Starting a company is one of the scariest and most self-actualising things one can do in life.
I went from getting a comfortable salary to paying myself. Moreover, from knowing exactly who I was professionally to making up stuff as I go along. Not to mention, the several quarter-life crises and impostor syndrome episodes… Yes, the struggle was real.
To deal with this uncertainty and “re-labelling” of who I was, I started running. I ran to get out of my office (aka my home) and my head. I ran to make sense of it all. Now I run every day, if possible. Like brushing teeth, my day feels incomplete without it.
I realised that I could draw parallels between running and starting a company. Here the first five lessons I’ve learned and how you can apply them to your start up:
Start-Up Lesson #1: Warm up
You have to warm up if you want to have a good run. I usually stretch, engage my core and take deep breaths to warm up my lungs.
(1) Pre-start-up: Before you dive into starting a business, you have to do your homework. Research the need and the market. Will your product(s) add any value that others will be happy to pay for? Before going full-time, we had researched the nonprofit sector and how Brownie Points can add value for a couple of years.
Another important exercise is to answer the question “How will this new journey affect me psychologically?”. You cannot prepare for the awe-inspiring and terrifying journey of your first start-up. But you can take measures to make the transition smoother. Talk to your peers, loved ones and/or a therapist. Meditate. Exercise. Anything that will keep you in a state of equanimity.
(2) Start-up: If you have a start-up already, warm up by listing your intentions for the next month, week or day. What are the top objectives? How will you achieve those? Visualise how you will achieve these, and how you feel when you’ve achieved them.
Start-Up Lesson #2: Use the right muscles
I learned over the last couple of months that I need to use the right muscles to avoid muscle fatigue. I starting using my core muscles more, allowing me to run further.
(1) Personal strengths: Use your core strengths to determine your role and responsibilities in your start-up. We realised that we were engaging in activities not aligned to our strengths. This is not fun. It often ends up in frustration, team conflict and – worst case scenario – burnout.
(2) The team: Work with the right team members and involve the right people. Your product and its value is only as good as your team. If you work with the right people, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Everything will run much smoother and cost you less.
Start-Up Lesson #3: Breathe
Breathing right is vital when running, or for any type of exercise for that matter. If you breathe right, you can run longer, and avoid those annoying stitches. I performed better after warming up my lungs and sticking to a rhythmic “inhale-exhale” routine.
If things get tough (and they will), stop. Breathe. Get out into nature. Go out and have fun. Unless you’re starting up a hospital and work in the ICU, people will not die if you take a break. It is important to take breathers every so often to not burn out. And burnout is a real danger being an entrepreneur. Be kind to yourself and become disciplined about prioritising your breaks. If you don’t prioritise these, no one will do it for you. Schedule time-outs in your calendar. They are as important – if not more – than that meeting with a potential investor or client.
Start-Up Lesson #4: Keep a sustainable pace
If you want to run further, you need to take smaller steps and run slower. Literally.
Figuratively, the same applies in entrepreneurship. I am more of a sprinter. All or nothing. However, this approach does not go well with running nor entrepreneurship. If you want to go the distance, you have to pace yourself. Break down your goals and activities into “smaller steps” and take one step at a time. Slow down. Achieving your objectives faster might save time and funding. The reality is that it will probably result in you and your team becoming resentful or burned-out. Starting-up is like running a marathon. It’s not a 400m sprint. You want your start-up to last and grow, not fizzle out after a couple of months.
Start-Up Lesson #5: Run with others
I used to run alone in the streets of Vredehoek. Then I started running at the reservoir in the neighbourhood. What a difference! Running with others made me feel this comforting sense of solidarity. It also made me more disciplined about running regularly, and pushed me to run further and harder.
You cannot start a company alone. Having a team on your side is vital to making your idea and business model a reality. We are social beings, and the same applies in business. Being part of a team creates a sense of comfort that gives you that extra emotional buffer to feel “okay” during trying times.
That’s it for now folks! Stay tuned for Part 2 of what running has taught me about starting a start-up…