In another post I related my marathon experience to starting a new business. Let me tell you about the next episode related to my running experience. One of the people I met while training for the marathon included an avid triathlete. I started running with Bill who ran much faster than me, but liked shorter distances and preferred the challenge of the triathlon. Bill excelled most in biking, but ran fast at shorter distances. Bill often finished in the top three of his age group. Bill motivated me to buy a bike and learn how to swim. Soon after, I started training for my first triathlon. Unlike Bill, I found biking the hardest to learn and I had a fear of the water inhibiting me from learning to swim.
The triathlon taught me how to take on new tasks similar to learning new tasks involved in starting a business. Someone starting a new business has to learn new tasks all the time. The founder of a new business often fears new tasks just as I feared learning how to swim. Yet, as I jumped in the pool every day and started to swim laps, I started to enjoy swimming because it provided solitude and relaxation in the water without the pounding of running. I found this similar to a new business owner because sometimes a new business owner has to step back in solitude and reflect on what he or she wants to do. The founder of a new business continually seeks new ways to make the business fit and productive. Imagine having the resources to learn new tasks to avoid fear and learn new tasks.
Learning to bike created new challenges a as I learned to stay with the pack by drafting. I found bikers stayed close together in a pack to preserve energy and keep pace with other bikers. I also found this strategy is not without risk. I learned quickly if one biker went down, many would go down and when bikers go down together they are in great danger of injury. I also learned the best bikers pick themselves back up and continue the race despite their injuries. Good bikers learn from other bikers in the pack about preventing the danger and sticking with the pack. Experienced bikers work as a team to prevent mass wipe outs and hang together in unison.
Savvy entrepreneurs are much like the biker because they continually scan what other people in their business do. Entrepreneurs learn to keep pace and stay together to reach their goals, but sometimes take a spill and have to pick themselves back up and move forward. Risk is inherent in entrepreneurship and a business owner has to accept failure as a path to success. The savvy entrepreneur learns from mistakes and shares with allies to prevent further wipeouts. Think about having the resources of a team to avoid mistakes by working as a team.
When race day finally came I became nervous and had doubts about completing the race. When the gun went off I plunged into the water and began to flail away as people swam over me and bumped into me. I kept lunging forward and noticed the cold water had taken my breath away unlike the pleasing temperature I became accustomed to at the pool. I began hyperventilating and thought I would drown, but I kept stroking away and moving forward. I finally reached a turnaround buoy and caught my breath even though I had no safety outlet as I did in the pool. I started feeling good and could see the shore coming within reach. I realized I would make it to shore and still many people had struggled behind me.
Entrepreneurs also have their doubts when first starting out, but successful ones keep moving forward toward their goals. A business founder also takes his licks and recovers despite unfamiliar conditions. Sometime the entrepreneur feels like he is drowning, but catches a second wind by moving toward the goal. Successful entrepreneurs struggle just like the triathlete, but keeps the goal in sight and moves toward it. Imagine training diligently for an event like the triathlon and not finishing. Not finishing is not a choice for the entrepreneur. With a good coach the entrepreneur can find the encouragement to keep moving toward the finish line.
Upon finishing the swimming leg, I ran toward my bike and found my biking gear and prepared to mount my bike. The transition entailed finding my gear in a sea of athletes, bikes, and gear. I had to change and put on my socks and shoes after drying myself off with a towel. I watched others with more experience than myself who had the transition down to a science and minimized the time to launch into the biking leg of the race. Although I did not do too bad, I learned how to become more efficient by making the transition more of a process. I learned experienced triathletes practice the transition just like they do the three main legs of the race.
The transition taught me I can improve with experience just as an entrepreneur improves with experience. A small business also becomes more efficient the more process-oriented it can become. The entrepreneur learns how to become more efficient just like the triathlete in the transition phase. Consider how the entrepreneur can improve having someone with experience showing him or her the way instead of learning on the fly.
Once I began the biking leg I realized the pack of bikers I had to draft on had shrunk because instead of starting together, bikers began at different times following the swimming leg. I found I had to work harder to find enough bikers on which to draft and not let go. In some places I peddled by myself without a pack. I had no idea how to use what I learned in training.
An entrepreneur also faces uncertainties when conditions change unexpectedly. Just as the triathlete faces the lack of a pack on which to draft, the entrepreneur experiences unknown conditions through which to navigate by taking action. The entrepreneur at times feels alone without any support. The entrepreneur must work harder to find a solution just like the triathlete does without a pack. Imagine how the entrepreneur can improve by having some experience with change and how to adapt to it. Good entrepreneurs must learn to manage change just like a new triathlete.
As I approached the final leg I faced another transition from the bike to the run. The transition mainly entailed dismounting the bike and changing shoes. Again, I found experienced triathletes practiced the transition to cut down their time. The experienced triathlete made the transition so smooth it took very little time. Zaleski (2011) found entrepreneurs with experience have a competitive advantage.
The entrepreneur has to learn every facet of a business and gets better with practice, just like the seasoned triathlete. Entrepreneurs make running the business smooth through developing the right processes and checking them for problems. Although the triathlete measures the transition with time, the entrepreneur uses specific metrics to measure efficiency of different processes to develop a good working model. Blanchflower (2004) found entrepreneurs improve the chance of success by having a higher educational level. However, one does not need a traditional education to learn what the entrepreneur needs to succeed. Entrepreneurs learn on the fly.
As I started the run, I reaffirmed the running leg is my strength because I already had experience as a runner. I settled into a nice rhythm and looked for other runners to pace. Again, I found the field of runners much more spread out because of not starting all at once. However, I did find many people running on empty I could easily pass. I gained speed as I approached the finish because a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) running leg is much shorter than a 26-mile marathon. I had the long-distance conditioning in my favor. Whatever time I lost in the swim and bike, I made up for in the run. I finished in a good time, but still could improve by learning from my experience.
The entrepreneur is similar to the triathlete because both gain from experience and learn along the way. Both the entrepreneur and the triathlete learn to pace themselves and deal with unknown conditions. Action is critical to both the entrepreneur’s and triathlete’s success, and both strive to achieve fitness.
Do you have the tenacity of the entrepreneur? Act now if you do and learn more.
Blanchflower, D. G. (2004). Self-Employment: More may not be better. (10286). National Bureau of Economic Research. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w10286.
Zaleski, P. A. (2011). Start-ups and external equity: The role of entrepreneurial experience. Business Economics, 46(1), 43-50. doi: http://www.palgrave-journals.com/be/index.html