I grew up in a broken home, with parents living in different states. I needed direction, but beyond that, I needed consistency. And in whatever location I was in, I found that consistency in mixed martial arts (MMA).
Martial arts, in fact, helped me develop the consistency and resolve to get what I wanted out of life, including starting my very first business -- which for me began at age 12 mowing lawns.
Mixed martial arts helped me learn to kick butt
In fact starting a business and competing in MMA are strikingly similar. First, they’re both hard as hell: Whether you’re launching a startup or beating the snot out of someone in the cage, you need commitment, ambition and drive. And, you need discipline: Discipline isn’t a natural ability; it’s a learned skill acquired through countless repetitions of not taking the easy way out.
Bootstrapping my own businesses certainly demanded discipline. Without outside funding or support, I wanted to quit several times over. But, from MMA training, I developed discipline and a personality where it's not in my nature to give up. Once you go through a fight camp, “blood, sweat and tears” is no longer just an empty saying.
Here are three valuable lessons MMA taught me about starting a business that every entrepreneur should know:
1. Leave no holes in your game.
To qualify to compete in an MMA fight, you need to be “complete.” In the fighting world, that means that no matter where the fight goes, you’re willing and able to do whatever it takes.
My fighting background is in muay thai, so I fight standing up and trading strikes with my opponent, Thai-style. And, if the action goes to the ground, I have a plan for getting back on my feet.
That contingency plan is called Brazilian jiujitsu, a style that lets me fight effectively from the ground instead of on my feet and helps me gain better positioning to force a submission rather than land a blow.
Similarly, if you’re taking the reins as a new business leader, you have to be able to roll with the punches. A Gallup study estimates that about 50 percent of new businesses fail within five years, for reasons ranging from changes in their markets to poorly qualified leaders.
Whether you’re shifting your product or your duties, be able to adjust on the fly. When you’re starting a business, at some point you’ll be taken to the ground. Make sure you have an answer when the battle plan -- or even the business landscape -- shifts.
2. Get used to discomfort.
A business, like a fight, will push you beyond your comfort zone. Whether you’re firing, negotiating, handling customer complaints, maintaining quality control -- or whatever your task -- you will eventually venture into unfamiliar territory.
The requisite mental toughness required to turn yourself into a fighting machine is more complex than recreating some Rocky training montage -- it means understanding that it’s possible nothing will go your way, and you’ll have to take a vicious beating. But prepare for a fight and swing to win anyway.
If you’re able to withstand discomfort, you already have the battle half-won. Use that tolerance to push your business into unchartered areas. You may prosper in the end.
3. Set up your squad.
Although MMA fighters are in a cage by themselves, a team of highly specialized professionals -- from massage therapists to sparring partners -- is essential for them to succeed in the ring.
A Clear Company employer survey found that 75 percent of managers surveyed cited teamwork and collaboration as “very important.” In business, you need a team similar to an MMA outfit -- one comprised of people who can see things you can’t and make you strong where you are weak.
Surround yourself with like-minded teammates, but don’t be hesitant to hire someone with an opposing view. The more smart, opinionated people that comprise your team, the more bases your business can cover.
The lessons I learned participating in MMA can properly prepare you for the ups and downs of starting a business.
The main lesson I learned? When failure isn’t an option, you'd better know how to fight.