous wins. You need to take each one of these goals one at a time. Just like a marathon, you cannot get to mile 26 until you successfully complete the previous miles.  

3. Perseverance

During a marathon you are going to experience high and lows. Some miles you feel great, some you are convinced you cannot go any further. During my 2014 marathon I had a moment while running up Heartbreak Hill (the 20th mile) where I was convinced I could not go much further. I had to dig down and persevere.

How this relates to startup up life: Startup life requires a lot of perseverance. Things don’t always go your way. You will have setbacks. However those that truly thrive and succeed are able to stay positive and focus on what got them there. They know that they truly have what it takes and they rely on their strengths to pull them forward. Like finishing a marathon, sometimes success at a startup comes down to your ability to find a way, a will and dig deep when needed to move the business forward because you have the confidence to trust what got you so far in the first place.

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