Run the show: What running has taught me about leading a startup
In 2018, an MIT study found that the average age for startup founders who hired at least one employee is 42 years old. Coincidently or not, 42.2 is a number that represents the ultimate running challenge of completing a marathon. While I haven’t found current data to back me up here, I’m sure that a study looking into tech founders’ habits would reveal that many enjoy running both a company and a race. After all, both activities demand a certain level of endurance and masochism.
Endurance sports build physical and mental strength because they force us to face and overcome internal and external obstacles. Every milestone we reach teaches us something about ourselves, what we’re capable of, and what we can do better. I’ve been running regularly myself for nine years now, and here are a few things that running has taught me about managing a startup.
The importance of building a strategy and setting goals
Runners who don’t work with a detailed training plan learn quickly why that’s a mistake. This is a concept that many struggle to accept, especially if they’re returning to the sport after a break or getting ready to tackle a new running milestone. But after suffering an injury that prevents them from training for a frustrating period, even the most stubborn runner will sit down to form a well-structured plan.
Similarly, you can’t run a startup based on your gut feeling, even if you’ve been working at one for many years or even managed a company in the past. A strategy is needed to prepare you and protect you from ‘injuries’ in which you might lose key team members or miss out on critical opportunities.
Speaking of goals, setting the right expectations is another critical issue to address. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and no one was ready for the Rome marathon the day after it was ready. Progress in running is gradual and any attempt to speed things up may end up in injuries.
The same goes for startup evolution, which may look different for each company, but still follows a certain logic. When thinking about your company’s next step, you and your advisors should consider the right pace for your business and not rush things.
Study the field conditions
One of the perks of being a runner is to visiting new places to participate in races. Many vacations were planned based on running opportunities. Running in a new place is an integral part of the visit. But even though we simply put one foot in front of the other, not every race is the same. The Toronto Bold & Cold race will make you face lower temperatures than you’re used to; the Beaujolais Run sometimes includes a glass of wine (or two); the Jerusalem mountains are beautiful but very challenging for runners. Every race has its unique character, and your strategy (remember that?) must be adjusted accordingly.
Startup founders also have to remember that pitching to an Israeli investor or partner is very different than presenting to Canadian VCs. That’s why I personally focus on specific areas and work with startups via the Canada Launchpad.
If you want to chat more about running, startups, and everything in between, that’s what I’m here for. Let’s make this the journey of a lifetime.