posted on August 22, 2007 11:25
With the Fall marathon season approaching – and being in month 18 of my latest start-up – I am going to spend a few minutes drawing analogies between running a marathon and being a successful entrepreneur. Most people who know me well know that in addition to recently starting my third business, I am running my fifth Marine Corps Marathon this Fall. So as a part of my training, I decided recently to talk to some of my colleagues and friends who have started and ran successful businesses to discuss what they feel is critical preparation for the “entrepreneurial marathon”. Below, I distill the results of these discussions.
Have your reasons: Everybody has their own reasons for running a marathon. Some people run to lose weight and get into shape while others may run to raise money for a charitable cause. Regardless of the reason, to successfully run a marathon, you had better have a good reason for wanting to run a marathon, because if you don’t, getting up at 6 AM every Saturday to run your weekly long run will be impossible. After a long week, it is perfectly natural to want to sleep in, but to successfully complete a marathon, you have to complete your training program, which requires getting up every morning and putting one foot in front of the other – just rather quickly.
The same goes for being a SUCCESSFUL entrepreneur – you have to have your own reasons. Because much of what you will do, similar to waking on Saturdays at 6 AM throughout the summer, will seem very, very unnatural. And if you don’t have some very good reasons for putting yourself through it, it is unlikely that you will make it. Furthermore, from my observations and talking with fellow entrepreneurs, money can’t be the sole driver. The best reasons that I have heard include:
• Empathy for the clients and passion for the business problem you are trying to solve
• Drive to build the careers and skills of the employees that you and the company has chosen to hire
• Focus on the bottom line goal of driving revenue
Plan, plan, plan: It is an overused cliché, but I’ll say it again— nobody plans to fail, they just fail to plan. In running a marathon, you need a training plan. It usually includes daily short runs and one weekend long run. The long runs get progressively longer, up through a few weeks before the marathon. Training to complete something as unnatural as a 26.2 mile run requires significant planning, training, and preparation. Without this training, it is very unlikely that a runner will complete the marathon at all, let alone with a good time.
The same is obviously true for being a entrepreneur and starting a successful business. Just like marathoning, there are plenty of people who set out to complete the race, but very few that end up creating a successful business. In creating a business plan, all entrepreneurs seem to have their own secret at creating a business plan that aids in leading to success. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, Commercializing Web 2.0 Technology, there are multiple dimensions that are typically present in a thorough business plan. These include:
• Product (or service) development
• Marketing and sales
• Business and infrastructure
• Consolidated financial projections
Personally, I am of the point of view that the first three elements should be tightly coupled to the consolidated financial projections. The advantage of keeping the entire business plan on a consolidated spreadsheet is that as product development or marketing and sales projections change, the business plan morphs into a consolidated operating budget
In a future blog, I’ll go into more detail regarding my preference on specific details of an operating plan spreadsheet.
Choose the right training partner. Having a supportive training partner, with the same training goals is quite possibly the single most important element of training for a marathon. If you partner’s performance goals are different from your own, then the training process will be quite frustrating. One of you will be waiting for the other and the other will be always fighting to catch up.
In addition, you need to be supportive in helping to motivate each other. No one in their right mind wants to wake up early on a Sunday morning and run 10 miles in the August heat. It really helps when you have a training partner that you enjoy spending time with and you know will help motivate you when your energy level gets low.
Similarly in starting a business, you and your business partner need to be compatible in terms of:
• Complimentary Skills: Fortifying each other’s weaknesses – without creating an atmosphere of animosity.
• Motivation: Starting a successful business is a long difficult process full of setbacks. It is imperative that partners be supportive and are able to mutually motivate each other during the inevitable setbacks.
• Respect: The ability to generate and cultivate new ideas is critical and having mutual respect during this process is imperative. One of the best reasons for a business partner is to help push the envelope on good ideas and make them better. And having respect for each other’s abilities makes this process all the more effective.
Run YOUR race. Finally, in running a marathon, you need to run your own race. At the start of most races, the crowd tends to begin the race at a fast pace then slow down as the crowd thins out. If you get caught up in the crowd in starting a race and run at a pace faster than you trained, you will not have the energy to finish the race. Your race is the one you planned for and trained for.
The same is true in starting a business. It is easy to get caught up in the business fad of the moment and dramatically change your business plan into an unrelated tangent. But the fact of the matter is that you, your partner, and investors planned for a specific business model and for good reason thought that was a good plan at the time. Dramatically changing plans midstream should be undertaken with great caution.
On the other hand, this is not to say that a mid-course correction may not be just what your business needs. The most successful entrepreneurs are those that can think quickly on their feet. But caution should be taken in doing so. This includes:
• Evaluate the impact on all dimensions of your business plan
• Be in full agreement with your business partner
• Recommit yourself to the new direction and continue to execute
I hope this analogy is helpful and I encourage comments and suggestions in continuing to play out the analogy between marathoning and entrepreneurship.