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Startups Are Marathons

This is a post that I did last week on the Seattle 2.0 blog

I just finished my third half marathon this past weekend.  As I was huffing and puffing along the course, I realized that there are a lot of similarities and parallels in running a business, especially when it comes to startups.  To prepare for a race, I typically take several months to start training.  It’s important to focus on strength training, cross training, and then to slowly ramp up your mileage each week leading up to the race.  This half-marathon was different for me because I didn't do much training (about 5 weeks) and I trained too hard – this resulted in an injured patella muscle (knee pain). I finished the race and enjoyed the experience but was disappointed with my time and am consequently  moving around the office with the agility of John McCain at a Town Hall debate. 

I was reminded that – similar to training for a race – fantastic companies aren’t built overnight.  They take time, patience, and the ability to pace oneself (and employees) while on the path to success.  Hopefully some of these business training tips will be helpful for you:

1.       Be constant and consistent.  It’s important to have a regular workout regimen with specific types of training that gradually builds your body up to race day.   You must remain consistent in your business as well.  Some examples include constantly reviewing your company performance metrics, employees performance to objectives on a weekly basis, and reviewing your strategic plan on a regular (quarterly) basis, etc.  This allows you to go the distance, and to take advantage of serendipity and varying market conditions.  Here are some tips that I wrote awhile back on the Startup Whisperer on this topic.

2.       Focus on what’s important.  Your race training should be focused on the things that will achieve your goals.  The same goes for your company, including both its good and bad aspects.   For example, if there is a problem area with your company, ask yourself are you doing the best job to fix it.  I should have focused on strengthening my knees for the race but I ignored this obvious detail.  Maybe you’re not dealing with someone at your company that is a poor performer or losing sight of a key competitor.  Maybe you are doing too much (like over-training)?  It’s also important to consistently evaluate (and even celebrate) your company’s strengths.

3.       Sprint when you are ready.  It’s important to be a fast mover in your business.  But, you can't immediately move from jogging at a slow pace to sprinting an entire race unless you train for it.  In running, you do what is called interval training, which is basically mixing sprinting with a slower pace over a period of time—this will generally get your body used to and ready for running faster.  In startups, if you haven't built an organization that can speed up the tempo when needed then you never will be able to demand it on the fly.  You have to practice it and have employees who are ready for it.  On the other hand, expecting a constant sprint from your employees can cause burn out. Think about the things that you can do that make you into a sprint organization.  Is your development process designed to be agile?  Do you have an infrastructure that supports signing up more business, more bandwidth, etc., and are you currently hitting small project dates? 

Lastly, the most important aspect is to respect the distance.  You can't go from running 3 miles to a marathon in a month.  It takes awhile to build a great company.  Don’t get frustrated if you don’t get immediate results.  There are always more races and more training to do.  Enjoy the run.  Enjoy the journey of your startup.  I now go back to icing my knees.


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